In the realm of MMORPGs, Age of Conan once held a place of reverence and distinction. An ambitious project inspired by the dark, mature world of Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian”, the game aimed to set itself apart from the more high-fantasy and family-friendly titles in the genre.
It attracted millions of players with its engaging combat system, stunning graphics for its time, and rich lore. However, as the years passed, Age of Conan seemed to lose its sheen, with a dwindling player base, rare updates, and an apparent neglect from its developers.
In today’s gaming landscape, filled with a plethora of choice and modernized experiences, an important question arises: Is Age of Conan worth playing in 2023? Let’s find out!
A MMORPG is only as engaging as its gameplay and Age of Conan once had plenty to offer in this department. Centered around the brutal, visceral world of Conan the Barbarian, Age of Conan sought to differentiate itself from its competition with a combat system that was both engaging and complex.
At the core of Age of Conan’s gameplay is its real-time combat system. Unlike the traditional click-and-wait combat of many MMOs, Age of Conan requires active participation from the player. With each left or right mouse click, your character swings their weapon, while different combinations result in various attack patterns and abilities. This dynamic and interactive combat was a breath of fresh air at launch and even today remains one of the standout features of the game.
The game also offers a range of unique classes divided among four archetypes: Soldier, Priest, Mage, and Rogue. Each class has its unique playstyle and mechanics, providing a variety of combat experiences. The spellcasting, in particular, is notable for its complexity and versatility. Yet, with the lack of updates and new content, class balance and progression feel somewhat stale, affecting the overall gameplay experience.
The world of Age of Conan is vast, teeming with mysteries, and a plethora of quests that plunge you into the lore of Hyboria. However, the game has always had an issue with content distribution. The majority of its compelling content is packed into the early levels. The game’s Tortage, the starting area, is a highly praised and richly detailed beginner’s zone filled with numerous quests and a unique night/day system. However, once players leave this area, they are often disappointed by the noticeable drop in the quality and quantity of content.
Player versus Player (PvP) combat in Age of Conan is a mixed bag. While the siege warfare, where guilds can battle for control over battle keeps, brings a thrilling strategic component to the game, the overall PvP experience can feel unbalanced and chaotic, favoring certain classes over others. The lack of consistent updates and improvements to this mode have left it feeling stagnant and, at times, frustrating.
Crafting in Age of Conan is a deep system that allows players to create a range of items, from weapons and armor to potions and more. However, it is also quite complex and time-consuming, requiring a significant investment of time and resources to truly excel.
Overall, the gameplay in Age of Conan is a mixture of highs and lows. Its engaging combat system and deep crafting are countered by an uneven content distribution and a neglected PvP system. These elements, combined with the lack of updates, contribute to a gameplay experience that, while unique, is not as polished or engaging as it could be.
At its 2008 launch, Age of Conan stood out for its mature-themed aesthetics and graphics quality that pushed the boundaries of what was possible in the MMORPG genre. The world of Hyboria was beautifully realized with rich, detailed environments and character models that exhibited a level of detail and realism few other games could match at the time. Age of Conan’s graphics engine was capable of rendering stunning vistas, atmospheric cities, and brutal combat scenes, all contributing to the gritty and visceral world of Conan the Barbarian.
Fast forward to 2023, and it’s clear that Age of Conan’s visuals have aged. While the graphics were impressive for their time, in comparison to newer MMORPGs, Age of Conan’s visuals fall short. The level of detail in character models and environments is noticeably lower than in more modern titles, and the lack of updates to the graphics engine over the years is apparent.
Textures can often appear blurry or low resolution, especially in larger environments. Character models, while still detailed, lack the depth and nuance found in more recent games. Animation quality also varies, with some movements appearing smooth and natural, while others can feel stiff and dated.
Despite these flaws, Age of Conan still retains a certain charm in its visuals. The game’s design choices, from the architecture of its cities to the designs of its creatures, still shine through, contributing to a game world that is both atmospheric and engaging. The day-night cycle and weather effects add an extra layer of immersion, making Hyboria feel like a living, breathing world.
Furthermore, Age of Conan’s art direction adheres to the dark, brutal aesthetic of Robert E. Howard’s original stories, which is a significant part of its appeal. The game doesn’t shy away from portraying the bloody, grim nature of Conan’s world, a theme that remains consistent in its visuals.
Community & Population
Age of Conan once boasted a healthy population of players, with bustling cities and active guilds. However, as the years have passed, the population has dwindled significantly. The game now has a markedly low population, making it challenging to find groups for dungeons, participate in PvP, or engage with the community.
Despite the low population, there is still a handful of dedicated players who maintain a tight-knit community. These veterans can often be helpful to new players, providing advice and guidance. Unfortunately, this also means that the community can seem insular and unwelcoming to newcomers.
Is It Free-to-Play or Pay-To-Win?
Age of Conan offers a free-to-play model with the option for a premium subscription. While you can enjoy most of the game’s content without spending a dime, the free-to-play experience feels limited.
In terms of pay-to-win elements, Age of Conan is relatively fair. Premium players do get a few advantages, like faster leveling, but they do not have a substantial edge in PvP or endgame content. Still, the free-to-play restrictions can make the game feel pay-to-play rather than genuinely free.
Age of Conan in 2023 is a bit of a mixed bag. Its unique combat system, rich lore, and gritty aesthetics make it stand out in the crowded MMORPG field. Its approach to adult themes, mature content, and evocative storytelling harken back to the pulp roots of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan the Barbarian tales, which remain one of its most appealing aspects.
However, the game’s age is unmistakably apparent in its outdated graphics and gameplay mechanics. The lack of regular updates and dwindling player population also make it hard to recommend the game unconditionally. While there is still fun to be had for newcomers or returning players looking for nostalgia, one should be aware that the game lacks the polish and active community of more modern MMO offerings.
The current state of the game brings up a sense of missed potential and nostalgia for the times when Age of Conan was a major player in the MMO scene. There are fleeting moments when the game truly shines, but these are unfortunately overshadowed by issues stemming from its age and lack of recent development.
So, is Age of Conan worth playing in 2023? That largely depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re a fan of the Conan lore, enjoy slower-paced gameplay, and don’t mind dated graphics or a smaller community, then Age of Conan might just be worth your time. But if you’re seeking an MMO with a bustling community, frequent updates, and modern graphics, you may want to look elsewhere. Either way, Age of Conan offers a unique experience that, for all its flaws, is still capable of delivering a taste of the savage, untamed world of Conan the Barbarian.