I'm actually surprised by how much there is to do in Age of Conan. At release, I power-leveled an assassin up to 70 on the Tyranny PvP server, and basically ganked and got ganked for a solid month, rarely experiencing much outside of monotonous mob grinding and guild drama. This time around, I'm taking my time, exploring the world, reading the quests, and generally having a blast. As an example, I spent a good week to ten days fiddling around with all of the classes, putting each of them through their paces in the early Tortage levels. After much deliberation, I finally settled on a Cimmerian Ranger, not the most original choice I'm sure, but one that has proved to be great fun through level 21. Choosing a server was an even tougher decision.
Read about Cimmeria versus Wiccana after the cut, and don't forget to tell me what I'm doing wrong in the comments.
In addition to agonizing over my class choice, the problem of server selection also caused a bit of a conundrum. As some of you might know, I'm a carebear, despite the fact that I spent the first three months of my Age of Conan career hacking away at fellow players on Tyranny. On the one hand, Robert E. Howard's Hyboria seems tailor made for an open world PvP game, and I can vouch for the feeling of intensity and death-around-every-corner hyper awareness that comes with constantly looking over your virtual shoulder.
On the other hand, Age of Conan has become a very deep game, with lots to do aside from sticking the pointy end into the other man, and my carebear instincts told me I'd probably enjoy things a lot more if I were to roll on one of the PvE servers and avoid having my exploration constantly interrupted by the 'PvP happened' crowd. In the end, I chose to do both, and so I'm currently sitting pretty with 20ish Rangers on both Cimmeria and Wiccana.
As a side note, Funcom chose to designate the open PvP Cimmeria as the game's only official roleplay server, and Executive Producer Craig Morrison deftly dodged the question of why when I put it to him last week. While I have run into a couple of random roleplay encounters on Cimmeria, so far there seems to be a much larger percentage of players open to the play style on the PvE-focused Wiccana server. As a disclaimer, I am barely out of Tortage at this point, and have no roots in either server's community, so I could be completely wrong in that assessment. Time will tell, as I plan to play both equally until I find a good group of folks, a guild, or both.
The play experiences couldn't be more dissimilar, despite the fact that I'm rolling with the same class on both servers and plowing through the same Tortage quest line.
Cimmeria is a different, though equally entertaining story. The quests, music, and visuals are of course all in place, but once you venture into the Underhalls or White Sands Isle, all bets are off, as you're now fair game for other players (many of whom are in their early 20s and capable of face rolling newbs in a couple of hits). My first foray onto the beaches of White Sands was an exercise in activating Hide as often as possible and skulking around attempting to do the quests while avoiding other players at all costs. The few occasions where I did engage in PvP were on my terms, courtesy of the Ranger's stealthing abilities, and generally went better than I expected provided I picked solo targets around my level.
Thus far, the Age of Conan Cimmeria experience feels like every other PvP game I've ever played. It is fun when you're in the mood for it, and the combat system makes it more engaging than many other titles. At the end of the day though, it's the same one-note kill/die/respawn exercise, bereft of any meaningful gain or loss, albeit with a fresh coat of paint and the occasional bared breast. I fully expect this to change at higher levels when I can take part in sieges as well as the newly released Shrines of Bori, but for now there's nothing remarkable about it. Conversely, the Age of Conan Wiccana experience is the reason I play MMORPGs. Pure escapism has rarely been done better in this genre. Again, this will probably change at higher levels as I exhaust all of the content and explore all the zones, but as it stands now, I spend a fair amount of my non-gaming hours counting the time until I can log back in.
Ultimately, I decided not to decide when it comes to picking a server. The experience is different enough to justify playing both, at least for a while, and I feel like I'd be missing a crucial part of the game by picking one over the other. With my choice of server (sort of) out of the way, it's time to delve into Age of Conan's unique classes and combat. Join me next week for a look at learning to be a better button masher, as well as my experiences playing both a bow and crossbow Ranger. And, as always, I leave you with some concept art, the awesomeness of which can't be overemphasized.
Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran, as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via email@example.com.