Since Funcom has yet to implement any skip-the-island functionality for those of us with multiple toons and plenty of Tortage experience, the only thing left to do is grin and bear it. Happily, though, The Anvil of Crom is here for you in the form of the Tortage Speed Run guide. Join me after the cut to see how I went from the character creation screen to stepping off the boat in Khemi with a level 16 Necromancer in a little under four hours.
First things first: get off that beach (yes I know it's pretty but still, time's a-wastin'), cut Casilda free, and work your way up the jungle path, killing picts, mercenaries, and everything in between. If you're new to the game, this is your trial and error period with Age of Conan's directional combat system (unless you're a mage class, in which case you can safely channel any knowledge of special-ability-spamming gleaned from other MMOs until you unlock spellweaving after level 50).
You can glance at the tutorial popups here if you want, but really there's nothing out of the ordinary about AoC unless this is your first MMO rodeo. If you are, in fact, a real rookie, the two key points to be aware of are that a) the X key toggles your active blocking and b) the control key (coupled with 1, 2, and 3) sets your shields. You'll notice little yellow arrows around your character; set them appropriately, as mobs attempt to melee you from the left, right, and center. Other than that, hack away, spam your specials, and enjoy the ambiance (and Knut Haugen's peerless score). If you're on your 11th character like I am, try not to strangle Casilda as she follows you around yelling "hooooray" and defining the word useless.
The Tortage jungle is quite linear, and even if you stop to kill all the mobs (which you shouldn't do on a speed run, by the way), you should manage to silence Saddur, get the gate key, and cross the lava bridge to the city outskirts in 15 minutes tops.
You'll also be level 5 or 6 by this time, and it's here that I should talk briefly about double XP potions. I did this run-through sans the 12-hour 100% XP buff that Funcom is fond of giving out with multiple-month sub packages (and is also now offering in the item shop that masquerades as your account page). It's entirely possible to hurry your way through Tortage without an XP boost, but doubling your pleasure is the way to go if you can afford it. It will basically save you from doing much of anything outside the destiny quest line, whereas at standard XP rates, you'll need to run around and complete a few assorted daytime quests before hitting level 16 and bidding farewell to the Barachan Isles.
The pirate haven
I almost feel guilty writing a speed run guide for Tortage since it is one of the more unique and flavor-filled locales in the MMO space. From the art direction to the soundscape to the nooks and crannies reachable if you're willing to spend a little time perfecting your MMO parkour skills, everything about the place basically kicks ass. AoC vets know it a bit too well, though, as one of the game's early-level flaws is the lack of multiple starting areas.
Anyhow, after you've run a couple of errands for the gatekeeper (Laranga) and gotten Turach the smithy to do away with your slave irons, you can enter the city. You'll want to take an immediate right turn and head up the steps of the Thirsty Dog Inn, where you can talk to a barmaid named Tina who will grant you entrance to the Tortage Night solo instance. After a few dialogue trees, you'll be shepherded toward your class-appropriate NPC, who starts you on the destiny quest line.
You'll stay in the instanced (i.e., solo) version of Tortage for the destiny quest, and you should do it exclusively until the quests become too difficult for you (which probably won't happen) or until you're told to return to your class trainer at level 10. If you're hovering around level 8 or 9 here, talk to Tina and return to the daytime Tortage zone, then run outside the Thirsty Dog and pick up all of the quests you'll find in the nearby courtyard and on the walkways. Most of these are doable without your needing to range too far abroad in the city, and you'll easily hit level 10 after running an errand or three for the head mistress of The Bearded Clam as well as Skeggi, Sassan, Donus, and Junia. You can also pick up a quest line or two from Otho, a brooding one-armed chap inside the Thirsty Dog, as well as some tasks from a barmaid named Alyssa.
It is your destiny...
As you can see, there's plenty to do here. The key for the speed run is to avoid straying far from the Thirsty Dog. There's no need to do any of the quests on White Sands Isle or the Underhalls. In fact, since Funcom removed PvP from these areas, there's really no reason to bother with them at all unless it is your first time with the game and you want to see absolutely everything. White Sands in particular is a huge playfield with quests that feature a lot of running around, quests that are great fun for newbs and immersion enthusiasts alike but that make my inner efficiency freak cringe.
If you're still stuck at the 9 to 10 hump after exhausting the first few Thirsty Dog-area quests (assuming you're not using an XP pot), you can clear out every single one of the mobs on the Letter to the King I destiny quest. This quest takes place in the Tortage Volcano instance, and prior to talking with slavemaster Shenti-Aku to complete the objective, feel free to gorge yourself on the plentiful XP to be had by disposing of the also-rans scattered around the instance.
Once you're over the level 10 speed bump, continue on with the destiny quest. I won't hold your hand through it since the game does a great job of that already. When you get to level 12 (maybe 13), you'll head back to the volcano instance for the Letter to the King II quest. You can use the zone-clearing XP trick again if you want, as you'll want to get to 15 prior to the destiny quest line telling you to do so. Once you've dinged and talked to your class trainer, continue with the destiny quest (or nearby Tortage quests) until you ding 16. At this point, you'll need to go click on a hidden poster near the Tortage harbor and talk to a smuggler about leaving the city prematurely. Rather than bore you with lengthy text-based directions, I'll refer you to an excellent video on the subject.
Now, while all of the above is great for speed-running through Tortage, it comes with a don't-do-it caveat if you're new to the game. First of all, the Tortage quests are really well-written (and the cinematics are superb), and they'll carry you all the way up to 21 if you stay the course. Getting out of the newb zone at 16 is cool if you know what you're doing when it comes to AoC, but seeing as how most of your racial homeland quests will be 20 and up, it can be frustrating for newbs. You're also passing up some free blue gear by skipping the climactic battle with Strom, but as leveling in Age of Conan is pretty fast (and decent gear is plentiful prior to 80), this isn't too much of a concern.
Anyhow, that about does it. If you're thinking of rolling an alt but dreading another Tortage excursion, the bad news is that it's unavoidable. The good news is that you can get it done in about four hours, probably far less if you pop an XP potion and set your mind to it. Until next week, enjoy some artwork that I borrowed from the Thirsty Dog Inn.
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.