As you may know, we withdrew our original review of Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer shortly after publication last month. In short, we didn't give the original reviewer enough time with the expansion, but this only became apparent to us once the piece was live. We're very sorry about this, and we're happy to present a second look at the game to make up for our mistake.
Age of Conan is the bloke who turned up to the party having forgotten to pull on his trousers. It's hardly his fault, in a sense; barbarians often seem to run around in the prehistoric equivalent of Y-fronts, and not a merchant trader from Cimmeria to Stygia has ever batted an eyelid at their manly thews being on display all over the place.
It sets the tone for the rest of the evening, however. No matter how fine a pair of trousers the star of my tortured metaphor subsequently dons, everyone will still refer to him as "that bloke who turned up with no trousers on", rolling their eyes and giggling behind their hands.
Conan's trouserless arrival in May 2008, and its subsequent travails, provide a rather sad object lesson in how an MMO's launch can colour the discussion around the game for years to come. Its broken, buggy state when it first appeared burned the fingers of thousands of players - and yes, in common with much of the games press, I didn't help by foolishly judging the game on potential rather than true merit in our launch review. Whatever else it becomes, or has become, for many gamers Age of Conan will always be, first and foremost, a cock-up.
That's a salutary lesson to developers who take a "ship it and worry about patching later" attitude, certainly, but also a terrible shame - because Crom knows, Funcom has made a Herculean effort to make things right in the past two years. With the launch of the game's first paid expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, the Conan team might have hoped to draw a line under the rough ride of the original game.
They won't, of course - but they've got every right to hope, because by any standards, Rise of the Godslayer is an impressive slice of MMO gaming. Having finally fulfilled the promise of the game with recent patches and updates, delivering a largely smooth and gap-free progression to level 80 and a respectable amount of endgame content to keep you happy once you get there, Godslayer is the first chance the team has had to really expand upon the experience rather than filling in gaps.
What they have delivered is neatly divided into two parts. There's a new race to play as, the Asiatic-featured Khitan, although no new character classes. Like all other races, they spend the first 20 levels pursuing a narrative-led adventure through the pirate city of Tortage. After the climactic battle in Tortage, however, you set sail for a new territory - the Gateway to Khitai, a gigantic new zone whose quests will take you all the way to level 40.
Gateway to Khitai is a testament to how much Funcom has learned since the launch of Age of Conan. One of the most prevalent and valid criticisms of the game was that after the fantastic, rich Tortage experience, the game dumped you into zones that were comparatively devoid of content and arguably downright dull. Much has been improved in those original zones, admittedly, but Gateway is what they should have been from the outset.