|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Nihilistic||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: THQ||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 23, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matt Cabral
While we've been patiently waiting for Funcom's ambitious MMORPG Age of Conan to arrive, THQ and developer Nihilistic have snuck in like a Hyborian thief in the night with their own barbarian-boasting game, aptly and simply titled Conan. A licensed game arriving with little hype or fanfare is usually a sure sign of something you'll want to avoid, but don't let Conan's under-the-radar release fool you; it's a bloody, barbaric, bare-bosom-revealing release that deserves a space in your library alongside this year's biggest blockbusters.
It offers visceral sword-wielding thrills and a brand of balls-out action you won't find in this holiday season's crowded line-up of first and third-person frag fests. Conan is far from perfect, lacking the polish and production values offered by many of its competitors, but with all the running and gunning we've been doing lately, hacking-'n-slashing in Conan's brutal world feels pretty damn good.
To be fair, Conan's bloodletting gameplay delves quite a bit deeper than just button-mashing. On the contrary, you can mindlessly thrash on buttons till your thumbs blister, and Conan's sandal-wearing, shield-waving adversaries will block and parry until you break that mashing mind-set. The combat is surprisingly deep and sophisticated, not in that it offers more combos than you can utilize in multiple play-throughs--many games have done that--, but that it provides players with an intuitive method of learning new moves and tracking their progress through Conan's combo-heavy quest. Where other games unlock new difficult-to-master moves faster than you can learn them, Conan allows players to pace themselves, unlocking the moves when they want; by collecting red orbs, players earn points that can be used to purchase new combos as they become available.
Technically you could unlock every combo in the game, never purchase any of them, and attempt to hack your way through the game, repeatedly slamming a single button. Obviously this suicide strategy wouldn't be the way to go, but the fact that Conan never force-feeds new combos, instead letting you pick and choose the ones you like, when you like, is refreshing and fun. In addition, you're never left guessing as to whether or not you're pulling off your purchased moves with barbarian-like ease; rather than repeatedly attempting a combo--that you just spent some blood-earned orbs on--and wondering if you're actually doing it correctly, a percentage meter pops up on-screen every time you successfully unleash a combo, letting you know just how barbaric you are. This not only assures you've correctly pressed, for example "The Bloody Crown"--a gruesome maneuver that cleaves enemies in half--but also how close you are to mastering this move; chop enough foes in two and you'll soon reach 100% for this particular combo, making it all the more devastating.
Conan's fighting options open up even more when you consider the fact that players can master moves in four different disciplines--two-handed, one-handed, dual-wield, and general--utilizing a variety of bone-breaking, blood-spilling implements of death. Go the two-handed route, and you'll be wielding enormous broad swords and staffs. Or use a variety of smaller blades and axes to get the job done single handedly. Additionally, dual-wielding smaller weapons yields some especially gory animations, such as bringing shiny scimitars down on either side of a foe's head to free him of both his arms. Of course, not everyone's into littering the landscape with loose limbs. More conservative barbarians may want to stick with some non-weapon "general" moves, including everything from wrestling-style grapples and punches to skull-crushing stomps and over-ledge throws. The options are endless and up to you. A cool way to conquer Conan is to change up your moves from level to level; try tackling one stage with dual-wield deaths and maybe the next with two-handed weapons. Regardless of how you satisfy the blood lust, Conan's endless combo system will ensure the ground's always covered with corpses.