I was going to write about how L.A. Noire’s facial expression animation personally impacts my gaming today, but then Funcom finally decided to do something we at Channel Massive have been asking and expecting for over a year. That’s right, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is going Free to Play. I’m pretty excited about this, though the character classes I played and enjoyed most will be locked locked under the “Premium” (aka subscription) bracket. So if I want to play again, I need to resubscribe or start over with a lamer class like Barbarian, which might be interesting if only to see some of the new content. Otherwise, odds are slim I’ll get back into the game with my Bear Shaman and Assassin locked away under a subscription wall.
Buuuut, that said…
The press release that made this strangely timed announcement (strange timing to me since it was announced when the “full account reactivation with no subscription until May 31” promotion is already going on) heavily emphasized another word: UNRATED. Yes, in all caps—I’m not being dramatic, though it’s fun to throw UNRATED around in all caps. Perhaps the PR writer felt that way, too, because the feasibility and true details of what “UNRATED” means is largely side-stepped, other than a comment from creative director Craig Morrison (do note: not the original creative director of the game! In fond memory of Gaute) that the game, in an “unrated” state, can be “even more true” to Robert E. Howard’s original vision of Conan’s world.
Yet the game’s pretty gory and bloody already: it sports Mortal Kombat-esque fatalities in combat. So even though further increasing that violence and brutality was hinted at in the press release, another word that was repeatedly mentioned throughout the press release was “sexy,” as in how the Age of Conan is the “sexiest” of all the MMOs. Is this just because female characters can run around topless? Or that all the female models are ridiculously endowed? Or that some NPCs will come on to you during a quest? I don’t know. I think there’s more “sexy” content in Bioware’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect games than Age of Conan. Even cohost Scott groused he gets all the softcore porn he needs in Witcher 2 and doubts Age of Conan: UNRATED could match that.
Meh… NEEDZ MOAR SEXY
I see where Scott’s coming from and think it’s cool he gets all his sexy-time needs from Witcher 2, but I don’t plan on getting that game and would appreciate Funcom putting its money where its mouth is with all this “unrated” and “sexy” talk. I don’t want a sex-sim or anything, but if Age of Conan: UNRATED actually matches what’s been done in other games that have released since 2008, the game may have an extra (though hardly subscription-justifying) curiosity to check out.
Actually, the lengths Funcom could go with a truly “unrated” game is an intriguing idea. Yet does the company have the courage to truly go there? Does it have the need to? The game world and gameplay are already cool. I’m not a major Conan enthusiast (see Mark for that), but I felt the game was more than sufficient in representing the beauty and violence of Conan’s world.
Meh… NEEDZ MOAR BLOOD!
And what’s the true possibility the game will succeed “unrated”? Without an ESRB rating, the game’s automatically limited to digital distribution, as the press release notes. But Funcom has put itself into a dangerous place beyond how the game’s distributed. If this new version just adds a few more fatality animations and more T&A, misinformed media are likely to be the only ones jumping on it, adding fuel to the fire that games are a corrupt, dehumanizing experiences for everyone (especially the children! Oh, the children!). If this then results in dragging the ESRB into the discussion, there may be more choice (read: negative) words. And if there’s really nothing more than superficial thrills being thrown in, gamers won’t give a hoot either. Yeah, the new expansion provides new areas to explore, but there’s no major enhancement to the gameplay. It’s all window dressing.
Honestly, the “unrated” strategy seems like a desperate swipe for short-lived notoriety, something Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online and D&D Online didn’t need to be successful after transitioning to F2P. Can’t Age of Conan be meritable just for going F2P and adding a new expansion? Well, I haven’t heard much about SOE’s Pirates of the Burning Sea since it went F2P. Maybe, three years later, Age of Conan does need its “unrated” gimmick to stay afloat, but that sexy, gory content better be damn exciting to bring me back as a boring, old barbarian. Otherwise, bring on Warhammer Online F2P!