Age of Conan tie-ins reveal more of Conan’s plot?

(Before I get on with this piece of news, I want to apologise if news comes a little slow in the next week or so: I’m deep in the heart of Arizona, and there isn’t any internet where I’m holed up. Luckily my heroic relatives have allowed me internet access, so I’ll be able to keep you all informed sooner or later. Just bear with me if I’m a bit late on some news.)

Enough caterwauling, on with the news!

It’s difficult to imagine how Age of Conan would tie into the new film, given that the former is set after the events of Hour of the Dragon, while the latter is set earlier in Conan’s career. Eurogamer has given us a few clues as to not only how this continuity conundrum could be solved, but a few more bits and pieces about the film’s story.

Eurogamer’s Robert Purchese begins to quiz executive producer Craig Morrison on the continued viability of Age of Conan, as well as offering some thoughts about the film:

We saw a version about a month ago that was only about 60 per cent done. I really enjoyed it. What pleased me the most was the brutal feel, the fantasy realism we aim for in the game. I saw so much similar art direction.

They’ve been trying to make The Conan movie for many, many years. It was actually first mentioned to me before I worked on Age of Conan some five years ago.

Discussion soon expands to the 250lb Styrian Oak in the room:

Eurogamer: Is Jason Momoa a better Conan than Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Craig Morrison: That will be an impossible question to answer! It’s going to be subjective for people of different ages and different types. I’m going to sit firmly on the fence with that one. Jason Momoa plays Conan really well and it fits with Howard’s original stories. They’ve done a really good job of translating that feeling onto the big screen.

Very diplomatic of Mr Morrison, even if I don’t think the question is quite that difficult to answer depending on what kind of Conan fan you are.

Eurogamer: Whose idea was putting film content in Age of Conan?

Craig Morrison: It was always in the plan, so as soon as they started filming we started talking to Paradox. Once they confirmed they were looking at the fall of this year we started on production. We were provided the script by Paradox and found how we could tie it in. It’s a challenge given that our game is set some 20 years after the events in the movie.

We’re working with Lionsgate closely to do as much cross-promition as we can. When there’s a Hollywood movie coming out you want to get as much attention for the game as you can. Even just having the movie out there and a huge advertising campaign behind it – it does great things for the game.

So we see that the film is set 20 years prior to the game. The game is set a year after The Hour of the Dragon, where Conan is about 45 years old. Thus, the new film features Conan who’s around 25.

Eurogamer: Why didn’t you develop a full expansion to tie into the Age of Conan film?

Craig Morrison: We already had a very, very busy schedule. We’re in the middle of a content push, and by the end of this month we’ll have done six new dungeons in the last three months, including a full revamp of the crowd control abilities and faction progression. We already have a very full plate. And we wanted to do something for the movie. But we also knew that we couldn’t do all the improvements that we wanted alongside a fully-fledged expansion pack on the side. We’d have to shut down everything else and only focus on that. And we really didn’t want to do that. We wanted to provide content to tie into the movie and be able to do the constant updates and the tweaks and the fixes the players want.

This adventure pack has something for everyone: a large outdoor playfield, solo instances, team instances and raids, all linked by a unified story. And it ties into the characters from the movie and also a couple of Robert E. Howard’s books.

I would’ve thought the fact that the film was set 20 years before the events of the film would’ve answered that question, but I’m not a games journalist. However, that final sentence intrigues me: not just a few characters from the films (no word on who, though to hazard a guess, I’d go with Conan’s pirate friend Artus and Ela-shan), but some from the stories. That leads me to wonder: have any of those sneaked their way onto the film?

Eurogamer: The new solo instance – what’s that called?

Craig Morrison: We’re still working on which of the different instances we’ll open to teams and solo. There are three main instances that we’re doing. One is called The Dead Man’s Hand, which is an island infested with pirates. The second one is called The Island of the Iron Statues, which Conan fans will actually know from the lore and from Howard’s original stories. It’s actually one of the only locations in Howard’s writing where Conan almost met his death. That’s probably the dungeon that will end up as the solo instance, because it’s a very cool storytelling narrative.

One of the solo instances will be maximum level, which means you’ll need to be level 80 to do it. One of them will be an auto-content generation dungeon (an ACG), which adjusts to the level of the player.

“Dead Man’s Hand,” eh? Wonder if that’s a film location, perhaps Artus’ stronghold. The isle of iron statues is undoubtedly a reference to the setting of “Iron Shadows in the Moon,” freshly adapted by Dark Horse and out now in collected trade paperback.

Eurogamer: The new raid instance – what’s that called?

Craig Morrison: This will take place in a temple location: The Temple of Elric in Ardesia. That will involve the storyline where players meet Ela-Shan, the master thief that Conan uses as an ally in the movie. The players will be catching up with him and going through quests as part of the solo play in the outdoor playfield. The raid is the end of the conspiracy at the end of the questline.

I presume that’s a typo for Erlik, and not an impromptu tie-in to Michael Moorcock’s iconic Melnibonean. We already have the Elder Scrolls fans thinking we nabbed Azura and mispelled their Daedra’s name, after all. At least Elric is nominally part of the Conan universe via Marvel Comics! Ardesia doesn’t turn up in any of the stories, so it’s either another film location, or one invented by Funcom.

Eurogamer: Who or what is the final boss of this raid? Does it tie into the film?

Craig Morrison: It’s actually a surprise for the players. It’s a nice treat for fans of the Conan lore. It’s tied to Howard’s original stories. We’re taking an old enemy that Conan faced and placing it in a different context. It’ll be a cool discovery at the end.

Okay, place your bets now: the Master of Yimsha, not as wounded as previously thought? Khosatral Khel, back from the Abyss to conquer the Vilayet again? A dead villain resurrected by foul necromancy like the original game’s first boss (which could mean anyone)? Could be anyone, really, given Funcom’s wacky ideas.

Eurogamer: What’s the new epic questline about?

Craig Morrison: There are two or three different story arcs. There’s an overarching story that explains what’s happening and a plot on a grand scale that involves kings and generals and an attempted coup and the player won’t know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

One of the two main arcs has players meeting Ela-Shan, the master thief, who’s down on his luck and is trying to form a new thieves guild and you’ll be tasked with helping him.

On the other side, players meet Arthas, Conan’s pirate ally from the movie who, at the time of our game, is head of the Red Brotherhood group of pirates. He’s having an internal dispute with the pirates about who they should back. Conan can’t help him because he’s king, so he sends the players to help instead.

Again, obviously Craig meant Artus (the Eurogamer reporter seems to be making a lot of fantasy Freudian slips) instead of Arthas.

There are also a few pictures available, and while it’s impossible to tell how – if – they tie into the film, they’re lovely to look at all the same.

There’s more I could comment on (Conan only comes close to death in a “few” stories? Conan leaves his “only friend” in the lurch? Persian-themed Turan as opposed to Turkish-themed Turan?) but it isn’t about the film so much as the game, so I’ll not get into it. Besides, it’s nothing that we haven’t come to expect from Funcom, and they’re doing fine as it is. Nonetheless, it’ll be interesting to see what comes out from Funcom as news on the content grows, and may tie into the film.