Raiding in Age of Conan will be fairly familiar to players of previous MMOs, as the player cap is 24 members per raid, and the raid content will be designed to have players progress through multiple tiers of difficulty. Initially there will be 8 raid dungeons in total, with 21 raid encounters, as well as other events that may play out during the progress of clearing a dungeon. Gaute Godager mentioned that these are "encounters" that can be made up of multiple bosses per-encounter.
These dungeons will be split up into three tiers of difficulty; three for Tier one, three for Tier Two, and two for Tier Three. There's also a bit of linear progression through the difficulty tiers; unlocking one of the dungeons in Tier Two will require you to defeat a Tier One dungeon, and unlocking one of the Tier Three dungeons will require the defeat of a boss in a Tier Two dungeon. Of course, there's also item progression that will require sticking with a tier of difficulty longer than one clear as well; Funcom expects there to be well over 200 hours worth of raid content in the game at launch, with a dungeon typically taking 2 1/2-3 hours for an experienced raid group who has done the dungeon before.
Finally, these dungeons will all be instanced, with lockout timers which are currently set to one week, meaning once you've been locked into a dungeon, that's what you'll zone into each time for a week -- giving you ample learning time to conquer each dungeon and tier before they reset. The good news is that Funcom is also going to be saving the state of the dungeon, and most of the monsters will not respawn for that week once they've been killed -- meaning that for the most part, you'll only have to kill each particular trash monster or boss encounter once a week and then you're done with it.
During our tour around the Funcom office we had the opportunity to meet and chat with many of the members of the Funcom team -- everyone from the folks who do all of the motion capture for animations, the sound director, members of "strike teams" who are teamed up to work on specific areas of the game like 1-40, end-game raiding, PvP, mounted combat, etc., and the folks who are working on the Cheetah 2 improvements and additions for the Dreamworld graphics engine.
The good news is Cheetah 2 looks great; we finally got to see it in action, rather than a preview video set up to show it off at trade shows. Cheetah 2 is receiving some new stuff, like water ripples to make the water more realistic, a day and night cycle with proper directional shadowing from light sources, and a new level of quality for textures. There are also rendering improvements being introduced, which will drastically increase framerates in polygon-dense areas like larger cities and forest areas where vast numbers of trees are present. The increase we were shown by one of Dreamworld's programmers, in a comparison by switching between Cheetah 1 and Cheetah 2, was close to 100% for one of the largest cities in Hyboria.
PvP will take place in several different ways in Age of Conan with not only the border kingdom, massive city sieges and tower capturing, but also in the form of instanced PvP matches between smaller numbers of players. The PvP match we took part in during the gathering was one fairly similar to World of Warcraft's Warsong Gulch, though this was stylized heavily toward Stygian architecture. The gameplay itself involves battling it out with the other team in an 8 player, 4-vs.-4 format where you have 10 minutes to win the match completely, of which involves capturing the other team's flag three times before they capture yours the same number. There will also be a Team Deathmatch type of instanced PvP, both with Ranked or Skirmish options. In Ranked matches, dying means you lose "PvP experience," as Evan Michaels put it.
Gaute Godager added that there will be multiple tiers of ranks which players can attain, though because of the PvP EXP loss for dying, only the best of the best will be able to reach the highest ranks -- making it something that is truly an accomplishment. During Funcom's internal testing of the ranking system, they've noticed that it's popular to gun for the highest ranked players to see if they can be knocked off of their pedestal. Being ranked fairly high will be quite lucrative as well, with access to unique PvP-based items being granted.
For those looking for hardcore PvP, Godager told us that they're very close to finalizing the PvP server rulesets and opening it up for testing in the Beta. PvP servers will have open PvP in many locations throughout the world, not just the border kingdoms and instanced battlefields. Funcom has designed a system in which they can flag certain areas as being open to PvP, so the possibility of unique ruleset servers in the future is there, but they want to get the basic PvP ruleset in for launch and see where they can go from that point. And for fans of corpse-looting in PvP, Funcom is considering some kind of penalty for dying on PvP servers, but Godager mentioned that they're being very careful in what, if anything, they do because the PvP in Age of Conan is being designed to feel as if you can jump into it and play for a bit, then take a break -- similar to Quake or other competitive FPS games -- rather than a system that feels as if there's permanant loss like perma-death.
For roleplayers, there will also be a PvP-RP ruleset at launch, and the server will be set up slightly differently than the normal PvP server, with special rules for names and guild names, as well as other rules that must be followed on the server type. Funcom hasn't finalized these rules yet, but they do plan to draw them up prior to launch so that there's an understanding of what you're getting into if you decide to make a PvP-RP server your home.
Check back for part three of our adventures in Oslo, where we'll cover details on armor graphics, sound, animations and mounted combat.