Its 2008 launch was plagued with various fits and starts, but the grimly gorgeous Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures was a brutal and atmospheric dark pearl among fantasy online role-playing games. In the years since, developer Funcom has plugged in most of its gaps, giving the game’s first expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, room to shine in its own right. Players between levels 40 and 80 may feel left out in the Frost Swamp, but newer players–and veterans looking to reroll a new character–will enjoy the scenic new lands in the Gateway to Khitai. And if you’ve reached Age of Conan’s level cap and don’t mind some tedious grinding, there are plenty of violent pleasures waiting in the new high-level areas. If you’ve strayed from Age of Conan’s blood-smeared trail, Rise of the Godslayer is the reason to return to the service of the Aquilonian king.
Expansions of online RPGs typically add a couple of new classes and, perhaps, an increase to the level cap. Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer adds neither, though it does feature a new race: the Khitan. Playing the new race doesn’t significantly change how the initial 20 levels in Tortage play out, but it does mean once your initial travails on the volcanic isle are over, you start questing in your homeland: Khitai. If you’d rather visit this level 20 to 40 zone–the Gateway to Khitai–with an existing character, you can pay a caravan master to transport you there unharmed. However, unless you’re in a hurry, you should offer your services to this needy chap, as you will then perform one of multiple quests as way of payment. Some of these are conventional scenarios, but others tap into the savage beauty that make Conan an explorer’s paradise. In one enjoyable scenario, you fend off a besieging kraken from aboard a rocking ship. In a dreamy underwater sequence, undulating visuals give a simple fetch quest a surreal aura. These quests also serve as great introductions to the Gateway’s wilds.
The Far East is Khitai’s visual and temperamental inspiration. Provided your system is beefy enough to render these lands in their full glory (and, indeed, the game requires a beefy PC), you’ll be awed by the scenery. Red poppylike flowers dot the grasslands, and the autumnal hues of certain trees provide a lovely contrast to the craggy mountains in the distance. Once you reach level 80 and can further explore Rise of the Godslayer’s new zones, your appreciation will only grow. Somber ambient music (all of it uniformly superb) and deep lighting make Chosain Province’s charred villages seem so grim you can practically smell the blood. Sparkling creeks ripple through the northern grasslands, where creatures battle each other when you haven’t engaged them in combat yourself. The vistas are vastly different from those you see in Cimmeria and Stygia, but they still capture that special Age of Conan vibe, where pastoral grace competes with the ghastly sight of murdered corpses hanging from gnarled branches.