Age of Conan's free-to-play overhaul hits live servers tomorrow [Giveaway]

Josh Augustine

UPDATE: The winners have been chosen, and will be contacted shortly. Thanks to everyone who entered! Even if you didn't win a Premium Membership, you can still get the full experience of this "sexy, savage, and brutal world."

Only a month after its announcement, Age of Conan's free-to-play incarnation, dubbed Age of Conan Unchained , is to be released tomorrow, and we've got the exclusive look at the official launch trailer to celebrate it. We're excited: we previously discussed the details of how the business model works , and now it's time to try it out for ourselves.

First up, I think I'll pick out a new companion to accompany me on my journeys from the store. Funcom gave us the exclusive scoop on new "tempress" pets being added to the game's cash shop that'll replace your silly non-sexy pet that currently follows you around with a seductive lady of the night. There are several different varieties, and while interaction is limited, Funcom stressed that this was a change they could only do because they're now free of any rating restrictions in the new free-to-play mode. Of course, the usual lineup of weapons, armor, potions, and all that jazz will also be available in the cash shop.

Read on to learn more about the new content and characters as we talk with Executive Producer Craig Morrison to hear what he's doing on launch day and get his tips for those jumping into AoC for the first time. We're also giving away 11 60-day Premium Membership subscriptions—details inside.

Update: Funcom sent us over a list of several other companion pets that'll be available in the store tomorrow. They are: Arctic Hare, White Khitan Tiger Cub, Black Khitan Wolf Pup, Hippo Calf, Wolverine Kit, Panda, Polar Bear, Obsidian Ravager of Jhil, Ivory Ravager of Jhil, Ashen Fu Dog ,Pleasure Priestess of Derketo, Pleasure Priestess of Morrigan, Pleasure Priestess of Ishtar, Pleasure Priestess of Yun, Social Pet: Owlet, Social Pet: Loyal Crocodile, Social Pet: Fearless Crab, Social Pet: Tamed Baboon. Personally I'm most intrigued by that Hippo Calf--for example, can it blow cute little bubbles and pop them while giggling?

We haven't seen official shots of the new 'tempress' companions yet, but Funcom sure isn't shy about mature content.

To win one of the premium membership codes, send an email to contests@pcgamer.com with "Ladies love premium members" in the subject line. 11 random winners will be chosen tomorrow, July 1st and have their code emailed to them.

PC Gamer: That was fast! It wasn't too long ago that you announced AoC was going free to play at all, and here we are on launch day. How long has the team been working on this transition?

Executive Producer Craig Morrison: We didn't want to have too long of a delay between the announcement and the release, mainly so that people wouldn't put off trying the game because they wanted to wait for the new offer. These changes have been considered for some time, and it was always an option that we knew we were likely to use at some stage in the product's life cycle.

In some ways, parts of this have been in motion for almost two years. Since we knew it would most likely be something we'd do eventually, we were able to lay the foundations in other systems from the start. We've always felt that it's good development practice to be flexible in [regards to business model]. We also benefited from our work with Neowiz in launching the game in Korea, where we've been using elements of this business model since it launched there last year.

In terms of concentrated work--the supporting systems, shop integration, and inventory--we've been working in detail since the beginning of the year so we could get everything in place for the summer.

Undead or no, a dude that gross deserves whatever trouble he gets when adventurers stroll in.

PCG: What areas are the dev team monitoring most closely for player feedback in order to make quick adjustments? (i.e. store prices, leveling speed, security issues)

CM: We'll definitely be paying attention to how the new players integrate with the existing players. The game itself hasn't been altered in terms of progression for free players, so the speed of leveling should be pretty much the same. In terms of the sales through the item store, yes, we definitely pay attention there and will be monitoring players purchasing habits with interest.

You always think you have a pretty good idea about what will be appealing to players, but if you learn anything from working in this genre, it's that the players can always surprise you! So whenever you do something new like this you are watching the results closely.

PCG: What are you most excited to do today? Are you going to be analyzing player's actions/choices on the backend, lurking out in the chat channels listening to what people are saying, or just out enjoying playing the game?

CM: I think I'm probably most looking forward to showing the game to more new players than ever before, and to welcome back those [I played with] who haven't played in a long time...I will definitely be in game quite a bit, as I usually am, as you get a lot of invaluable insight from just listening to and playing alongside the players.

Raawr, it feels good to be free!

PCG: What tips would you give someone that has never played Age of Conan before who's going to jump in today?

CM: The game feels and plays a little differently from other, more traditional MMO titles. In particular the combat system, so be prepared for a little adjustment. It isn't too steep [of a learning curve], however--once you get the hang of bringing down your wrath on your foes without things like an auto-attack, the combat system provides a really engaging and layered experience. It really makes for a more exciting gameplay experience than you may find elsewhere.

PCG: Is there any race/class combination that you'd recommend for new players?

CM: That depends on your playstyle to a large degree. If you want to dive right into the front lines with a melee class that uses the combat system you should look at the Soldier or the Rogue archetype. Priests can be fun as healers in Age of Conan, and can also take an active roll in combat--they aren't just back line support characters.

But if you find the concept of the dynamic combat system a little too intimidating, you can try one of the Mage archetypes as they largely use spells rather than combos, which plays a little more like a traditional MMO.

Of course, for the true Conan experience the Barbarian class in the Rogue archetype is everything you need to follow in Conan's footsteps!

These terracotta murderers must be stopped or orphans will die! Are you really selfish enough to NOT play?

PCG: What's one thing that everyone that plays AoC F2P absolutely has to experience?

CM: I would urge people not to ignore the low- and mid-level dungeons. They'll require you to make some friends and find a group, and some are premium spots, but there are some really fun and interesting encounters to be found in them. The desire to level fast is an easy trap to fall into, but it's well worth your time to check out dungeons like The Black Castle, Sanctum of the Burning Souls and the Amphitheater, to name just a few.

Also if you're one of those who are prone to the odd hardcore PVP desire, you might want to check out the upcoming Blood and Glory server ruleset, which will provide a very harsh "old school" open-PVP environment for those brave enough to try it.

PCG: Personally, what's your favorite part of the new content being added today, and why you enjoy playing it so much?

CM: For me personally, it's rewarding to see the new team members that we brought aboard after the expansion (when some moved across to work on The Secret World) mix in with the veterans. I'm usually a little nervous when I do the first few internal playthroughs of content from a new team setup, but this team have really pulled it off. So as a player, I really like the new instances...they play really well, and I think the players are recognizing, and appreciating, that.

I also love that each of the new areas have great atmosphere and their own distinct feel to them. The art team did a wonderful job giving them all unique elements that allow you to immediately identify with the area. From the awesome vistas in the Forgotten City, to the bleak and stormy environs of the Breach, through the brilliantly twisted nightmare section of The Refuge of the Apostate, and the grim corruption of the Paikang districts. Our Dreamworld engine is capable of creating some of the most atmospheric and amazing environments that can be found in any MMO, and I think it brings that dangerous and brutal world that Robert E. Howard described in the Conan stories to life brilliantly.

Sound like fun? You can download the client at Age of Conan's website right now and play! Let us know what you think in the comments or, as always, at letters@pcgamer.com.

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