'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Showing posts with label Age of Conan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Age of Conan. Show all posts

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Age of Conan: Valeria #1

I have been away on vacation visiting the beautiful province of Newfoundland! I had intended on reading Valeria #1 and Conan: Exodus on the airplane on the way back, but that didn't happen. I did see a few reviews of Valeria #1, and while I didn't read them, the headlines lead me to believe the reviewers didn't like the book. I finally got a chance to read it on the train this morning.


Writer: Meredith Finch
Artist: Aneke
Colorist: Andy Troy
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: Jay Anacleto & Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Cover Price: $3.99cad

When they released Belit #1, many of us were keen to see new tales of the Hyborian Age focused on some of our favorite characters besides Conan. What we got was a book that was not aimed, at the generally male, core fan base. This caused many reviewers to not get it, and to give it poor reviews. In general, the book was decent and clearly aimed at a different fan base, which I think is awesome. The more the merrier! Still, I hoped Valeria #1 would be different and maybe be aimed a little closer at the core fan base, call me selfish. I wanted to enjoy reading some more conventional stories about Valeria of the Red Brotherhood! The reviews, however, pointed towards something more like what we got with Belit.

Upon reading it I admit I was a little confused. Certainly, this might appeal to a woman reading it as the main hero is a heroine, but it wasn't what we saw in Belit. Valeria is fully formed and on a quest for vengeance, and while we do get some flashbacks to her as a young girl, outlining her character and reasons for wanting what she does, it isn't a tale of her youth. Further the '82 classic film, Conan the Barbarian, likewise showed early moments from Conan's life, even if it's not the main part of the tale. In my mind, it isn't obviously pointed at one or the other demographic.

The story we get is another origin tale, revolving around how hard life is in the Hyborian Age. Death comes swiftly to those around our main character and she rises to become the warrior we see in Red Nails. Her desires pushed by a quest for vengeance. Nothing new here, but this is based on pulp literature, we aren't looking for exceptionally deep tales. I understand that we don't always need origin stories, and when Valeria first appears in Red Nails, we don't have one. These titles are allowing other authors to explore the characters and the world, which I again think is a pretty cool thing. Bringing REH to more people is awesome in general.

The interior art is done by Aneke. I admit to not being hugely familiar with the artist, but having a look on the internet I see a fair body of work including Red Sonja. I have mixed feelings about the art. Some of it is great, like the opening fight sequence, and other panels are nearly comical, such as this fight between a merchant and a pirate. Despite a few odd poses, I think there is more good than bad in this issue.

Excellent opening fight.
Less excellent fight between pirate and merchant.


The cover of the title doesn't really deal with the story at all, and so maybe I should take issue with it as I did with several Savage Sword covers. However, it is a beautifully rendered cover of Valeria, and although it isn't directly about the story, it doesn't seem out of place either. The issue has plenty of swords, some blood and lots of action. It, however, has no sorcery as of yet, so I have a hard time fitting this solidly into the Sword and Sorcery genre it is current form.

Art:

Story:

Cover:

Sword & Sorcery:


And so we fill 3.5 skulls with grog and toast this initial offering for Valeria!

This was, I believe, a decent start to the adventure. Despite a few missteps with the interior art, the story looks to be a nice pulp tale of swords and vengeance. I look forward to reading Valeria #2!

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Age of Conan: Issue #1 (2019): Bêlit. "The Lost Verses"

This is the third of three new titles bearing our Cimmerian Hero's name from Marvel! Things are different this time though, even though it has Conan's name on it, it centers around other characters from his world. We start with the first woman to really capture Conan's heart: Bêlit, Queen of the Black Coast. If you are new to Conan, be sure to check out the original story featuring this savage lady, Queen of the Black Coast. So without further pre-amble I give you Marvel's Age of Conan: Bêlit.


First the people who made this issue possible, the writers, artists and letterers.
Cover: Sana Takeda
Writer: Tini Howard
Artist: Kate Niemczyk
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letterer: VCs Travis Lanham
I suspect this issue will be not well liked by many, but I am willing to see where the story goes.

I generally liked the cover, it gives an air of regal sureness to Bêlit that I think fits her character, but I do think it lacks a little of the savage edge I think she should have. Sana Takeda has a fairly distinctive style I would describe as beautiful ethereal and flowery, and this cover is no exception to this.

The story, in this issue, is simple enough, and lays the ground work for Bêlit to start down the road to become Queen of the Black Coast. It is not twisty and as near as I can tell isn't setting up some massive twist. It is direct, but it is setting up to develop Bêlit into the woman she becomes. With all that being said, I don't think it is the story I would have told, but then I am not sure what story I would tell for Bêlit, which I think will be the problem. This will not be the story any of you had for her either, even if you don't know what that is. Her origins were secretive and mysterious. Tini Howard has her work cut out for her here. Telling the story of one of Robert E Howard's more iconic women of the Hyborian Age is not a task I am jealous of.

Art wise, I found the issue to be well enough executed, but come across clean. It is bright and the lines are straight for the most part. This is not universally true, but it was enough that it was the main impression I took away. It would be cool if as the story progressed the art was to change and become more and more harsh as Bêlit moves closer to becoming the Pirate Queen. For now I find Kate Niemczyk's style to be a little off the mark here, which isn't to say I dislike her art, she has done some cool stuff and you should check out her work. I just don't think it is fitting perfectly for the Hyborian Age tale. I have one striking exception to this. The last panel is, in my opinion, excellent in execution and style. The coloring of Jason Keith supports the art style in that it remains pretty bright for the most part.

The last thing we need to talk about is the sword and sorcery elements of this. This isn't as strongly tropy as say the first issue of Conan the Barbarian, where we have, "Conan Fight. Conan Capture. Conan Fight Wizard.". Even without those heavy tropes the story has most the elements we need to see a S&S tale. Although again I prefer my tales to be a little heavier on the conflict side.

Alright so those are my thoughts, lets see how many skulls I think this all breaks down to.

Art:

Story:

Cover:

Sword & Sorcery:


I have landed on 4 out of 5 skulls here, I have a few minor issues with things, but mostly they deal with things not fitting exactly, or not being done how I would do them. None of that make this bad per say. I am also hopeful this book may attract a slightly new demographic to Conan's world that has traditionally stayed away due to the influence both real and imagined of certain less than savory individuals. So go grab your copy of Age of Conan: Bêlit, grab your favorite wine and give it a read. I am sure I will see you all on the Internet to discuss thoughts on this issue in more detail there.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Conan Exiles. Survive, Build, Dominate. The Review.

Sometime last year Funcom released Conan Exiles into a wide beta release on Steam known as "Early Access". Drop your coin and start playing the game as is, close to a year before the official release date. See it update. See it change. Follow the development. Watch it form.

As it happened at it's original early access release many people said it was unplayable. They were mad. Some people couldn't play it due to issues with their PC, but were unable to return it, presumably it worked initially and then something changed and they were past the hours played threshold. I don't know. I didn't pick it up back then.

I *DID* pick it up at Christmas and although it certainly had some issues I enjoyed playing it. I liked the ability to create my own house and harvest the land. To grow strong. To hunt. To craft. I personally have about 160 hours into two games, one with a character at around level 50 and one around level 26. I am still exploring and finding new stuff, and at release the world will grow even larger, I have solidly got my moneys worth out of this game.

Let's rewind, just in case you are unfamiliar with this game. This is Funcom's latest offering to the Conan Franchise. It is an open world survival game that can be played solo or on servers of various sizes ranging from about 10 to 40. You start with nothing and you must, as they say,
Survive. Build. Dominate.

Played 100% as intended you start crucified naked in the desert. Everything you have known has been taken from you; family, money, pride. Once you define your character you are cut down and set free into the Exiled Lands. You start, quite literally, with nothing.

As you progress through the game you gather resources, make clothing, armor, houses, weapons, fortresses and any number of things to help decorate. If you are so inclined you can even go out and find other settlements, and take their men and women to be broken on your wheels of pain so they become your thralls. These thralls will work for you defending and crafting, sometimes their skill at crafting far surpasses yours.


So Conan Exiles. Let's take a quick look at what it is, and what it isn't.

  • Is this Robert E. Howard's Conan? In a short response. No it is not purely REH's Conan. It takes flavor from the stories by REH as well as the pastiches, comics and movies that came after. They all add to the overall flavor of the game.
  • Will we get to explore earth during the Hyborian Age? In a word, no. You like the other Exiles are trapped in a land where humanity once waged war against some forgotten race. Presumably it exists somewhere on earth, but is now cut off any only used to dump prisoners.
  • Do I get to play Conan? No. You get to play a random Exile from a country of your choice who worships a deity of your choice.
  • Does it feel like a Conan game? For me, it does. I won't pretend it's a perfect game, or a perfect representation of what I think Conan is or represents. For me the survival aspect is enjoyable and the flavor from Howard and others that defines the Hyborian Age adds a lot for me. I just enjoy seeing things like "Stygian Banner" or "Dafari Drums" on my screen.
  • Civilization vs Barbarism? This is something I struggle with a little. It feels like we are trying to build a civilization vs remaining strong and barbaric. In reality civilization isn't defined by the technology we build it is defined by society and the laws we create. This game in many ways feels like it showcases this. You removed from your civilization and dropped back to barbarism.
  • Survival? Besides the hostile creatures and other exiles out to end your life, the environment itself is harsh. There are a few main elements that need to conquered to ensure survival: food, water, shelter and temperature.
    • Water: You must secure water and food or you will die. Wander into places that are very hot, or wear clothing that is too warm? Your thirst will increase, and when you run out of water. You will die.
    • Food: As you progress through the world you will grow hungry. If you do not eat, or eat the wrong things, you will die. Find animals, hunt them and cook them to maintain a healthy hunger level. Food will also allow you to regenerate your vitality.
    • Temperature: Being too hot or too cold will negatively affect you as well. Wearing heavy clothing in the sun, or just being out in the desert too long will result in you needing more water, and if you run out, you die. Likewise being in the north without wearing clothing will result in frostbite and death.
    • Shelter: Shelter can also help regulate temperature, but it also serves to protect you from the sandstorm that ravages the lands. Getting caught in this will cut a man or woman to ribbons....and you will die.

Although the game has no quests of the variety: Find NPC, Talk to NPC, Retrieve 20 wolf pelts, it does have a journey system which functions both as a tutorial and then later as a guide and a direction system. Doing what is suggests will take you into dungeons and out across the vast expanses of the Exiled lands. For me, at least, this is a superior system. I was never a fan of the general quest concept in MMORPGs. This world is an open sandbox, you can go anywhere, anytime for any reason; provided you are strong enough.

My initial impressions of this when I picked it up in Early Access were good, I enjoyed it. The last major update improved the game immensly. I was watching a stream just yesterday by a new player who had never played in early access and after a few days playing his impressions of the game were glowing. If you are looking for a beautifully immersive game with a story that will lead you along and be amazing, I suspect the new God of War might be up your alley. If you are seeking an immersive game that allows you to go and do what you want, build your fortress, take slaves and try and survive in a brutal world, crafting your own story, then 100% check out Conan Exiles.

On Steam I have played for 169 hours. I am still going strong and with the new areas opening...............

4 out 5 Skulls of My Enemies!
*Just a word of warning: This game is violent. This game features killing humans in gruesome ways. This game features nudity. This game features slavery.