Character development in detail[]

- Nov 02, 2007 Join us as we take a deeper look into the character development aspects in Age of Conan.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of role-playing games is the chance you get to define your character in a variety of ways. While everyone starts out more or less the same, hours of combat and adventure will shape who you are and determine what you can do. In the end you will have a character that simply feels like it is yours.

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is very much a traditional role-playing game in the sense of you developing your character by gaining experience points and rising in levels. As you progress you’ll advance your character in a number of ways, such as:

  • Attributes: Your basic attributes, such as strength and intelligence, increases automatically as you gain new levels to further advance your character.
  • Skills: Every character has a basic set of skills such as perception, climbing and hiding, and you can distribute points into these every time you gain a level.
  • Feats: By gaining levels you get points that you can invest in a multitude of feats that gives your character new capabilities or that improve existing ones.
  • Abilities: Gaining a new level may also grant you new combos for melee fighting, new stances that alter your combat style, as well as new spells.

Stance-Defensive Stance-Attacking

(Above: A defensive stance on the left, attacking stance on the right.)

Simply put, you gain experience while playing – either by killing enemies or by completing quests – and by gaining experience you will also gain levels. There are eighty levels in Age of Conan, and progressing through them is they key to making your character more potent and to unlock a vast array of different feats and abilities.


Native to all characters in Age of Conan is the attributes. Everyone has them and they will affect your character in multiple ways, such as determining how much health and how much mana you have. The basic attributes – strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom and intelligence – are automatically raised for you as you level up.

Here are some of the attributes available in Age of Conan.

  • Strength: Gives you a damage bonus for melee attacks, and also increases the attack rating for certain specific weapon types.
  • Dexterity: Gives a bonus to defense rating and increases attack rating for daggers and ranged weapons.
  • Constitution: Provides you with health and stamina.
  • Intelligence: Provides you with mana and increases the magic rating for mages.
  • Wisdom: Provides you with mana and increases magic rating for priests.

Of course, you might also encounter items in the world of Hyboria that can strengthen your attributes. Surely any adventurer would brave the deepest depths of the Black Ring Citadel in search for the sword that grants its bearer a stronger arm? Or how about that magical ring guarded by the demons within the Sanctum of the Burning Souls that will expand your wisdom and grant you intelligence beyond your mortal boundaries?


All characters have a set of basic skills applied to their characters. These include, but are not limited to perception, bandaging, renew mana, casting concentration, hiding, climbing and taunt. Whenever you gain a new level you get a small amount of points that you can distribute freely between these different skills. They do not increase through use.

Below are some of the skills available in Age of Conan.

  • Perception: How well you observe the environment around you, for instance noticing hidden enemies or possibly even traps.
  • Bandaging: Allows you to quickly heal when you’re not in combat.
  • Renew mana: Similar to bandaging, but this affects your mana pool.
  • Casting concentration: Determines how prone you are to having your spell cancelled when casting. For instance, being attacked causes distraction.
  • Hiding: In the world of Hyboria everybody can hide a little, making you difficult to spot. Not everyone is equally as good at it, though!
  • Climbing: Determines the difficulty of objects you can climb.
  • Taunt: The higher your skill is in taunting, the greater chance you have in increasing the hate value of your attack. Perfect for tank characters.

Some skills are based on so-called clickable abilities, meaning they must be activated by clicking on an icon on your hotbar. This includes, for instance, the perception skill. This skill will always work in the background and notify you about certain things such as hidden enemies. But if you get a message saying you’re detecting something, you have to use the clickable ability to try and reveal the hidden enemies. Others are passive skills, such as the taunt skill or the casting concentration skill.

You will notice that you do not improve weapon skills. Your class determines what weapons you can use, and you do not have to improve any skills to hit any harder.

“While skills are less character-altering than feats, they are still an important part of character development,” says game designer Andre Griffin. “For example most spell-using classes will want to invest heavily in the Casting concentration skill to avoid interruptions as much as possible, while player-versus-player players will want to invest in the Perception skill so you are less likely to be ambushed.”


At the core of the character development system in Age of Conan are the feats. This allows you to use points gained when leveling up to give your character new capabilities and more existing ones more potent. It can be compared to the talents system found in other games, usually being a tree-shaped system to display the various talents.

Every character has three feat trees and they can be viewed at any time by clicking the appropriate icon in your interface. There is one general tree specific to your archetype (Soldier, Mage, Priest or Rogue) and two trees specific to your class.

As an example, the Dark Templar has access to the general Soldier feat tree in addition to his class specific feat trees called Depravity – focusing on combo-oriented feats – and Desecration which focuses on spell-oriented feats. The feats are designed to improve his combos and his spells, as well as to grant him new abilities. Feat trees all have different names for the different classes, such as the Juggernaut and Tempest trees of the Guardian class and the Brute and Carnage trees of the Conqueror class.


(Above: Dark Templar Depravity feat tree, note that everything here is work-in-progress.)

One example on a new ability the Dark Templar receives through the feat system is the Dread Shadow that lies at the far end of his Depravity feat tree. Using this will summon a shadow companion that will rise from below and fight for him.

Here are some examples on a few other feats available in Age of Conan:

  • Ravenous Eater: this Dark Templar feat gives you a large damage increase whenever you use your life tap combos (thus making them more potent).
  • Overcome the Odds: this Conqueror feat raises his invulnerability ratings based on how many enemies he’s fighting, making him stronger if he’s ganged up on.
  • Nature’s Revenge: this Bear Shaman feat allows all their melee attacks to have a chance of triggering a counter and when that counter goes all the way up to ten, all friendly targets around the Bear Shaman will receive a heal.
  • No Escape: this Barbarian feat allows them to throw their weapon at a target, causing a large amount of damage, but it will also disarm the Barbarian.
  • Fortify: this Guardian feat increases the weight of all your team members causing them to resist knock-back effects. Another feat will improve this feat and cause a counter knock-back attack on all enemies that attack the team members.
  • Impish Horde: this Demonologist feat kills your current pet and then summons four to eight small imps that goes berserk and wreak total havoc.

“Our feat trees aren't being designed to define the character or character roles as much as they are there to help you customize your character somewhat and enhance elements you already have,” says game designer Evan Michaels. “We don’t want to punish you for making the choices that you want. We don’t want to make it so that you feel like you are less effective because you trained a certain series of feats.”

There are also different feats in the game that will be trained automatically as you gain new levels, specifically the feats that determine what weapons and armor you can use. You also have crafting specific feats, but these are trained by performing crafting quests that will take you from novice to master in your chosen professions.


Last, but certainly not least you will find the combos, the spells and the stances that you will acquire through leveling. As you gain new levels you will be able to find shopkeepers who sell spell scrolls, and some might even be found through adventuring. The stances and combos, however, will be automatically granted to you as you level up.

  • Combos: These are melee combat techniques that you receive as you level up. You perform combos during fights by executing a series of different swings with your weapon, resulting in a fascinating animation and a bigger damage output. It can also lead to other effects, such as stunning your opponent.
  • Spells: It wouldn’t quite be a fantasy role-playing game without it (though Age of Conan is very much a low-fantasy game where magic is terrible and dangerous), and by purchasing spell scrolls or finding them in your adventures you will be able to acquire new spells that you can cast. They are not automatically trained.
  • Stances: To make combat even more interesting we added the stance system which allows you to go into a certain position when fighting. Attacking stances might allow you to do more damage but will also lead to you taking more damage. Then again, a defense stance might work the other way around.


(Above: a Barbarian's combo bar.)

Combos and spells can increase in effectiveness, for instance by investing in certain feats. For instance, the Glowing Embers feat for the Demonologist will make the Flamestrike spell do more damage, while the Boiling Blood feat for the Barbarian will make all his Berserk combos do even more devastating damage than usual.

“We are putting a tremendous amount of effort into making character development in Age of Conan something you can really sink your teeth into,” says game designers Griffin and Michaels. “We want to give you a lot of different ways to play the game and we want to make sure character development feels easy to understand.”