We shall call upon every strong arm and sharp sword to fight. We shall bring them to their knees and see them crushed by the fury of our kingdom!
Siege warfare was brought into Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures because Funcom as developers wanted to give players that epic feeling of being part of a large-scale battle. We have all watched movies like Braveheart, 300, Kingdom of Heaven – all these epic battle movies – and we realized how amazing it would be to bring that into a massive online game. So we did, naturally.
If you ever open a Conan book or comic, you quickly realize that war rages across the ravaged surface of Hyboria. Conflicts are not so much an exception as it is a fact of life, not necessarily between the nations themselves, but often between factions residing within their troubled borders.
In Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures player guilds will sooner or later end up in such conflicts with each other. Once a guild reaches a reasonable size and stature on a server, the opportunity to own a battlekeep will soon arise. But with only a limited number of battlekeeps per server allowed, guilds will have to war against each other in order to secure the power and fortune for themselves.
We built this city on bloody soil
Through the thick morning fog of the Border Kingdom the early sounds of human activity can be heard. Hammering, sawing, shouting. Everyone is doing their part. Crafters scurry around the work site while planning with the Lords and the Ladies of the guild, and mercenaries protect the guild members as they bring back timber and iron to be used in the construction of the battlekeep.
Should you happen to come upon an available site for a battlekeep, or should you manage to bring down another guild's battlekeep, your guild will have to start constructing its own. This involves gathering resources, erecting buildings and making sure everything is sufficiently protected.
Each building within your battlekeep will grant a bonus that will affect some or all members of your guild. Buildings include the blacksmith, the temple, the alchemist workshop, the university and more. While the temple may benefit healing classes within your guild, the university might provide a bonus for all spell casting classes and your guild will need to prioritize what to build.
Constructing a battlekeep might take anything from a few hours to several days, says Game Designer Jason Stone. You will need to carefully choose what buildings you want as you can’t necessarily build everything, and you must also focus on building the walls required to keep your enemies out and your buildings safely protected. You can build several lines of defenses.
Sounding the bells of war
Thundering hooves can be heard in the distance. The sound of war is approaching. A nameless enemy musters its forces. The guards of the battlekeep, slumbering uneasily with one eye open jump to their feet. Someone is knocking on the gate – it's like the drums of doom. Blood will soak the fields beyond their walls today, and only Crom knows who will come out of it alive.
If you ever find yourself in the possession of a battlekeep you will sooner or later have to face the fact that someone will try and take it from you. The good thing is that you, as a defender, will be able to more or less determine when your battlekeep will be vulnerable for attack, something that ensures that you will always have the upper hand and that there will be no nasty surprises.
If your battlekeep were vulnerable for attack all the time, that would soon prove to be very frustrating to players, says Stone. Instead the guild determines when it's attackable. You choose your own vulnerability window, and the bigger it is, the more benefits your guild receives from owning the battlekeep. Still, no one is safe: Everyone needs to be vulnerable at some point.
The actual siege is initiated when a guild set up a war tent outside the other guild's battlekeep within its vulnerability window, effectively declaring war on it. The defenders will need to muster their forces just as much as the attackers will have to, and from there it's surely survival of the fittest!
A call to arms
If the gold is right, the men will come. In the harsh reality of Hyboria, that's a fact of life. In the smoky taverns of Hyboria, many a man have traded his sword to dark-clad characters on a mission from some aspiring guild recruiting to bolster their numbers so that they can invade their enemy. All it takes is that the price is right, if that's the case, men willingly put their necks on the line.
In order to let everyone enjoy the adrenaline-pumping siege gameplay in Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, we devised something called the mercenary system. Not everyone wants to join a big guild – not everyone has the time to join a big guild – so Funcom knew that we had to give even the lone wolves of Hyboria the opportunity to satisfy their thirst for large-scale, epic battles.
With the mercenary system your guild will be able to recruit other players to fight for their cause, no matter if you're the defending or the attacking guild, says Stone. They simply put out a mercenary request promising a certain amount of gold for services rendered, and as a player you can search for these at any time, choose one, and jump more or less right into the fray.
That player will then have to fight for your guild in order to get the gold promised. This will allow any guild with the appropriate resources needed to add padding to their numbers should they feel that they need help in attacking or defend against the enemy guild that might also use mercenaries.
In the midst of battle
The smell of death is in the air. The attackers, mounted on ferocious killer rhinos, stampede over the burning remains of the once mighty gate and charges into the heart of the battlekeep. The trebuchets continues to pound on the walls, wreaking fiery havoc, as the defending guild leader retreats to the headquarters to spend the final minutes of his reign – and his life – with his ale.
When it all starts, the battle can be a scene of complete chaos. Funcom is aiming to have over one hundred players charging the battlefields at the same time, and the guilds will have to coordinate their attack – and their defense – carefully. Will you place the archers on the walls? Will you put your war mammoths at the front? A thousand war stories will unfold in the minutes or hours ahead.
The attackers will usually start by crafting a few siege engines – such as trebuchets – and then place them tactically. As a player you will need to direct the shots of your siege engines yourself, as you try to focus on weak spots in the wall – most likely the wooden main gate itself.
For the attackers, destroying buildings and killing the enemy will give you points needed to gain in order to win, explains Stone. Everything you do gives you point, even congesting certain areas of the playfield. If you manage to build up enough points within the vulnerability window, you might win and the battlekeep will be destroyed so that you can build your own on ashes of the old one.
If at first you don't succeed
The once green fields of the Border Kingdom are colored in sickening, crimson red. Limbs lie scattered across the battlefield and the crying of the wounded is the only sound. The walls were broken, the defenders were slaughtered and the battlekeep was conquered. As the victors toast their hard-won success, work has already started on a new, perhaps bigger, battlekeep.
A siege battle may take anything from a few moments to several hours to complete, depending on the strength of the two opposing guilds. The walls might have been too strong due to upgrades, and so the attackers failed to succeed. The attacking forces might simply have been too big, and so the defenders failed in their mission to hold off the attackers for long enough time.
One's victory is another's defeat, and so the wheel of time continues to spin violently for the guilds braving the frontiers of the Border Kingdom. And if your guild fails to capture a battlekeep, there are always the smaller forts to be captured – or even the ever valuable resource nodes!