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Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

Steve Hogarty packs his adventure hat, because he's going on an adventure

I honestly don't have the inclination to grapple with the greased-up homoerotic beast that is the Conan franchise. The mulleted barbarian resides at the arse-end of the fantasy genre, with a face made of constantly flexing muscles and many, increasingly large eyebrows. Any credibility he retained from his comic-book outings was dashed by the hilariously bad '90s TV series, and now he's simply an awful stereotype of a fantasy RPG class most people don't choose any more.

With this positive attitude, I took a look at Funcom's MMORPG, Age Of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, and realised that they've mercifully taken inspiration from 'old' Conan in his more comic-book, more likeable form - the form people might have found cool once. Besides, you won't actually be playing as Conan, and the only homoeroticism I encountered was an uncapped custom body slider allowing one of my team-mates to spawn with a really huge arse.

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Age Of Conan is swinging its great big axe of intent down upon the mainstream, aiming to feel more like a single-player game than its market-hogging peers. How it does this is, for the most part, through its real-time combat system, something relatively unheard of in games of this ilk.

Laid out all around the WASD keys are your attack keys, each corresponding with a direction of attack. Alternatively, you can click sections of a combat rose at the bottom of the screen and marvel as your character swings his weapon, damaging surrounding enemies based on immediate physical contact.

Genius, you might think. It's about time this happened, you might think. And they're both fair thoughts. The fighting is well animated and feels solid, if a little clunky, and the combo system is plain fun, if a little fiddly. You can even pull off fatalities, chopping off limbs and what-not, as well as dodging and concentrating your blocking power to one side (much like a flesh version of the Starship Enterprise).

However, pointing your character at an enemy while still clicking the right parts of the combat rose on screen is an impossible task, so the responsibility of fighting naturally falls on your left hand. This wouldn't be a problem if your left hand wasn't already moving your character; and so, Age Of Conan, it seems, is ideally suited to players with three hands. Let's see them stick that in the minimum requirements.

Putting that aside, Age Of Conan does place some genuinely interesting baubles on the MMO tree. There'll be fighting on horseback, as well as massive sieges with catapults against guild-owned castles, NPCs who follow daily routines rather than stand in one spot waiting to dish out quests, and DirectX 10 support. If Funcom can do all that well, and if the combat system magically stops being so cumbersome, then we might see a happy revival for the worst fantasy character ever.

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