Funcom is taking a warhammer and bludgeoning MMO conventions by fusing elements usually reserved for the single-player world with traditional, developed features in the genre.
Primarily this fusion is occurring through the game's real-time dynamic combat system, but the developer is also drawing on its experience with adventure titles such as Dreamfall to flesh out and add colour to NPC interaction and quests. It's including a dynamic AI system for NPCs that it likens to Oblivion's Radiant artificial intelligence.
And then there's the fact that you'll spend a good portion of your way to level 20 playing on your own (and the developer assures us that players will be able to play solo to the level cap of 80, but that's by the by). But it's a combat system generally unheard of in the MMO genre that's grabbed the headlines.
WELCOME TO OUR WORLD
Age of Conan's world is dark with a mature flavour, which is reflected in the art direction. This is gritty, brutal Conan. It's certainly an eye-catcher; one moment causing eyebrows to raise at the quality of a sprawling city while at other times it's the huge open vistas that run into gorgeous mountains capped in snow that form a lump in our throats.
The world of Hyboria players will be presented with is broken down into zones, so no seamless game world. Part of the reason for this is to allow Funcom to achieve the level of detail in the environments you'll have seen in the screenshots and movies, while the developer also wanted to use areas from all over Hyboria without having to truncate the game world.
"Walking from Cimmeria to Stygia should take weeks if not months. So we're using bits and pieces of the world, and instead of seamless travel between these areas, you rather fast travel", Funcom product manager Erling Ellingsen tells us.
Hyborian adventures commence on Tortage, a pin-prick of an island on the world map that's dwarfed by the main continent. You'll remain here till you hit level 20. There's no class selection right at the beginning of the game, instead you're required to choose from one of four archetypes - Soldier, Priest, Mage or Rogue - when you reach level five. Your class is then further defined with you reach 20th level.
SLICING AND DICING WITH CONVENTIONS
You're introduced to Age of Conan's dynamic real-time combat system, where Funcom is making the biggest break from MMO convention, right from the word go. It'd feel right at home in a single-player fantasy action game. Gone is the traditional hot-key bar and point-and-click type of play, and there's no such thing as auto attack. Every key press is a weapon swing, every side-step an attempt to dodge.
Targeting works on line of sight and proximity (however, there's a 'click target' option to make enemies a primary target and the ability to 'tab' through targets is in the pipeline). WASD keys are used to move forward and back and strafe left and right in combat, while keys Q and E attack left and right respectively and keys 1, 2 and 3 are used for forward thrusts, with the attack options represented in a combat rose on the HUD which is split into five segments.
Due to the nature of the beast, it's possible to hit multiple opponents with a single swipe of physical impact.
Instead of special combat attacks you see in, say, World of Warcraft, you have combos that you access as you level up. Operating similar to a beat-em-up, combos are pulled off using sequences of key presses. Early combos provide the likes of damage boosts and damage over time attacks, while higher up the chain and in keeping with the mature, gritty world of Age of Conan, you'll access combos that remove limbs and decapitate foes in gory gouts of blood.