Just as Schwarzenegger came to power as governor of California, so Conan came to rule as King of Hyboria. And it's in this era of Robert E Howard's fictionalised history of the world that your galley will be shipwrecked and you'll be marooned on an island, and start levelling up like billy-o. Age Of Conan: Hyborian Adventures does a number of things differently. For starters, an anti-WOW approach to combat has been adopted, resulting in a more hands-on hack-and-slash. Although don't expect anything Oblivion-y or Dark Messiah-y, since linked combos are the order of the day.
Product manager Erling Ellingsen explains: "Usually it's icons. You click on a series of icons, then sit back and watch. I'm not a big fan of that kind of system - it's tedious. In Conan, you have to take an active part in combat; striking your sword in different directions, combos, shielding - you really fight." All interesting, but judgement will be reserved till we see how, and whether, this works in an MMO environment - especially in PvP.
You may also have heard that Hyborian Adventures will uniquely start with a single-player mission, to bring you up to speed on the narrative and acquaint you with the gameplay. There's a strong story that the near-fanboy developers want to share, and the approach also avoids that daunting beginning of an MMO, where you're dropped into a playground and everyone's saying "wheres mission plz", and there are a few creepy people of suspiciously high levels hanging around outside the railings.
In reality, it's not single-player - you're still online; you're just sharing a very sparsely populated start zone. "From a choice of race at the beginning, you'll decide on one of four basic archetypes at level five: warrior, rogue, mage or priest." It's at level 20 that it gets more interesting, with less obvious classes= such as the Heralds of Xotu, who become partially demonic due to their evil pacts. Magic is quite a twisted facet of the Hyborian legends; your soul can be corrupted, and in the case of the Heralds, reckless warriors will find themselves damned to hell. Priests aren't wallflower buff-merchants either. They heal in a cone effect, not a radius, so they're more involved with the surroundings - plus, they're pretty handy at dishing out damage.
With drunken brawling, horseback combat, spell combos and a mature rating, AOC: Hyborian Adventures might be offering something new and exciting in a pretty crowded arena. Just as long as they keep a dance emote, we'll be happy.