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Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

Shaking a mighty barbarian fist and throwing down the gauntlet to the MMOG boys

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.

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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.

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