Previews

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

The mighty warrior prepares to muscle in on brand new territory...

Funcom have been doubly blessed while working on what we're calling the 360's first, proper MMORPG. Firstly, Warner Bros announced a brand new movie based on Robert E Howard's mighty Cimmerian meathead, which would take away the taste of Governor Schwarzenegger's 1982 B-Movie, and make Conan a far cooler character. But even better than that, Microsoft have given them the go-ahead to adapt their PC game for the truly mighty Xbox 360, taking away the taste of being a PC-only niche title... and making Conan a far cooler character in the process.

Hyborian Adventures is a fantasy-soaked MMORPG set late in the legend of the prehistoric warrior, after he has stabbed, throttled, dismembered and bludgeoned his way to the throne of Aquilonia. The thing is, it turns out he's not quite as hot at the old government administration as he is at slicing up mythical beasts, so his empire is "spiralling towards the doom of ancient evils", as you might expect. And this is the chaotic world that you, and hopefully thousands of other 360 owners, will be stepping into.

To Play The King
Unfortunately, there's no way you'll actually be playing as Conan in this world. Instead, the honour of getting close to the man himself and becoming part of his inner circle will be one of the things driving you from quest to quest, spurring you on in any of the epic battles that are promised. As in most fantasy MMORPGs, you'll be forming guilds, but also building entire cities and communities from the ground-up - communities that'll inevitably get pissed off with adjacent communities, leading to one almighty scrap for power. Expect gigantic set-piece rumbles, with swarms of camel-riding warriors and ranks of catapults and 'engines of war' ready to demolish whole swathes of those carefully built cities.

However, it's the suitably gory one-on-one battling that's got our blood pumping - it's about as far removed from the usual stat-laden RPG battles as you can get. There are a range of attacks triggered by each button on your joypad, and, although of course you'll be collecting plenty of hardware, the viciousness of each blow is best enjoyed with the iconic Conan longsword, a limb and ligament hacker of note. And don't expect your vanquished enemies to just disappear in a cartoon swirl of stars - bludgeoned bodies will stick around, and if you're especially proud of a kill, you can even keep an enemy's rotting head for yourself in a ballsy show of valour.

Power Corrupts
Squeamish readers will be glad to know that magic attacks will also be part of the action - however, such consorting with demons will subsequently corrupt your character's soul, which is a sure path to death. Luckily, death isn't game over in Hyboria - you can soon get back home again... you just have to fight your way out of hell first.

We've only been hands-on with the PC version so far, and we have to say it's looking awesome in scope and scale... er, except when there's anybody onscreen. The sheer size of the gameworld (over 130,000 acres and counting...) means that Funcom haven't spent as much time on the character design - the results of which are NPCs (and, presumably, potential human players) who look like they've been put together from a cardboard box, some Pritt Stick and a couple of rolls of old parcel tape.

But MMORPG's rarely come together until the very end of the development cycle thanks to the scale and ambition involved, and what you can actually do in Hyboria should more than make up for a lack of ultra-realism in its population. Certainly, the adult themes and stir-the-blood setting should help dispel the nasty taste left by the last gen worlds of FFXI and Phantasy Star...

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