Hear the Lamentation of the Women
Outside of Conan's two big ideas, the game isn't lacking in small to medium-sized ideas to help it stand aside from the MMOG pack - at least to some extent. While Funcom is acutely aware that this genre is no longer solely the preserve of hardcore gamers, and claims to have spent a lot of time making sure that gamers with only a few hours a week can still progress and enjoy the experience, there seems to be plenty of content planned for the ultra-hardcore as well.
Guilds, for example, will be able to build their own cities in the game - an endeavour which will require that they collect all the resources, such as wood and stone, required to create the various buildings. Castles, too, can be built and occupied by guilds - and can also be besieged, in massive set-piece PvP battles which incorporate trebuchets, catapults and legions of footsoldiers.
Interestingly, while this sounds like the sort of endgame content many players only ever get to glimpse in MMOGs, Age of Conan will be opening it up to lower-level players as well. While precise details weren't forthcoming, the developers told us that a system will be in place to bump up your levels in PvP battles, so lower level players can compete on a somewhat even footing. PvP ranks will be separate from PvE ranks, and "Blood Money" earned by killing other players in battle will be usable to buy specialised PvP equipment.
On a more basic level, it's also worth noting that Conan looks really very pretty. The team's stated intent was to build a game which surpasses Oblivion graphically, and on high-end PCs at least, it certainly achieves that goal in places. The tropical environments, in particular, have a Far Cry feel to them, but with thirty zones spread across the world of Conan planned for release (which leaves vast areas still untouched - and plenty of material for future expansions), there's plenty of variety in there as well.
Even more impressive is the level of detail which has been built into the various environments and the behaviour of NPC characters. In towns, NPCs walk around according to basic desires (they get hungry, or thirsty, and wander about to tend to their own needs) rather than sticking to pre-programmed paths. When raiding enemy camps (which, we're told, will dynamically adjust in size and difficulty depending on how many players are in your team - clever!), sentries will run back and raise the alarm if you give them half a chance.
Riddle of Steel
Based on the source material, you might expect "clever" to be one of the last words to be applied to Age of Conan - but that's exactly how the approach taken by the designers to this unique MMOG feels. The marriage of action gameplay and single-player sensibilities with a massively multiplayer world is vastly ambitious, and like all ambitious projects, there's a huge risk of failure.
However, what we've seen of the game in about three hours of play has been largely positive, if still rather rough around the edges - and we can't help but feel that if Conan gets this right, it'll win over many fans both from outside the world of MMOGs, and from existing games which are starting to feel a bit too similar.
It may be pumped full of human growth hormone, dripping with testosterone and threatening to descend to Gears of War levels of overt homoeroticism at any moment, but Age of Conan is much more than just a buff body. We'll hopefully be running our hands over the bulging e-biceps of a more advanced build of the game, and making appreciative "aah" noises, sometime in the next few months.