There are few more critical moments when starting a new massively multiplayer RPG than selecting your first character class. Of course, it's always possible to go back and start again - and in the long run, if you stick with the game, you're bound to try several classes.
However, most players stick with their original decision, often in not-so-blissful ignorance of the fact that there's a better option for them out there, mistaking a misguided choice for flaws in the game. (We levelled a warrior in World of Warcraft all the way to the late 40s before realising that we hated warriors.)
If you're new to MMOs, it's a doubly difficult choice. But even seasoned players will find that their favourite class archetypes either don't appear in a new game, or make the transition to a new combat system in a way that changes them beyond recognition.
With that in mind, we've put together this basic guide to the classes in Funcom's Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - which launches in Europe this Friday - with a view to helping you make an informed decision once you've installed the game. We can't say we've played them all to a high level, but with first-hand experience of several of them, and an understanding of how they all fit into the game's unique playing style, we can guide you smoothly through those critical clicks in the character creation screen.
We can't help you pick a hairstyle, though. That ball's in your court.
Hit me with your rhythm stick
It's been said many times before, but it bears repeating before we begin. Age of Conan features an active combat system that's a little different from that in most MMORPGs. Although you will still be clicking on spells and abilities in a bar, there's no auto-attack; it's replaced with a number of directional physical blows that you'll need to be hitting constantly to make the most of weaknesses in enemies' shields. Furthermore, many of your abilities will be triggered by combos of these directional attacks, and killing an enemy with a combo results in a gory fatality move.
This makes Age of Conan a game geared, on a fundamental level, towards melee combat. Of the game's twelve classes, there are only four traditional "casters" - magic-users - that don't use combos and aren't particularly suited to getting in a close-quarters scrap. Inescapably, these don't feel as fluid and natural a part of the game system, so be warned - if you're not a fan of battering stuff in the face, this may not be the game for you.
The four archetypes
Age of Conan's twelve classes are divided into four "archetypes" of three classes each: soldiers, priests, rogues and mages. Each archetype follows a different story thread through the first twenty levels of the game.
Soldiers are heavily armoured warriors who can take a lot of punishment, and deal it back with a broad range of melee weapons. Broadly speaking, these are the "tank" classes; their role in a group is to stand at the front and taunt enemies into concentrating their attacks on them, allowing other classes to go about their business unmolested.
Priests are healers. They use magic to keep themselves, and their groups, alive. They wear light to medium armour and have limited weapon selections, and naturally they have offensive abilities too. A key point to note about Age of Conan's priests is that their healing spells are less effective on themselves than they are on group members.
Rogues are sneaks and damage-dealers. They excel at stealth, and doing large amounts of physical damage without attracting enemies' attention. They wear medium armour and use both melee and ranged weapons.
Mages are offensive magic-users. They wear light armour and possess destructive spells, as well as being able to summon creatures as pets to fight with them, or shapeshift into different forms.