Murder, he wrote
If you're a beginner to PVP, though, a class with some ranged ability is definitely the place to start in Conan. We'd recommend the Herald of Xotli (a hybrid class which wields dual-handed weapons as well as firing off nasty dark magic attacks) or the Bear Shaman (which combines priest-style healing with decent armour and melee combat abilities - an unusual type of Paladin, essentially) for newcomers, since they're both flexible and fun to play in PVP.
So, where will you actually be carrying out this head-bashing and throat-cutting? That depends on whether you've rolled your character on a PVE (player-versus-environment) or PVP server. Funcom's own figures suggest that the majority of Conan's players play on PVP servers, which says a lot about the appeal of the game.
For these players, World PVP - essentially, the ability to pick a fight wherever you like, with anyone you like - is a key part of the game. For those on PVE servers, world PVP is extremely limited - you won't really be fighting your fellow players unless you venture into the Border Kingdoms (a PVP-specific zone) or choose to join a PVP mini-game. More on those shortly.
World PVP has been the target of much of Funcom's patching in recent weeks. The team has a tough job on its hands, because although there are three distinct nations and races in the game - Cimmeria, Aquilonia and Stygia, none of which had particularly friendly relationships in Howard's fiction - Funcom has opted not to use factions for its PVP. Instead, anyone can kill anyone else, no matter where you may be. Simply draw your weapon and hit someone, and you start a fight - often pulling nearby players and even NPCs into the brawl.
In the raw state Conan was in for the first few months, this led to utter anarchy. The addition of PVP gear and levels, however, was eventually followed with the launch of the consequence system, which is designed to ensure that towns and cities don't end up littered with the corpses of level 20 players ganked by bored level 80s.
With the consequence system, each player in Age of Conan is now either a "criminal" or "innocent". You start out innocent, but if you attack an innocent player, you're flagged as a criminal for five minutes. You can also end up being flagged as a criminal for trading with a criminal, or for being in a party with one.
Attacking or killing a criminal won't affect your status, so other players can kill them with impunity. However, if you kill an innocent player, you'll accumulate "murder points", based on the level difference between you. Pick up 100 murder points, and you're considered a Murderer - a special class of criminal that is attacked on sight by guards and can't trade with normal vendors, instead having to pay inflated prices to vendors in outlaw camps. Killing a murderer gives you double PVP XP, so they're an automatic target for just about everybody.
Want to get rid of your murderer status? That's a surprisingly tough task. Although points reduce over time, they only do so at a rate of one point every two hours, or every 1 per cent of experience gained towards your next level. More helpfully, there are Redemption quests available in most parts of the world, which lop off a handful of points - but you'll still be grinding them for hours if you end up with a lot of murder points.
You could argue - and plenty of players do - that this is excessively harsh, especially considering that guards are extremely powerful and can easily smack even high-level players around. While it's great in theory, the consequence system has itself had some unforeseen consequences. For instance, lots of players now sprint towards the nearest guard when they're in danger of losing in combat - and guards are particularly dumb NPCs who often happily attack someone defending themselves against an aggressor.
The system is exploitable and not entirely predictable at the moment. Unscrupulous guilds sometimes drop a low-level character into a melee between level 80 characters, knowing that it'll be extremely tough for their foes not to rack up some kills on the lowbie and end up flagged as murderers. Being forced to spend hours grinding down that murder point tally is a bitter pill to swallow, even if you won the fight in the first place.
Given the obvious problems with the system, we expect Funcom to return to the issue of world PVP and consequences sooner or later - although those players who gripe that the whole consequence system is a product of "care bears" getting their way are unlikely to find their wishes answered and the whole system removed. For most players, anarchic free-for-all PVP is a step too far. Your actions need consequences - it's just that Funcom hasn't quite got the balance right yet.