Stone commented that the initial cutscene was the “sort-of typical” experience of amnesia and rediscovery when the galley carrying your character as a slave founders upon a mysterious island. The Mature rating of Age of Conan allows the game to explore very historical and realistic themes and imagery (however politically incorrect in light of the constant Jack Thompson and Hillary Clinton-fueled media rancor), ideations like slavery, grisly death, and the accurate portrayal of a decaying corpse, and you'll experience all three in the first few moments of Age of Conan gameplay.
Stumbling past the rotting remains of a dead shipmate, I found that my first task was to free a scantily clad woman slave tied-up between two trees by finding and offing her captor and his cannibal cohort. Following the path deeper into the jungle, I came across my first enemy. Automatically I hit [tab] and the  key, conditioned to react by just about every MMO I've played. Yet in the default mapping of Age of Conan, [tab] toggles combat mode on and off (when in combat mode, the player cannot left-click to talk to NPCs), and there's no such thing as auto-attack. Stone remonstranced that he'd have to think of a way to account for MMO players who automatically hit [tab] to try and target another attacking enemy when the targetted enemy falls.
But combat in Age of Conan was nonethless, to me, a glorious change of pace. Players attack by using the keyboard keys above the default WASD movement keys, that is, , , , [Q], and [E]. [Q] swings the weapon left to right, [E] right to left, and the numeric keys in between swing from various points in an arc over the players head. During the course of the game, players unlock abilities and ability slots, which allow the player to do special attacks by pressing a series of highlighted keypresses. Jørgen explained that it was important to keep the two combat mechanics mapped separately to accommodate hybrid magic and melee classes, so spells are cast using the function keys.
Another cool feature of combat in Age of Conan is that attacks move the character; the character naturally moves forward as he or she swings. If you're properly oriented toward your enemy, clicking and holding the right mouse button to adjust the camera angle, this immersion-enhancing feature keeps your character constantly in line with your enemy's hitbox, allowing you to intuitively strafe and step backward to dodge incoming blows.
|New concept art from Age of Conan. Click here for the Pre-E3 Gallery.|
Feats are another part of Age of Conan character development. “They're a little like talents in WoW and attribute enhancements found in other RPGs,” Stone recounted. Both additional slots for these equipped feats and the feats themselves will be unlocked as your character progresses through the game, allowing for increased customization especially as a character approaches the level cap at level 80.
One aspect of Age of Conan that I feel gets lost in the ecstatic descriptions of gore and maiming is raw beauty of the setting, character models, and animations. The palette is earthy and expertly chosen, and the art direction is neither strictly photo-realistic or caricatured, setting the tone squarely on dystopian and dangerous, yet strangely familiar and non-jarring enough that long periods of playtime wouldn't become visually wearisome. The much discussed “fatalities”, randomly occurring melee animations such as beheading (magically-induced variants are available as well) support this, as does Funcom's recent experiments with “screen splatter”, a Gears of War type rendering of blood flying against the screen as a result of a particularly debilitating move. These visuals have the added benefit of bestowing a “bloodlust” buff on the group. But as I crept through the jungle, I had to do a double take to realize that that was indeed an enemy blending into the lush, ocher backdrop. Clearly this may be the first MMORPG to take player skill seriously, and everything from the visuals to the mechanics seem to support this notion.
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