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If Age of Conan has proved anything, it's that a new MMO launch doesn't have to end in misery and disappointment. While other publishers are cancelling MMOs left, right and centre, usually citing the way World of Warcraft has killed off competition or saturated the market, Funcom and Eidos just got on with things and quietly produced the most successful PC title of the year so far. Having topped the charts in Germany in Sweden and signed up 400,000 players in the first week, Age of Conan is still a long way away from achieving WoW levels of success, but it's certainly no Vanguard or Tabula Rasa. Technically, things have run relatively smoothly, and the product feels polished and exciting. The overall buzz is good.
Nearly all the stuff I said in my first impressions piece still stands several hours of play later. Leaning towards the pulp thrills of heroic fantasy rather than the epic sagas of Tolkienesque high fantasy, Age of Conan is a very different experience than Lord of the Rings Online or WoW. It's fast paced, moody and brutally violent. It's also characterised by a slightly adolescent approach to sexuality (it's rare to find a woman who isn't scantily clad, and there's a lot more innuendo than in your average fantasy game), but then you might consider that a selling point. It has the finest graphics of any MMO of this generation, and the character modelling is some of the best I've seen in any RPG of any type. At times, as your hulking barbarian races through the jungle or weaves his way through crumbling ruins, Age of Conan comes close to matching any vision you have of what a Conan MMO might look like.
What's more, Age of Conan's combat system, which combines real-time responses and proper proximity detection with the traditional skills-based attacks of regular MMOs, is innovative, deep and highly engaging. Despite the handicap of having no non-human races to play with, the selection of characters offers some genuinely rich and interesting choices, and anyone who has ever wanted to play as an axe-wielding Barbarian or eldritch sorcerer will find something to scratch that itch. Best of all, the game feels imbued with the essense of the Conan stories. The action is fast and furious and the atmosphere frequently potent. From the attention that has gone into the exotic architecture and lush jungle vegetation to the sweeping music, with its subtle echoes of the legendary Basil Polisouris score for the first Conan film, Age of Conan hits all the right marks.