Age of Conan - hands-on

Conan uses a different approach, assigning attacks to the five keys surrounding your WASD movement controls. There's no targeting, instead you aim, launch an attack and, well, hit what you hit. Initially -as we discovered before - this feels messy and a little chaotic. Further muddying the waters is the fact that, in MMOs, there's just not enough bandwidth between your PC and the server running the show to allow for full animation. So 'hits' aren't necessarily animated blow by blow, and you could be battering a still-standing foe who's already been offed by a previous attack, but just hasn't run through its 'dying' animation yet.

It's easy to forget, though, that until now even Age of Conan's level of "interactive combat" in an MMO has been impossible. As a test of concept, Conan's system really works. There's likely to be further games that take on and develop the approach, and probably do it better - like developer Funcom's own Secret World MMO, or, as the GamesRadar team feverishly hopes, Blizzard's inevitable Diablo III. But what we've got here already is a game that's bravely standing out from the crowd and achieving something exciting and new.

As you level up your gurning Conan-a-like warrior, you'll also get access to combos. These linked attacks further beef up the combat, acting as 'learned' skills that you assign to either Q or E. Trigger a combo attack and there's also the opportunity to follow it up with another attack, causing a substantially larger amount of damage. Just an hour into our hands on and we can begin to see the potential. For melee-loving, sword-swinging Conan the Barbarian wannabes, Age of Conan provides uniquely satisfying battles, unmatched by any other massive online experience.

And here lies Conan's biggest problem. Your slave character, washed up on a pirate-ruled island after a shipwreck, is little more than a be-muscled warrior with a length of wood for company. But in progressing through the game you'll twice be offered the chance to choose a speciality - at levels 5 and 20. Stick with the up-close-and-personal soldier types and Age of Conan's engaging combat is there to be relished. Opt for a more magical or projectile-focused path, however, and it only serves to remind you that there's no similarly involving alternative for players who prefer to deal damage from a distance.

Ben Richardson is a former Staff Writer for Official PlayStation 2 magazine and a former Content Editor of GamesRadar+. In the years since Ben left GR, he has worked as a columnist, communications officer, charity coach, and podcast host – but we still look back to his news stories from time to time, they are a window into a different era of video games.