Let me start right off the bat by mentioning AoC happens to be missing one of it's most touted features: Direct X 10 support. That's right, after all those years of telling us how great DX10 was going to make the graphics in Conan, Funcom left it out at release. Nice.
Moving on, AoC features 12 classes, grouped by the iconic RPG system: Rogue, Priest, Warrior, Mage. The combat is a mix of traditional hotkeyed special moves or spells and a newer, more involved system using the 1,2,and 3 keys. (More on that later.) It's other highly advertised feature is the mature rating that the game was aiming for from the beginning. What does this mean for gamers? A mature community, with less children playing and more adult interaction? No, it turns out it basically means blood and boobies, and not much else.
As I mentioned briefly before, AoC uses a mix of traditional abilities and a more interactive combat method. The 1,2, and 3 keys correspond to left, overhead, and right blows from your weapon. You must use these keys to strike, as there is no auto-attack key. Later on, some classes are treated to the Q and E keys, which open up more strike possibilities.
Special abilities in AoC are called combos. They are triggered by use of a hotkey, just like other MMOs, but most of them also require you follow along with on-screen keypresses of the 1,2, and 3 keys to activate the combo. It's a bit like Simon Says, and if you get it wrong, your ability fails. I can't really say that it's more entertaining than WoW's method of doing things, but it is refreshingly different.
The first 20 levels of AoC find you in the island city of Tortage, trying to remember who you were (cliche alert!). During the night missions, you play in single player mode, while during the day you runaround completing quests with other players. It's very entertaining, as all of the quest giving NPCs have professional voice overs, and the single player quests vary depending on your chosen class. (Once you have played a couple of classes, you'll see how your missions run parallel to other class missions.)
HOWEVER, other than combat, AoC is NOT refreshingly different after the introductory 20 levels. All of the NPCs lose their voices, and quests devolve back to the "kill 20 of this", "fetch 40 of those", and "deliver this thing to that guy" quests we are all familiar with from other MMOs.
Also, the land is disconnected, which is odd, considering the EQ style dungeons that everyone can enter at the same time. (Unlike WoW style instances.) To go from city to wilderness, you must be teleported their by an NPC. Likewise, when travelling from area to area in the wilderness, teleportation is used. It makes the whole game seem very disconnected, and kills any sort of immersion in the gameworld. Even Guild Wars does this concept better, requiring that you reach areas that would logically connect to the next area before moving you on. Requiring that you talk to one person to move to a zone that doesn't appear to be continous is simply silly.
As far as PVP gameplay, the game is fairly standard. (I know, here come the fanbois - "But it has SIEGE WARFARE!!!!111!!") Riding a mount while in combat is something that should have happened in most major games by now anyway, but Conan gets there first. However, dedicated PVP feels much like the battlegrounds in WoW, and good old PVP feels like getting ganked on PVP servers in WoW. Try completing quests while a line of higher level characters is waiting to kill you. Fun? Not so much.
Even without DX10 support, Age of Conan looks fantastic. If, that is, you have the system to run it. On my desktop PC, which is fairly high end - with a dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and a GeForce 8800GTS 640MB graphics card - the game runs smooth and the graphics equal the splendor that is Lord of the Rings Online. Textures pop out of the monitor with plenty of 3d effects, lighting is fantastic, shadows are very realistic, and scenery is generally jaw dropping. The spell effects are very cool, without being overdone, and the animation is decent.
Until you try to play on something less than high end, or on a laptop that didn't cost you your firstborn. On my Dell Inspiron 1720 - with a GeForce 8600M GT 256MB video card, 2GB of RAM, and an Intel dual-core CPU - the game looks and runs like crap. The sharp textures are replaced by similarly colored mush, the shadows disappear, the animation is choppy, and NPCs sit underground for a few minutes before they deign to appear and grace you with their presence.
AoC appears to be another victim of the doomed concept of "future proofing", along with EQ2 and many other games. I'll repeat myself again, by the time this game plays well on the average Joe's PC, nobody will be playing it.
Just touching briefly on sound, the music is AoC is very well done, and evokes memories of the two Conan movies starring Ah-nold. The 3d sound effects are also very well done, and - I feel the need to mention - the water sound is the best I have heard in an MMORPG so far. Rivers sound loud when waterfalls or rapids are near, and we're talking a few hundred feet away, not right on top of. It's much more realistic than most games, were you aren't hearing the waterfall until you are plunging head first over it.
With all the marketing hype, you would expect a highly polished, highly entertaining game. What you get is a highly hyped game that has a great first 6 hours, but then needed several more coats of polish for anything beyond that. It's worth playing for the island of Tortage alone - if you have the PC for it - but subscribing beyond that? Not so much.