What sets Age of Conan apart from any other MMORPG on the market at the moment is its patented "real-time" combat system. Combat is no longer auto-pilot or easy street in MMO gaming! Yes, for once in an MMORPG you actually have to think about where you're going to land your attacks. Thankfully, despite this level of player-combat interaction, the learning curve is relatively insignificant. At the start of the game, combos are simplistic, but as you progress through the levels combos scale and higher ranks of certain combos increase in intricacy. Furthermore, there's the element of mob shields (an area of their body that they are protecting: left, middle, or right side), and of course you do a lot more damage to the mob when you finish the combo on a side with little or no protection.
As an added bonus to exploiting your opponent's weak spot(s), if triggered in perfect timing and under the right conditions, you have a chance of pulling off a fatality move. A fatality move will also grant the player a buff to their health, stamina, and mana regeneration plus increasing their damage output and chance to trigger successive fatalities. This buff is quite brief though (think of it as a "rush of blood").
Ranged combat also utilises the real-time combat system, as bow and crossbow users are able to direct their attacks in the given direction. You are also able, as a bow or crossbow user, to enter into first-person shooter mode, a sort of "sniper mode". This makes Ranger-type characters very deadly and very accurate
Offensive spells are cast much in the same way they are cast in other MMORPGs, but at level 50, spellcasters unlock their Spellweaving ability, the spellcaster's answer to the melee combo system. Spellweaving allows spellcasters to combine their spells and other effects to make them brutal against opponents, beneficial for teammates, or better for themselves. The player must be cautious, however, as Spellweaving has many risks which may be fatal for the spellcaster or his/her teammates. A fellow guildmate showed off his Spellweaving infront of me on his Priest of Mitra, and without giving too much away, the franticness of it due to the sheer risk vs. reward element it was offering brought a unique dynamic to spellcasting as a gameplay feature.
I'm one of these players that likes to solo quite a bit, even in MMORPGs, and thankfully Funcom has looked after us lone wolves. There is an abundance of quest content, and that means those that prefer to fly solo are able to reach level 80 without a wingman or two. Despite this, however, an MMORPG is about joining in on the social aspect of MMORPG gaming and partaking in group quests. Yes, there is lots of group content, and even the quests that can be soloed are enjoyable when attempted in a group. Solo quests offer decent rewards, but you can expect better quest rewards from the quests that require a group or a raid-size group to partake in, so Funcom have stayed true to the risk vs. reward mantra trumpeted in the MMORPG genre: the higher the risk element, the better the reward(s).
Regarding PvP, PvP and RP-PvP servers allow free-for-all PvP, which means that you can attack and can be attacked by any player at any time, all with the exception of "hub" cities, namely: Old Tarantia, Khemi, and Conarch Village, the central cities to Aquilonia, Khemi, and Cimmeria, respectively. In my honest opinion, free-for-all PvP is how Age of Conan is meant to be played. Forget the potential for ganking and griefing for a moment, and remember that Howard's Hyboria is a cruel, harsh, unforgiving, and unpredictable world. This, in its truest sense, is reflected in the PvP and RP-PvP servers; they are not for the faint of heart. This is not to say that play on the PvE server is mundane or flowery, no, as players on any server type can still engage in PvP either in the PvP mini-games (CTF or Team Annihliation) or through the Border Kingdoms, the siege warfare zones of the game.
Needless to say, there is lots in Age of Conan to keep you busy for a long time, and there is strong replayability value in all of the gameplay features Age of Conan has to offer. Sieging and raiding offer players strong end-game content, and now that trade houses are fully functional again, the player-base can begin driving the in-game economy and raise their fund to either deck out their own character(s), or pave a path to glory with an awesome guild city and battlekeep.
Funcom has implemented elements from other MMORPGs into their game and have managed to add just those little bit extra bits to make them unique in Age of Conan. With innovations such as the "real-time" combat system, combos, fatalities, Spellweaving, mounted combat, and much more, Funcom has made Age of Conan vastly unique and so are to be congratulated for trying something new and delivering something both fresh and exceptional.
The score: 20 out of 20.