Age of Conan is not a seamless world like other MMORPGs. This is mainly due to the fact that each zone is complex in its infrastructural and graphical design. So in order to pull off creating a world that is rich in detail even with areas as large as they are in the game, zoning and instancing technology was used in the design of Funcom's Hyboria.
The zones and areas are beautifully constructed and well-strung together, but my only criticism of this design decision is the dreaded loading screen. I don't mind the loading screen - this is helped by the fact that load times are relatively quick (also dependent on your system resources) - but why there are load screens for areas right next to each other or adjacent, I'm not sure, but it seems a bit superfluous to me. Why not make a larger zone to connect those adjacent areas (e.g. The Thirsty Dog Inn and the City of Tortage)? This is only a minor criticism, as the saving grace of it all is the game's coding: zones load quickly, they look amazing, and instancing ensures that your Internet connection is not lagged-out due to there being too many players in a single zone.
Zoning technology was a sensible design direction for Age of Conan, despite its minor flaws, as we all know that Hyboria is a large world, and so as content updates and expansions are released, it's simply a matter of adding an entry/exit point to a new zone somewhere already existent in the world to the new area or zone. It will be exciting to discover where Funcom decides to take its players in Hyboria next.
The loading screen art is beautiful, but after you've seen each screen once or twice over, it almost becomes a chore to watch them again. Perhaps some "Indiana Jones travel-type" loading screens wouldn't go astray? You know, where there's a red dot and line marking Indy's journey from place to place?
Where the GUI is concerned, several mods have been released through various gaming sites already, but personally I'm a fan of the original. It's simple, appealing to the eye, and you don't have to read the manual first in order to understand where everything this and how to use it. Personally, I would recommend playing Age of Conan on a widescreen LCD monitor so as to avoid the intrusiveness of the GUI. I've seen the game played on standard screen monitors, and unfortunately, without those extra inches on the left and right, those hotbars, the chat-box, mini-map, and combat rose can get in the way. My hope would be that Funcom, in the near future, would add a GUI scaling tool so players would be able to shrink or enlarge the scale of the GUI to whatever is most comfortable for them.
Design-wise, Age of Conan excels in every area, with the only downsides coming from the occasional intrusiveness of the GUI on smaller monitors, and the frequency of the zone loading screen.
The score: 17 out of 20.