Instancing is the single biggest point of contention when it comes to Age of Conan, with many people being dissatisfied over what they call "linear instancing". Most of them have gone further to say that it's instanced, "like Guild Wars" -- which has been repeated so often that people are starting to believe it.
"Linear Instancing" is a two-headed beast -- "linear" and "instance" are really totally separate. I will only focus on instancing here.
Others are now confused out of their minds about the definition of "instance", and it's because of people trying to push this "Just Like Guild Wars" argument down their throats. So let's just set it straight:
1) Is Age of Conan Instanced or Zoned? And What Does "Instance" mean here anyway?
First of all, to clear this up: Zones are instances. Instances are copies of zones. There's no such debate as "Zone or Instance"; they're the same thing.
Yes, it is instanced. But No, not like Guild Wars. If you're reading for the comparison, skip to #2, below.
"Instancing" is the act of creating multiple copies of one zone in an effort to control the number of players in one area. This is done for several reasons, usually having to do with game performance, the size of the zone, and/or the way quests are setup. For example, having fewer people in a zone means less competition to defeat boss monsters (and gather resources) and less lag with fewer people at a time running around.
The drawback to instancing is the loss of complete immersion: The idea of having five "copies" of Conall's Valley and having to get to "the right instance" sort of breaks the feeling of a large world. Imagine raiding a guild city and knowing they're in "The Swamp", but not which instance -- not too easy to roleplay that!
People have gone far enough to say that the outdoor zones feel more like huge dungeons because of this. And, considering you can choose to zone into an "epic" version of Conall's Valley, it's hard to refute that.
But this isn't about whether instancing is good or bad, as that's all subjective.
2) So This is Just Like Guild Wars, Then?
No. There's a very important difference between Guild Wars and Age of Conan.
Guild Wars Instancing:
-- Towns are "public", but have population caps that create instances
-- All outdoor areas, dungeons... pretty much anything outside of a town is instanced exclusively for you and your group.
-- To play with a group, you need to join one before leaving town in order to adventure together.
Age of Conan Instancing:
-- All zones, towns, outdoor and dungeon, are "public", but have population caps that create instances.
-- To play with a group, you all need to be in the same instance (although you can invite someone who's in a different instance and they're free to switch), but you can join on-the-fly like any other MMORPG.
So while Age of Conan is instanced, there's a BIG difference in how the two games approach it, and how it affects your freedom of gameplay. The instancing in Age of Conan doesn't restrict your freedom nearly to the degree that Guild Wars does. There's still plenty of PvP danger in each AoC instance.
Again, this doesn't make the instancing good, or bad. Whether or not it is, is entirely up to you.
Yet, those who are saying it's "just like Guild Wars" are doing the game a huge disservice. There are enough valid things to complain about without having to make untrue comparisons. Really. I don't even have official forum access due to the bug in their system from the EA accounts.