Reviewed on: PC
“You wake to the burning desert sand, alone and aching, your memories fuzzy. As you stumble to your feet, you vaguely remember a man cutting you down from the cross you believed to be your final prison. The sun beats down on your back, hot and angry, a reminder that the treachery of the desert still persists.”
Welcome to Conan Exiles.
Conan Exiles is Funcom’s attempt at using their Conan the Barbarian license to add another drop in the sea of Early Access survival games that seem to be taking Steam by storm. Closer to Ark than Rust, Conan Exiles carries all the hallmarks of the survival genre. A world to explore, hopelessness to avoid, and crafting recipes to slog your way through. The Hyborian Age is a treacherous, unforgiving time, and Conan Exiles certainly makes you aware of that. However, if you’re expecting a heroic adventure to rival the likes of the titular hero, you may be in for a bit of a surprise.
That’s probably because you, like my character ‘Hector the Well Endowed’, are not Conan. You’re just another person, left to the mercy of what the world has in store for you.
Birth of a Survivor
Conan Exiles’ character creation has certainly attracted some attention and controversy. While it isn’t much different from any other character creation system, Conan Exiles introduces an Endowment meter. Should you choose to play a male character, this meter allows you to freely adjust the length of your, uh, manhood. Female characters get a similar meter that can be used to adjust the size of their breasts. You’ll be seeing nothing short of both these bars maxed out should you choose to head online.
In case you’re averse to this, the game has three different options for nudity: None, partial, and full, so one can adjust it to their preference.
You’re also free to pick from a variety of races fans of Robert E. Howard’s work will recognize, from the Cimmerians, to the Himelians, and even the Darfari. Religion also factors into character creation, allowing players to pick a god to follow. Crom is an obvious choice. Crom may not listen, but he does laugh at the other gods.
Once you’re done creating your character, Conan Exiles drops you in the desert, a lone survivor amidst other crucified souls that have long since perished. The journey begins by relentlessly mashing the E button as you vacuum up any resource you come across. True to its genre, Conan Exiles litters items and harvest points everywhere. The near constant flow of items early on drives you forward, your will to survive growing as you craft your first pickaxe. A few moments later, you’ve crafted your first axe, and not long after, a simple tunic.
Luckily enough, the game lets you net a waterskin early on to ensure you’ve got access to water at least.
You’re going to need access to food, water, shelter, and the necessary resources if you wish to survive. Unfortunately, it’s here that Conan Exiles problems first start to show. Funcom’s chosen to add a sort of RPG-lite progression system to the game, locking away certain recipes until you level up and purchase them with knowledge points you earned. You’ll have to level up before you can even build the simplest means of defending yourself, or craft a bow to help you hunt.
That’s usually my biggest gripe with early survival games, but I actually found it easier to gain levels than I did to collect the resources needed to start building. After all, how would you feel upon realizing it requires just as many pieces of wood to build a large bonfire as it does to make your first workbench? Granted, there is a smaller option for the bonfire, but some things still require a lot of material to build. You’ll be spending a good amount of time and effort gathering these resources while trying to deal with the hostiles that Exiles sends your way.
Fight for your Life
Howard’s tales of Conan are filled with great feats of strength and intense violence. Warriors clash against one another, and evil sorcerers spread fear until they’re cut down by the heroes. While Conan Exiles embraces this aspect of the barbarian’s legends, littering the world with all manner of creatures that mean to harm you, but it’s still far from the great sword and sorcery adventures some might desire.
Combat is largely repetitive and often dull. There’s little weight to the weapons, and you’ll be spending most fights mashing away on the left mouse button as you attempt to cut down whatever’s trying to kill you. True to its roots, the game makes survival hard. Many enemies have massive aggro ranges and will relentlessly pursue you no matter where you go. This can become frustrating early on, especially when you’re dealing with crocodiles and hyenas while also trying to gather resources you dearly need. There were times where my character would stop responding if I fixed my shield mid-combat, leading to a rather gruesome death. You’re going to die early on, and you’re going to die a lot. (Heaven help you if you haven’t crafted a sleeping mat.)
The combat is fine for early access, but still leaves a lot to be desired.
Despite the early access flaws, there’s enough to set Conan Exiles apart from the competition. Funcom has drawn on the rich setting of the source material, and the landscape around you offers more than just enemies and resources. There are ruins and statues of once great civilizations, and enough lore dropped in throughout to keep the more curious somewhat sated. It’s a rich world, and there’s hope for it to only get richer. Hopefully we’ll be able to slay sorcerers and steal artifacts soon enough.
If grinding for resources and building gets a bit much, Conan Exiles offers an alternative for those willing to put in the work. The thrall system is certainly interesting. Build a torture wheel, knock an NPC out, and work to break their will until they’re subservient to you. If you’re successful, you have someone who can go out and mine for you, or slave away crafting swords or roasting steak, just to make your survival a little bit easier. Funcom’s already promised more types of thralls in the future, each talented in various fields.
In case having thralls is something you’d not prefer, the religion system lets you gain other benefits, including some from offering sacrifices to your god. That is if you choose to not follow Crom, of course.
Even grinding can be mitigated. Though the official servers are currently down, there are plenty of player run servers that you can access. That is, if you’re willing to wrestle with a number of technical issues. From disconnects to rubber-banding, Exiles online experience currently needs some work. However, that’s not what player run servers offer. When creating a server, you have access to a multitude of settings that allow you to tweak almost everything, including harvest rates and crafting times. In addition, servers are split into styles, allowing you to play with those who share similar tastes. You can dive into a hardcore survival experience, or you can take it slow and relax while roleplaying your character.
Aside from the long initial load times, and the online disconnects, Conan Exiles performs well. The game ran smooth and steady on a variety of settings, from high to low. There’s even a toggle to allow the game to run better on lower end machines, hopefully allowing most players a satisfying experience. Performance wise, Conan Exiles runs well enough, particularly when playing offline.
While Conan Exiles promises a lot now and in the future, the game’s Early Access moniker can be used as a literal descriptor. For those who enjoy the survival genre, particularly fans of Ark and Rust, the game will feel familiar enough to be fun. If you enjoy endlessly harvesting resources to craft everything the game has to offer, Conan Exiles has that to offer. However, those that find monotony in resource gathering, and those looking to experience grand adventures the likes of Conan himself should wait for now. There’s a lot the game can offer, it’s just not all there yet.
As is stands right now, aside from a few unique features, Conan Exiles is a standard survival game with a Conan skin applied to it. However, it has the potential to become the “go to” survival game if it can deliver on its promises.
Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Intel Core i7-6700HQ 2.60GHz
GeForce GTX 960M 2GB