Played on: PC
Estimated Release Date: Q1 2018
Played with: Mouse & Keyboard
Paid: $0 (Key provided for coverage)
Version Played: Update 30
Releasing in early access on January 30, 2017, Conan Exiles is yet another entry in the seemingly endless “early access survival” genre. Of course, the core draw with this one is the Conan universe: savages, slaves, monsters, etc. Plus, it’s actually seeing regular updates, including the massive Frozen North expansion which was recently released for free.
I mean, it’s a survival game. If you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in Conan. You can farm for resources, hunt all manner of creatures, build shelters, explore the world, and so on. Some of the more unique mechanics here include the ability to enslave other exiles as “thralls”, as well as a religion system. The former enables you to build up your own society of slaves, who will work on various operations for you while you worry about more important adventuring business. The latter grants various abilities depending on which you choose: ritual cannibalism is just one of the offers on the table. It also enables you to summon a guardian spirit, though this doesn’t seem to come until much later in the game.
Multiple difficulty settings are included, and masochists are free to create their own custom difficulties if desired. I started out on the medium difficulty – where death makes you drop all your items – but eventually swapped to an easier one when the novelty of hunting down my corpse wore off.
Dynamic deformation occurs for pretty much every resource you collect, giving some welcome visual feedback. Bashing a boulder with your pickaxe is a lot more satisfying when large chunks of it fragment off and roll around.
There’s also quite the array of fauna in the world of Conan, with the starting area alone containing crocodiles, shalebacks (think “really beefy turtle”), hyenas, demons, and more. These yield several items when harvested, like hides, bones, and of course, meat. An interesting catch with the meat is that it can spoil; plus, it does so faster if it’s not yet cooked. It helps to balance things so you can’t just stockpile 500 steaks and call it a day. On the flip side, though, I found that meat was plentiful enough that I never really got locked into a no-win scenario; I was quickly able to always have a healthy stockpile on hand to keep the hunger at bay.
Environments range from barren deserts to lush forests, all the way up to the icy wastelands that were recently added. Hundreds of items are already present in the game, including many classes of armour and weapons, an array of craftable potions, and construction and decoration materials. If you’re looking to maximize your character, there’s already quite a lot to do here. Plus, the ability to do it alone, with friends, or with random players online means that there are opportunities to form tribes, build civilizations, and/or wage war on other players as you see fit.
Visually, Conan Exiles is quite impressive. For a large, open world title, there are lots of detailed structures and locales, as well as some impressive lighting effects. Enemies have distinct and varied designs, and some of the later creatures you can fight (which I simply used the admin console to spawn) are frightening to behold.
All that beauty comes at a cost, though; this is beast of a title when it comes to performance. Now, I recognize that my CPU is below the recommended spec for the game, and my GPU is at the recommended level for the “High” graphics preset. As such, your mileage may vary. Just so you know, though, in my experience, I was getting anywhere from 60 all the way down to around 25 FPS, depending on whether I was in the desert or the jungle, respectively. After a while, I could grit my teeth and bear with it, but as is the case with many early access survival games, content is coming before optimization. At least Conan’s also getting released on Xbox One and PS4, so it should be able to run at a solid 30 FPS eventually, right? Wooooo… *sarcastic finger twirl*
There’s also a weird technical limitation of the game’s engine (according to the community): When playing multiplayer (at least with friends in co-op), players are “tethered” to the host. Think of it like having a rope tied around your waist, with the other end tied to the game host. Run too far away, and suddenly you’ll get stopped and yanked back to the “safe range”. If the host moves too far away from you, they’ll drag you with them. It took my friends and I forever to figure this out, and led to one of them getting fed up and quitting. There’s no indication that this is something to worry about, so without prior knowledge, it seems like the game has player-specific invisible walls and a tendency to wrest away control.
In general, things could be explained better. The game teaches effectively nothing – I had to rely on trips to the key binding screen and forums to figure out things like harvesting meat, picking up materials, and so forth. Learning to drink water was a stroke of pure luck on my part.
Combat tries to be engaging, bringing in dodges, blocks, and light/heavy attacks. The problem is that in my experience, most of this felt like little more than window dressing. Early shields break after only a couple of blocks, so they’re not reliable for protection. If the enemies telegraph their attacks, I wasn’t aware of it, meaning that dodges were always too early or too late. If you’re going for a melee approach, combat amounts to “run up to enemies and whale on them until they stop moving”. Ranged combat was a lot more enjoyable, since it’s easy to poke down melee enemies before they get into attack range, and the dodge roll can be useful for dodging other ranged attacks. Of course, then you have to worry about crafting arrows constantly, plus the whole thing seems to go against the ethos of Conan. I don’t know about you, but when I think Conan The Barbarian, I think of big, beefy dudes with swords and clubs, not archers skulking around in the shadows.
Otherwise, the game simply loses steam after a while. When I first sat down to play, I was at it for hours, exploring, foraging, hunting, and crafting. As time went on, though, that was all I was doing, and it was all for the same supplies. I got more focused on repairing what I had than being able to build new things. Plus, most attempts at venturing out beyond the Southern portion of the map simply resulted in me being slaughtered by enemies that seemed to be leagues above me in strength. The world of Conan Exiles is massive; I know for a fact that I’ve only explored a small fraction of it. I think it’s telling, then, that I’d rather use admin commands to warp around the map and sightsee, rather than travel there myself.
As I said in the “High Points” section: Conan Exiles is a survival game. If you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll probably enjoy the vastness of the content here. If you’re not…well, don’t expect this one to convert you. That’s all there is to it. There are bugs. There may be performance problems, depending on your setup. There’s a significant amount of content, but not much tying it together. Personally, I’m going to keep an eye on things and see how the game comes together as it nears its 2018 release.