The survival genre is one I’ve been a fan of ever since I first stepped foot in ARK: Survival Evolved. Since that time, I’ve played just about any survival game I can get my hands on from 7 Days to Die to The Long Dark. If it’s around, I’m grabbing it. Conan Exiles came across my radar recently and suffice to say I was excited to give it a shot.
Stepping into a Hostile World
Story wise, Conan Exiles makes a strong introduction into its world with a brief cut scene of a well-cut barbarian (who I’m assuming is Conan) helping a woman off of a cross. A brief battle ensues with them fighting off dragon dog beast hybrids with the backdrop of a sandstorm bearing down them. Pretty epic way to kick things off, right?
The environment tells most of the story through the buildings and crumbling architecture scattered throughout the world. Worn out stone roads piled high with sand, an abandoned ship stranded in the middle of the desert, encampments of hostile locals, and even the rare shrine can be found.
Survival is Harsh & Gritty
Conan Exiles isn’t unique in some regards when ‘survival’ is thrown into the mix. There’s the usual gathering of twigs, rocks, and picking shrubs just to craft basic weaponry in the beginning. The building can be a bit of a nightmare when everything in the starter area seems to lock on from halfway across the map. I lost track of how many times I died within the first three hours just trying to build a starter base. Harvesting can be a chose, in the beginning, avoiding enemies like hyenas, NPCs who want to take out anyone who gets too close, and other frightful monsters lurking around.
Once I did set some virtual roots down, my experience did progressively easier. The building mechanics are similar to Rust in using a blueprint system to outline an object before it’s set down. Walls, foundations, and other items can be rotated and there’s even helpful text stating if the outer or inner part of a building is facing the player. Great for people like me who get a little twitchy if one wall is just a little off.
The weaponry is nothing to shake a stone pick axes either with everything from the usual shoddy stone tools to armor and weapons crafted from iron. Upgrading weaponry and armor to harder to get, but stronger materials mean being able to defeat enemies faster rather than flailing around like a squid on land. My favorite is the ability to dual wield with either a sword and shield or going into a fight with stabby double daggers.
The only gripe I have with Conan Exiles in these early stages is the creatures inhabiting the world. Half the time I seemed to be either hacking away at a pack of hyenas or fleeing from mutants who seemed to aggro on to me from several miles away. Granted, this is a hostile land, but there times it was driving me bonkers. I felt the hostility for enemies needed to be turned down a few notches and even when other players were kind enough to step in to help, the experience can be overwhelming for people starting out.
On another note, I do feel Funcom hit the nail on the head in subtly encouraging exploration. Desert biomes are something I’ve only encountered once in the survival genre, but here Conan Exiles does it right. Venturing further away from the main river rewards players with rarer resources, but also has a threat of stronger enemies lurking about. There were several areas I came across from the starting zone that was not only quieter but closer to rarer resources for late game content.
One facet setting this game apart from many others is being able to enslave NPCs and make them fight, work, and even summon gods for the player. The gods are truly something to behold ranging from a serpent with human torso to a bronze statue being towering over the entire world. Certain NPCs can summon these gods at a shrine and, depending on the kind of shrine, players summon a different type of god. They’re virtually invincible and play a vital role in raiding bases or overcoming the dangers in the world.
Visually, the environment of Conan Exiles is stunning. I loved exploring to see if I could find a new statue, area, or another fixture in this vast desert land. One of my favorite areas is a ship stranded in the sand with a bridge running from the deck to a cliff face. There’s an entire tribe of NPCs who live on the ship who appear to be crafting, building, and even guarding. This brought a real sense of a ‘living world’ to the game I found impressive, especially for a title that’s Early Access.
Other than the NPCs though, the creatures can be hit and miss. Their AI at this point in time is pretty rudimentary from what I can tell. They’re either attacking, running away, or in some cases not reacting at all. The desert biome didn’t feel like a living ecosystem like I’ve come to expect in most survival games, but again it’s easy to forgive. The pathfinding, on the other hand, is mighty impressive, even when standing on a high ledge I constantly had creatures navigating a path to my position.
The voice acting, in the beginning, is a nice touch too. The husky tone of each character who has given up or perished in the desert comes through crystal clear. Story wise, I wish there was more of this lurking around Conan Exiles, or if there is I haven’t come across any yet. I love the idea of coming across a note from perished survivors and hearing them read to me. This is an excellent bit of storytelling and fleshes out the world.
The only drawback at this point is the performance of Conan Exiles. When I booted up singleplayer mode I had constant framerate issues in some areas while in others everything seemed to be running smooth as silk. Playing on a server provided a smoother experience, but even then there are constant lag and frame rates at odd times. I also had the game crash on me a couple of times when trying to change video settings or entering a new area.
I’d say at this point the game is worth playing even in its current state. I personally had a blast just building, fighting, and interacting with other players in the world. Even with the drawbacks, I was able to overlook them since this is an Early Access title after all and since its release, Funcom has been releasing patches regularly.
My recommendation is, for people who have an interest in Conan Exiles and have a good gaming PC, give it a shot. While it does have its issues at this point in time, other areas show a surprising amount of polish. If performance issues are a concern, wait a few more weeks until more patches are released before jumping in.Related: Conan Exiles, Early Access, Funcom, Preview, Survival