As a genre, I’ve always swayed cautiously on the fringe of survival games. Often early access, and most of the time divisive, riddled with bugs and connectivity issues that mar the experience. Despite this, I do know my Rust from my Day Z, and Conan Exiles looks to be a promising title with a few fresh spins on the Survival game.
First of all, it’s important to talk about the source material. The game is set in ‘The Hyborian Age’, a time between the sinking of Atlantis and the rise of ancient civilizations, where all of Robert E. Howard’s Conan The Barbarian stories take place. This means that the environment is desolate and the monsters are all Feral hybrids. Expect Hyena’s, weaponized turtles, and homunculus-esque humans who will mindlessly clobber you to death on sight. Other, more peaceful fauna include deer and bunny rabbits, which of course, you’ll be hunting for food.
It’s a pretty sensible setting for a survival game, and it’s believable to think that you’re starting out completely naked, strapped to a cross, and picking up rocks to craft a hatchet. The environment is already perfect to the genre.
What I liked from the get go, before I even connected, was the abundance of server types I could choose from. You have PVP as well as PVE, and from there you can choose a select tag depending on your playstyle. If you want a hardcore role-playing experience, you’re just as welcome as the guy who wants no player conflict, but likes to build a huge base and fight monsters. Conan Exiles does an awesome job of letting you play how you want, whereas other games in the genre often leave you in a world that is geared to overwhelm you.
It’s not, at least in my experience so far, one of those games where you spawn in and are instantly killed by a player who’s hacked in all the weapons or been grinding for 30 hours. You can do what you want! And if you don’t like PVP, you don’t have to partake, which is a well-needed option.
On the cross, there’s a pretty bespoke character editor which allows you to play with race, religion, and even ‘endowment’ if you fancy. Servers have NSFW filters, but if you want to abandon your modesty in the middle of a beast-infested desert, then Conan Exiles may be right up your street.
There were a few scripted events I stumbled across, and the game gives you a sense that there’s a story hiding beneath the survival layer, a novel addition to the genre. I came across journals and notes from past barbarians, and even discovered powerful beasts that flew away, taunting me.
The visuals are rather stunning; character designs range from cute to grotesque and everything in between, and I loved coming across new beasts to fight and loot for some well needed sustenance.
The way progression works is also a lot of fun. You earn XP by performing most actions, from looting to even walking, and you can upgrade your core stats like Vitality, Grit, and Agility to specialize your character. This is already a lot of fun, but the best part is the developing recipes tree.
When you start out, you can only craft a handful of items, but through the experience system you earn points to unlock the recipe for a bow, or to craft a campfire, and the items keep developing until you have metal shields and powerful weapons and armor that can make you a potent force out there in the wastes. It’s satisfying and fun, and you keep all of it when you die, so your character feels like they’re constantly getting stronger.
Base building is also pretty fleshed out, and you can make yourself a nice little compound for sharing with friends and co-ordinating hunting parties.
The combat of Conan Exiles is pretty enjoyable as well. You can crush bones and send limbs flying — the whole experience is pretty visceral. You can also sacrifice fellow players to the gods for buffs and upgrades, and even enslave poor NPCs to do your bidding. First you bop them on the head with your weapon and tie them up, then you take them back to your encampment.
You then set up a pretty gnarly torture device called the Wheel Of Pain, which is designed to break a man’s spirit. You feed the guy gruel until he loses his sanity and decides he’s yours forever, and from that point on they can become excellent craftsmen or archers, unlocking unique recipes and acting as your personal militia. The religion mentioned earlier also plays a part in the gameplay, as you can craft altars to your selected god, and when you’ve done your evil deeds you can redeem special crafting items.
In regards to bugs, I suffered through some interesting ones which involved me not being able to move outside of third person mode, and a case where an enemy or animal I was hunting started rubber-banding all over the place. Despite a few hitches, though, Conan Exiles did run pretty smooth. With an early access title such as this, these kind of problems are par for the course as the team works out the kinks, but it’s important that players are aware that there are latent problems. None that I couldn’t look past when the game enveloped me in it’s grisly world, though.
When it comes down to it, Conan Exiles is a pretty fleshed out survival game that has a lot of features still in the pipeline. A trebuchet, dyeing system, and a number of fixes are coming soon, and it will be interesting to see how the experience develops with a healthy attitude from Funcom towards supporting it. If you’re looking for a new Survival game that will sate your most carnal impulses, this may well be something for you.