Conan is the ultimate fantasy for many. To be the ultimate bad ass killing monsters, saving poor folk and being ripped like the Terminator himself! Now, Conan has had success on the big screen and encouraged spin offs and revivals. He remains popular even in the franchise’s darkest days. In terms of gaming, you’d think Conan would be perfect for any hack-and-slash fan to gorge on. Back in 2007, that came out. Sadly, most people weren’t too kind on it, even with Ron “freaking” Pearlman as Conan! I had a soft spot for it but understood why some hated it.
Norwegian developer Funcom, who were behind The Secret World and The Park, have decided to take another shot at the Conan franchise. While their previous MMO Age of Conan: Unchained was successful, it didn’t bring the same fame as WOW or Guild Wars. This was a shame as it had some neat ideas. But these guys have stripped back the concept to its bare bones and crafted what could be one of the most compelling MMOs to date.
The market is filled with plenty of MMOs. It can be rather difficult to grab the attention of gamers, especially those who’ve sunk hundreds of hours into an existing IP. From the beginning, I heard little about Conan Exiles, other than the one key factor in its character creation. Yes we all know, you can have a character with massive genitals. While I found this amusing I did ask the question, what will Conan have to appeal to me? I played Black Dessert Online not so long ago and I did enjoy it. I’m not a massive MMO player, but I can tell if an MMO can appeal to a mass market.
Conan: Exiles is a harsh, brutal survival RPG with elements of character and world building. You begin your journey as a lone (unless you’re in multiplayer) exile who is freed by the mighty Conan himself. As a long tradition of most RPGs, you can customize your character from facial features, religion and of course penis size. There was nothing that truly stood out from the character creation aspect, other than choosing a religion. I think religion could work well if other factions of NPCs react differently towards you because of this. Otherwise there was very little to truly connect you with your character. Possibly, this was because all characters look extremely ugly, but I might still be amazed from Black Dessert Online’s beautiful characters.
After the character creation, you’ll find yourself left in the desert to fend for yourself. From this point on, you’ll be tasked with learning the basics of survival, from gathering food to drinking water. After you’ve explored some of the region, discovered landmarks, and learned how to craft and gathering resources, you’ll gain a better understanding of the world before you. You’ll adapt to your surroundings and will do so with guidance from a structured set of tasks. There are different tiers that require you to carry out various tasks. Lower tiers ask you to eat, drink and seek shelter. Higher tiers ask you to kill, craft and scavenge for vital resources.
There’s no real sense of a story or campaign, other than light hints on where you should be going. It’s great not being pushed into what most MMOs do nowadays. Other MMOs often force a “chosen one” narrative even though there are millions of others following the same quest. Here, it feels more like you’re an individual and must complete the basic needs: feed, build and survive.
What I have been doing for many hours so far is just that, surviving. Why, might you ask? I have to admit that Conan Exiles is a brutal experience and will surely test any hardcore survival nut. Conan does have various difficulty levels, which provide leverage to newcomers or increase tension for veterans. But nonetheless, this is a challenging game.
Conan Exiles works fundamentally on a permadeath system. It retracts all lot and gear from players who die and sets them back to an earlier stage of the game. I found this most compelling providing the harsh nature of the game. It’s also worth noting that you can help yourself avoid any heartbreaking instances of losing your sweet loot and gear by prepping and building a home. Slowly and surely you’ll build your character into a mighty warrior with the capability of surviving in the harshest environments.
I like the core concept of this game and many of the ideas in place. There’s a minimalist approach to many of the survival elements at hand. As it progresses, the game becomes more engaging. As this is in Early Access there are quite a few bugs and glitches to wary of. These did impact on my progression personally and the lack of polish in some places will be a little off putting.
I was brought to rage when I started up the game and fell to my death, losing everything. I find that progression feels to an extent, grinding in nature where you’ll have to work extremely hard just to progress at times. This became apparent when I had to make an actual bed in order to save some aspects of my progression but couldn’t do so until level 13. Let me tell you, from level 8 – 14 it’s a painful and slow journey unless you risk everything by venturing further. Doing so unprepared is suicide. This game requires a lot of patience at times and with the bugs and issues at the moment, it can be difficult to push through without putting in some serious hours.
The map lacks details, such as a legend or landmarks to help you on your journey. These simple things should be in every RPG. Combat is slightly unbalanced and feels very floaty and misplaced in execution.
Conan Exiles may have some glaring faults but I appreciate the variation in game modes that allow PvP, Solo/Co-op and PvE. PvP and PvE allow community building as you can create clans with friends to protect yourself from enemies or the elements of the wasteland. You can hunt, gather food and mass build to create a world that pleases you. This was the highlight of my experience. I would say Conan Exiles is meant to be played with other people or at least one good friend.
There’s plenty more to come from my preview of Conan as I venture North in search of glory, fame and to be as far away from the clan of murderous big booby warriors and the guy with a massive penis who follows me relentlessly. Yeah, playing with other people scares me more now.
An Xbox One preview build of Conan Exiles was provided by Funcom for the purpose of this Early Access preview