Conan Exiles has quite the offering. A survival game set in the barbaric world of Conan the Barbarian, allowing you the freedom to create your own adventure – build your own homestead or even city – while enduring the odd encounter with other online players who are also forging their own piece of barbaric paradise.
Played from either a first or third person perspective, Conan Exiles is predominantly a survival game with a heavy dose of building. Sound familiar? If you played Ark Survival Evolved it sure will. Conan Exiles takes a heavy cue from the dinosaur romp but also sprinkles in a heavy dose of what Minecraft does best – a world where you can create amazing builds from its rich resources, while offering many adventures for any intrepid explorers that are curious enough to scratch away at its surface.
Left on a cross to die, it is the man himself – Conan – who sets you free and sets you on an adventure to free yourself from a mysterious amulet that adorns your wrist. The next hour is then spent fumbling around, exploring menus and working out what can be picked up and used to make basic tools and weapons.
Your first call is to clothe yourself, unless you enjoy the way your genitals sway in the wind. Day-to-day life also needs tending to, which sees you gather resources, chop wood and hunt. Once collected, you must then turn these raw materials into useable building materials – this is where the Minecraft influence really shows and I’ve seen some incredible builds from vast communities of players working together.
Like many good crafting games, hours fly past as you carve out a small area but there is a huge world out there begging to be explored and like so many crafting games, you may be held back by your own creativity or desire to find an adventure.
There is also a further hindrance; you can’t just go marching off into the wilds. There are many beasts and enemies out there and if you haven’t spent time progressing through the various crafting levels to create bigger and better weapons and armour, you won’t get very far and death can be a real pain in the ass.
Similar to Dark Souls, when you die you lose everything you are carrying and death is made even more painful if you are far from home. Respawning back at your bedroll, you enter once more naked and alone. All your worldly possessions are back at your corpse. Here is where the grind can really annoy. Hours of hard work can be lost in an instant if you have been foolish while adventuring, stumbling into powerful enemies or falling from a great height. Worse is when you trek back to your body to collect your treasures only to find that it has randomly vanished!
The biggest hurdle I have with the survival genre is the steep and brutal learning curve; Conan Exiles opts for an easier path. You need to pay far less consideration to the fact that fruit you collect may be poisonous – death may always be a threat, but some survival games kill you for making the simplest mistake.
Despite the stripped back survival mechanics, life in Conan Exiles can still be pretty rough. Like many other titles in the survival genre, there is little hand holding save a ‘journey’ plotting key points in your life that you can strive for. These teach essential life skills but it’s unfortunate that the stages of crafting you learn aren’t better shown in the menus, which are an utter mess. Hard to navigate and work out what you are actually crafting, it’s clear that console gamers have been completely forgotten about with this terrible UX.
Another part of the game I wrestled with was being able to efficiently build a base. Pieces snapped on to other pieces well enough, but always on the wrong side of where I was aiming and because the menu isn’t clear what pieces I was building, I made some pretty peculiar looking builds. Another issue is that materials aren’t always in your immediate vicinity. Unlike Minecraft, you have to venture miles to retrieve precious ores, during which time your humble dwelling decays against the elements.
I also found the combat to be a huge disappointment, weapon swings, blocks and dodge rolls often missed, were ineffectual or just looked plain silly. The whole combat system lacks any kind of finesse, which other titles like The Witcher or Dark Souls have in abundance.
Questing is in the game; it just lacks a defined path unlike other quest-laden games on the market. Conan Exiles does nail the world it creates and the adventuring is on the right side of survival mechanics that feel fair. Moving up the ladder to stronger equipment and more luxurious dwellings is a great achievement – feeling like you have grafted and adventured long and hard to achieve greatness rather than just because you got to a certain point in the game.
I loved what Conan Exiles sets out to achieve and I will admit to becoming rather hooked to building a small village in my image. I also appreciate that there are so many fantasy adventures that have trod similar ground to Conan Exiles, so it’s great to see a game that brings a new dynamic to the playing field; it just didn’t click for me.
As fun as it is to build up a character, to get to the good stuff is a mighty grind and if you don’t have an interest in craft and survival mechanics, then the adventure that is eventually there for the exploring may be out of reach. Conan Exiles is a slow burner that needs a huge investment of time, but is equally hugely rewarding if you can be bothered…