Platform: PC(Steam Early Access), PlayStation 4(planned), Xbox One(planned)
Tested on PC
Conan Exiles – Preview
Who remembers the original Conan: The Barbarian movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982? Or maybe even the remake in 2011 with Jason Momoa, the wet dream of many teenage girls? Or read the broad library of comics? Either way, it doesn’t really matter as almost everyone has heard of the famous and muscular fantasy warrior called Conan, who has slain gigantic beasts and performed great feats. Things that would even make the mythological Hercules blush. Conan has received a lot of attention through all kinds of media and has also received its share of video games. After a few standalone adventures on consoles and an MMORPG called Age Of Conan, Funcom comes with a new game called Conan Exiles. The game is still in development but can already be tested in Early Access. Doing some last minute power training to accentuate our large, muscular bodies (read blobby mess or skinny toothpicks) and sharp our battle axes, we prepare ourselves for an adventure in Hyboria.
We start our adventure in a less comfortable situation than you would originally prefer. You’re hanging strapped on a wooden cross in the Exiled Lands for crimes you may or may not have committed. The scorching, hot sun is burning your skin, when a tall stranger approaches you. He wonders if it would be merciful to let you hang there to rot or cut your ropes and leave you as bait for monsters. With a honing laugh, he cuts your ropes and leaves you behind while you pass out due to a heat stroke and exhaustion. As you regain consciousness, your adventure, or better call it your real trial has yet to start. And it’s quite a predicament, as you’re in a desert-like environment with a lot of dangerous and hungry creatures lurking about. Exiles doesn’t really offer an expansive story introduction but tries to create environment stories with the lore of the Conan Universe implemented in the game world. In a sort of way, you’ll be creating your own story and adventure.
When you start a single player server or join an official multiplayer server, you can create your own in-game character/avatar. The possibilities of customization are quite diverse and grant a lot of options to create a unique, distinctive character. One peculiar thing about the customization is the fact that you can choose the level of nudity and the size of your genitals or breasts. Remembering correctly, this would be the first time, you can adjust the size of your male characters’ johns…and see them dangle between your thighs while even the simple loincloth won’t cover all of it. It might not come as a surprise that a lot of players will like to experiment with this and soon look like male tripods that could trip over their third leg. It might offer a more ‘realistic’ approach to character building but as you see other players stretching its size to the maximum, it looks more like they’re overcompensating for something else. Conan Exiles is an 18+ rated game and the developers call it the ‘Endowment system’. The nudity and the presentation are part of the setting, the barbarian culture and slavery in the world of Hyboria. But it’s understandable that some people might be slightly offended or uncomfortable about it, so they can always turn it off when starting a new game. Aside from aesthetics and your personal appearance, you’ll also be granted the choice in what kind of religion you partake in. We’ll come back on this topic later on in this preview.
Conan Exiles looks incredibly gorgeous and streamlined. The world is one large, living sandbox filled with green oases, barren wastelands, settlements and encampments. It might feel a bit plain at first, as it isn’t the final version, more kinds of scenery are to be expected. The characters and the creatures look really nice and fill the world of Hyboria with ambient life. Especially the quality of your character models, looks really awesome, realistic and polished. The ingame world looks really appealing and worth your time to explore it. Most of the time you’ll be experiencing the game through a first person perspective but you can always zoom out to a third person perspective and get a more tactical overview. The only strange thing was that the sky looked too much like a painted skybox… and didn’t match with the rest of the scenery. Another great element that adds quite some value to your overall experience in Conan Exiles is the soundtrack. So far it’s still very limited but offers some majestic and great tunes that really fit the setting of the game world. It’s the same for the voice acting. What we’ve experienced so far, sounds great and we hope to see more of it in the future.
Conan Exiles offers an extensive sandbox where, as we’ve mentioned before, you’ll be faced with a trial. A trial in the form of a survival adventure with action RPG elements. You can take survival seriously as it is quite a struggle to survive in this open world sandbox, especially at the beginning. The level of difficulty and the merciless threats in your vicinity don’t offer a pleasant stroll in the Exiled Lands of Hyboria. And if that wasn’t enough, when playing on multiplayer servers where PVP is active, it’s every man for him/herself. Territorial conflicts are therefore warp and weft or you might come across players who just like to kill for sports. This would probably scare off players who prefer to take it easy with a less stringent approach.
The main goal is clear, you’ll need to survive and try to build a life for yourself. In order to survive, you’ll need to collect materials and resources to craft tools and build shelter. At the start, your crafting options are very limited and you’ll need to collect a large amount of resources in order to create the items or objects you need. And you won’t be harvesting materials by breaking down mountains or digging sinkhole-sized craters as you’ll only obtain materials by cutting trees, mining loose rocks, picking plants or hunting animals/creatures. In that perspective, you’ll get a more realistic approach than in other similar survival RPG games like Minecraft and Terraria where you’re terraforming, rather than actually collecting materials. And as you gain experience with every action you perform, you’ll be able to choose new recipes which grant you blueprints for new items and structures. Eventually you’ll be granted with new options to build stronger shelters and better weapons to fend off the dangers that haunt you. As items and resources aren’t the only thing you need to consider staying alive, you’ll also need sustenance in order to stay alive. As you can die of both thirst or famine, you’ll need to keep an eye out for both of these levels. It will probably sound obvious but you can replenish them by eating or drinking. Although Exiles is still halfway development and in Early Access, it can’t be overlooked as the grinding, crafting and experience farming is seriously unbalanced and feels like a tedious grind fest.
Aside from the crafting and harvesting, you’re able to build your own settlements. And as you would’ve have guessed, they don’t run themselves. You’ll need Thrall, better known as slaves. Ok, slavery is clearly something from the past and prohibited in this day and age, but it plays a major part in the lore of the Conan Universe. You will need to hunt down people and capture them, to eventually drag them back to your settlements. Don’t expect them to bend to your will without hesitation, as you’ll need to break some bones and perform some occasional torture. Exiles allows you to build a ‘Wheel Of Pain’ in your settlement. This tool grants you the chance to become your inner psychopath as you bend the slaves to your will and make them do your bidding. After the necessary brainwashing, you can either employ them as cooks, armourers and caretakers, or you can use them for guarding your walls and act as canon fodder. It’s quite diverse, grants a lot of possibilities but still needs a lot of polishing. So far, it seems you’ll be able set up an own economy where you can attract traders and even add some nice distraction, to keep your settlers or Thrall happy.
As you build your own home and settlement, you’ll be forced to defend it with your life. Combat plays an important role here. Since it’s clearly still in development, combat still feels quite stiff, clumsy and lacks strategy. It’s hard to pinpoint your attacks with inaccurate hitboxes and dying just before you’ll be able to strike the decisive blow, can be frustrating. When you die, you’ll lose your loot. You can respawn from your bed or house that functions as a sort of temporary spawn point, but as you can recover a portion of the loot from your fallen corpse, it still feels quite punishing. And if you need some help or extra manpower, Conan Exiles offers the possibility to join clans. This way you can form allegiances to fend off raiders or even create AI-hordes that trample enemy clans. A while back in this preview, we mentioned the fact you can choose your religion. This can be a major factor, as you build your religions’ temple and perform the bloody sacrifices. The Thrall will also pledge their faith to this deity and act accordingly. The fun thing is, if your deity is willing enough, it will appear in the size of a gigantic colossus, viper or even something that looks like the Kraken(a mythological giant squid) in order to raise havoc among your enemies.
After the release of an extensive selection of survival sandbox games such as Minecraft, 7 Days To Die and Ark, you’d think the market is already saturated. Funcom tries to jump in on this popular genre by mixing survival with new, distinctive gameplay elements, a realistically and brutal approach that perfectly fits the lore and canon of the Conan universe. Especially fans that are looking for a new and fresh approach on the well-known formula will certainly be able to satisfy their hunger with Conan Exiles. As it’s fun and appealing to play, the game still needs a lot of work and fine-tuning. We’re definitely looking forward to what kind of content, gameplay elements or options will be added along the way and how the game will evolve towards its final version as it aims for release somewhere next year.