We’ve seen a lot of survival games on the market lately and it all started with Minecraft, expanding into games like The Forest. To be honest, Conan Exiles is probably the best I’ve seen as it’s the most ‘suvivaly’ of the bunch. It really feels like there’s something at stake, and the world really doesn’t seem to want you there. Whether you’re being hunted by a crocodile or being brutalized by the environment, it’s pretty clear that the game wants you to die, and you will, in some of the nastiest ways ever conceived in a video game. There is, however, nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment you get from succeeding and moving forward in this harsh world, just north of Hyboria.
Starting Your Journey as an Exile
The game starts with you as an exile strapped to a wooden cross in the northern wasteland with a sign above your head stating that if anyone removes you from it, they will be killed along with their entire family. Now, that aside, the character creation is essentially the same as it is in any other RPG, aside from the lip color still being broken.
As you are creating your character you will be able to choose your race, your appearance, and even your religion. If you played the game in early access you will quickly notice some changes to the character creation HUD and in my opinion it’s a little worse, but we’ll get used to these things.
You will start your journey by confirming your character, and there are plenty of awesome customization options, so make sure it's uniquely you. Once you complete the character creation the game moves into a cinematic where Conan himself comes to cut you down from the cross. He gives you a lecture about how you’re too weak to survive, but gives you water and points out that you’re ‘marked’, so you won’t be able to cross the Ghost Fence. He then remarks that it might have been kinder to leave you on the cross and wanders off into the desert.
Now let me go ahead and explain the ghost fence. As you near the edge of the world you will be able to see land off in the distance and you can try to walk to it, but if you attempt to cross, at least on an official server, you will simply fall over dead. This is a mechanism to keep the exiles imprisoned while giving them relative freedom. As the game has come out of early access the boundaries have been expanded and we’re seeing the addition of new areas, and you can likely expect it to keep evolving for the foreseeable future.
Traversing the World
When you enter the world for the first time I have one piece of advice for you: run. You’re going to be out in the desert with no food, no water, and no clothing. This is a game that takes thirst and hunger into account, and you can even end up with heat stroke if you stay out in the sun too long, so be ready to rush from shelter to shelter until you find a viable place to set up camp.
As you’re running, you can actually pick up rocks, twigs, and plant fibers by pressing E while looking at them, so build up your resource collection as you’re making your way toward a viable source of water. Also, do you remember how I said that everything in the game wants you to die? You’re going to figure that out for yourself as you encounter wild creatures, exiles, and other players if you have chosen a PVP server. My recommendation would be to first find an open spot along the river with plenty of resources and then construct a bedroll to update your spawn point. After that, make yourself a basic axe and pickaxe so that you can start farming the two most important resources in the early game: stone and wood.
Collecting Resources in Conan
This is probably the most straightforward system I’ve ever seen. You simply equip the correct tool and start using it on the resource you want. If you want stone, pull out your pickaxe and start chipping away at the nearest rock, it will even start to break apart as you deplete it. If you want wood, you do the same thing to the trees. Yes, they eventually respawn, and you can start all over again.
Resources not only take up space in your inventory they take up the attribute known as ‘encumbrance’ which is essentially the amount of weight that you can carry. When you are full, your walk speed will be significantly reduced and running will be impossible, so you have a few choices, such as dropping some of your hard-earned resources or walking back to the nearest supply box. I have also found that you can craft items from your resources and sometimes the item that the materials are crafted into will weigh less than the resource itself, so keep that in mind if you need a quick tip to get you back to base. Of course, the main menu features a convenient option to kill yourself if you feel you’ve had enough and want to teleport back to your spawn point for some reason.
Building Your Empire
Conan starts like any other RPG, forcing you to wander the wilderness in search of shelter and resources, but it doesn’t offer a diverse range of quests to fulfill. Instead, you make your own way by learning to craft fires, buildings, clothing, and much more. Once you find a suitable build space, you can lay the foundation for a house, and as you move forward, you can build entire cities. Just make sure you’re watching out for the crocodiles – they’re pretty nasty.
In the beginning, your empire will be pretty basic – it starts with a small shelter but as you move further north and start harvesting more advanced resources, better crafting options will be available to you. From better crafting tables to smelting stations, and more, you’ll find that the game starts out simple but quickly becomes more complicated. You’ll go from fighting to survive to managing resources, building walls, and handling the logistics of your outpost or city. Eventually, you won’t have to collect resources at all.
Human Resources – Literally
Conan Exiles is based in the Conan universe, so naturally, you can take the local population as your personal slaves. All of those NPC’s that attacked you in the beginning can become your slaves later in the game as soon as you unlock the ability during a level up. You can use a special rope to capture the NPC’s and put them to work in your city as soon as you construct it. By putting the NPC’s to work, you are outsourcing your workload and allowing yourself to do other things like hunting, or taking on world bosses, comfortable in the knowledge that the crafting is not only being taken care of but also that your base is defended. Archer NPC’s can protect the base while you’re gone, which is very helpful if you are playing on a PVP server.
Server Based Survival
This is not an MMORPG. By that, I mean that like most other survival games it relies on private or public servers, most of which are hosted by G-Portal. There are several official servers that are hosted by Funcom, so if you want a guaranteed persistent world, that might be your best option. Additionally, you have the option of playing on a player-run server, or even hosting your own if you want a space for you and your friends. The servers are slot based, so the more players you allow on your server the higher the price you are going to pay per month.
Conan Exiles employs the typical PVP/PVE model with both presenting extremely different aspects of the game. If you play PVE, you will team up with other players to craft, build, and fight against overwhelming odds. In PVP you may do the same thing, but there is a better chance of other players attacking you and they even have the option of destroying the buildings that you have created. All of your hard work could be wiped out in an instant, and if you lose your spawn point, you’re going to end up back at the beginning of the game. Literally. You’ll have to walk back, and if you were holding anything important when you died, you’ll have to loot your corpse unless someone gets to it first. Fun, right?
The last thing I want to bring up on this point is that you CAN play the game offline, or you can play it with one other person without purchasing a server or using another player server. The only problem with co-op play is that the engine has trouble rendering anything outside of a certain radius, so you’re forced to stay next to the game host. Of course, I tend to believe that this has nothing to do with engine limitations because once the host dies, and goes back to their spawn point, you start to walk in their direction instead of being teleported. Take what you will from that.
New Features in the Full Release
Since the full release of Conan Exiles we’ve seen some pretty cool features like farming, war paint, world bosses, equipment dyeing, dungeons, climbing, and even new level perks. I’d also like to mention that the siege weapons from Update 22 have made it into the full game which allows you to lay waste to mountain fortresses from a distance.
Players who thought the world was too small will be pleased with the world expansion. New biomes and new enemy types have been introduced, taking the world from 15 square kilometers all the way to 40. For anyone who doesn't want to do the math, that's about 24 miles of terrain to cross and plenty to explore.
One feature that has drawn some serious controversy is fast travel, which can be initiated by building a map room in your base and using obelisks across the map. From the map room, you will be able to choose your destination and go anywhere you want. One of the major concerns, however, is whether or not players will be able to place defenses around the obelisks and simply wipe out players who are attempting to fast travel on PVP servers, though this was addressed in a live stream. You aren’t able to build right next to an obelisk but as one player on Reddit pointed out, it all depends on the perimeter, because it has to end somewhere. Fast travel is great for the game but it can definitely have its share of pitfalls.
Enter the Frozen North
I mentioned that the world is a bit bigger, and according to the Conan Exiles website, it is about 70% bigger. With the latest expansion, free to all current owners of the game, you can climb mountains, fight through new dungeons, and generally go around wreaking havoc. So, if you ran out of stuff to do and see during early access, you’re in luck. With new lands come new challenges. It’s a cold area, however, so dress warm and learn how to harvest brand new resources. There are also new religions, new enemies, and new crafting recipes. The full release is more than just an announcement of stability, it’s practically a whole new game.
It’s a survival game, and it’s like so many others that we’ve seen, but it’s a lot of fun. The aesthetic is close to Life is Feudal but it’s a lot easier to figure out and overall, it’s a lot more accessible to new players.
I can’t really say it’s ALL that different from other survival games, but it’s different enough to keep you interested. Mining resources and building can be downright addictive and you’re always ready to explore the area over the next horizon. Also, the way they introduced fast travel is simply fantastic and believable, so I have to bump the score up a little bit for that.
Learning Curve: 9/10
There isn’t much of a learning curve here. If you can figure out how to pick things up off of the ground and get to the crafting menu, you’re going to enjoy the game. It becomes more complicated as time goes by, which I mentioned before, but it doesn’t just throw you into the deep end like Life is Feudal does.
Graphics / Sound: 9/10
Okay, what can I say here other than that the game is pretty? The graphics are top notch and it runs on mid-range cards. It sounds great too, so turn your speakers up and enjoy the experience.
The only thing that could possibly make this experience more entertaining is if they’d added a full MMORPG persistent server, but we can’t have everything, can we? It looks great, it sounds great, and it’s easy for anyone to get into. There’s even an offline mode so you can get familiar with the game before you rush into a server full of people.
This is one of those games that I constantly go back to when I’m bored or need some excitement. The endless treks into the desert will never get old and there is always something new to discover. Whether I want to spend all of my time building on the beach, or adventure into the wild to take down a boss or a wild animal for fur, there’s always something to do. For the best experience, play on an official server with a high population.
+Intuitive Building System
+Real Survival Mechanics
-Co-Op Play is Restrictive
-Lipstick Doesn’t Work in Character Creator
-Game Doesn’t Support 4:3 Resolutions
-I Hate Crocodiles