Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
So Conan Exiles is the third game of the Humble Monthly Bundle for August 2018, and it’s time for me to tackle it. I wasn’t sure about Conan Exiles. It gave me a roller coaster of emotions. I love Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he was Conan, that’s good. But this isn’t Arnold’s version. That’s bad. But this is still Conan, “What is Best in life?” That’s good. But this is a survival game… that’s bad at least for me. Still, I’m going to tackle this game as best as I can and the fact that it only came out a couple months ago is interesting.
So let’s get the elephant out of the way. If this isn’t Arnold’s Conan, which one is it? Well, the answer is… I don’t know if it’s Conan at all. Stay with me on this. You start the game and are up on a crucifix. A rugged handsome beefcake of a man appears and lets you down, he says a few things and wanders off. That’s almost definitely Conan, there’s just one thing missing. He never says his name! It’s Conan but they forgot to use his name anywhere in the opening or really in the game. What is going on?
The fact is the world is clearly from the Conan novels, you have the races mentioned in both book and movie, the gods mentioned in both book and movie, and more. Yet Conan Exiles somehow forgot to have Conan identify himself. I won’t harp on this too much but what was the developer thinking? The reason people paid attention to this game appears and disappears and from what I hear, that’s it. I don’t think he shows up in the game again.
(Edit: It has been brought to my attention that Conan does appear in the game later on in a NPC town. The NPC does have Conan’s name and talks a little more, giving you information about the map. However now my understanding is he only talks and doesn’t do more than that at this time. I would have expected more personally.)
There’s really no story after that opening cinematic. You have a bracelet that’s put on your arm, I’m not sure why since they pinned you up on a crucifix to die, but the bracelet is keeping you trapped in the hostile wasteland that you find yourself. If you venture too far in any one direction, you will die from the bracelet. If you try to remove the bracelet you die. It is really just a thematic way to respawn and limit you to a specific area. The “end” of Conan Exiles actually has a way for you to remove the bracelet correctly by gathering certain items from all the major bosses, then you are giving the option to remove the bracelet and delete your character. That’s literally the end of the game, a short cinematic and a deleted character.
I don’t mean to spoil the game here, and I don’t think I am, because most people aren’t choosing that option. It’s the developer’s idea of the end of the story, but in reality, there’s not a story here. This is an open world survival game where you can do whatever you want. If you want to build great houses and explore the world, you’re welcome to it. If you want to fight enemies, you’re allowed to. PVP is allowed on some servers. The idea is mostly that you get to create your own story as most survival games allow you to.
There is an important choice about servers though. You can play single player, but personally, I don’t think there’s a strong reason to other than being able to build something that might not be destroyed by a server. You can run your own server and play that way, which makes a little more sense and it allows you to get Admin functionality, but if you do, you’ll have to invite people to your server to see what you build.
Instead, I recommend going to an official server. There are three types. PVP, PVE, and PVE-Conflict. PVE is the safest, where you can only fight enemies. PVE-Conflict and PVP are exactly what they say. On PVE-Conflict you can’t attack other players and PVP you can. However, both servers go one step farther from 5 PM to 11 PM server time. On PVE-Conflict they allow you to kill other players. On PVP you can destroy other players’ bases during that time. Personally, I stick to PVE where it’s always safe to see other players, but if you want more danger, Conan Exiles certainly offers it and the time-based danger is a solid addition for people who only want to dip a toe into the more dangerous experience.
However, there’s another form of danger here. If you choose a server, that’s where your character is. If you don’t remember which server you were on, you’ve lost your progress, and starting single player or on a second server, means you’re creating a new character from scratch. There is a history option, but it seemed to work intermittently for me. Of course, this assumes the servers remain up as well.
There’s also a limit to the number of players on a server, I believe it’s set to just 40 players, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but personally I wasn’t looking for large crowds and found a lot of good-sized servers with 20ish players on, so you had someone to talk to, but you didn’t have to deal with people getting in your way or interfering with your foraging.
However, there’s another feature here. If you play on a server, there’s what’s known as “decay”. After a certain amount of time your structures disappear. Funcom recently said they changed from 6 days to 18 days because of vacations, but personally, I spent a weekend in Portland (4 days gone) and my entire building disappeared. There’s also the ability to have purges, which are enemies attacking your structure, I’m not sure if it was decay or purging that hit my structure, but either way, I lost a lot. Of course, my character remained with the level and build I made and that’s good, as well as any valuable items I was carrying, but everything I had built or stored was wiped away. There’s supposed to be a way to check it in-game as to what hit you and how long your decay timer is set for, but I don’t know where to find that. In fact, that leads me to the next part of the game.
Everything you do in this game is hard to understand. You can watch my first look and notice that I couldn’t find my food. There’s a quest clearly talking about food, and eating, but I still couldn’t find where it was located and ended up dying due to hunger. Did I figure it out?
There it is.
Well yeah, apparently food is put in the quick use menu if you use a controller, or the bottom menu if you use a keyboard and mouse. I couldn’t find it because it was tucked away safe and sound. Water is an odd system as well, you can drink if you stand in water and look at it, and refill your waterskin by standing in water and using your waterskin. These are rather simple systems though but the food one actually did take me an hour or so to figure out.
However, there are worse systems. The building system makes no sense with a controller, and I doubt mouse and keyboard are much better with only the on-screen keys available. I could place items but couldn’t find a way to remove them. “Skinning animals” or harvesting their corpses are supposed to be done with a hatchet or a pickaxe or your weapon. I couldn’t get it to work with the hatchet or normal attacks but the pickaxe worked correctly. (ed: on playing for the video hatchet was working, normal attacks still wasn’t) The unlockables for crafting is especially confusing, giving a list of the main unlockables, and then needing to browse to other tabs before allowing you to unlock specific items.
Each of these systems required me to look online or give up on what I wanted to do because Conan Exiles wasn’t giving me enough information on them. The fact is most of this game is not explained at all or even if it is explained, it is not done well. There’s a lot of subsystems in this game that is interesting but I don’t know how the average player is supposed to find out about the systems without having a wiki or a guide open to walk them through the game. This would be one thing if we were talking about an early access game, but this is the full release and it’s lacking a lot of information.
Now, Conan Exiles is survival as I mentioned before, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really go for survival games normally. Outside of Minecraft, and Terraria I don’t know if I ever played one and I actively avoid them along with Horror games, so I don’t know what’s normally acceptable in the genre. Still, I feel that certain things should be explained to the player.
The fact is Funcom has a potential way to teach the player in the game, there is a quest system called “The Journey” which starts off teaching the player basic constructs like “Eating” and “Shelter”, however the actions required for these features are not explained in the Journey, instead going for a flavor text. It says to eat food but doesn’t really talk about how or where it is located and instead it could be set up like a tutorial to help the new players understand the features of the game.
That’s not enough information to help me find out how to eat. God I wish I was joking.
The Journey system is a major part of the game, and it drives the player’s progression in the game. Completing a feat in the journey system usually gives enough XP for the player to level up your character once and it becomes an important part of advancement.
However, The Journey is horribly laid out. A great example of this is the step to skin an animal with a skinning knife. This actually is an iron skinning knife or better, which is created at a blacksmith’s bench, that requires about one hundred iron bars. I never got that knife, because of how many iron bars it needed, however, a few steps later, there’s a quest to “get an iron bar”. That’s out of order no matter how I look at it. In chapter four of The Journey, there’s a quest to fully mine an iron ore deposit. Any player who isn’t given a knife by a friend is actually going to complete these two long before getting any skinning knife.
The Journey is the perfect opportunity to be a tutorial system and is even set up like one for the early chapters. Conan Exiles never follows through on that potential. It would be as simple as writing the text to explain how to do each action, but instead, the game just laughs it off and leaves the player to fend for themselves. It’s a pretty bad mistake in my opinion from a design and player standpoint.
The other side is you often are given quests in the Journey that you aren’t leveled up enough to tackle, and novice players are going to feel like the only way to level up is through the Journey. This is another mistake only this time it’s made by the players. In fact, you earn experience by doing almost anything in this game which is an interesting system. So, adding on to your base will net you some XP. I think I earned XP just standing around waiting for something as well. However, the Journey gives you so much XP you might think that this is the only way to level up, at least that’s what I thought. Luckily some players in-game explained the system to me, but this goes back to the system problem. Level and XP is not explained to the player.
A Precious level.
The real name of the game though in Conan Exiles is gathering resources. You start with gathering branches, rocks and plant fibers, and from there building a hatchet and a pickaxe. After that point, you can then cut down trees, and mining rocks. As I mentioned above you can also go after iron ore and other types.
Conan Exiles emphasizes building structures, so you’ll want those resources to build different parts of your home. You can build a small one-room shack or large massive structures, it’s up to you which you feel like.
The cost for building a structure isn’t too hard to pay off, but what you put in your build can be expensive. A furnace will cost 500 stone, which will take a while to gather, but after the furnace, the game gets greedy and starts demanding iron. Now there are probably easy ways to get iron but I went out and had trouble finding it even with maps telling me where veins were. I also got a stingy amount from locations people recommended. I got 40-80 iron ore in one trip, which doubles up and makes only 20-40 Iron bars when the game needs 200 to make just a blacksmith’s bench so I can make weapons. That’s not even counting the iron those weapons would require.
There’s also a harvest system from animals as I mention and a big part there is harvesting pelts to make better armor. This can take quite a while depending on what you kill but for a full costume, you’re talking about requiring around 125 pelts or so. Most animals that give pelts will give you between one and three, though not all animals give pelts and it’s a randomized drop, so you’ll be killing the beginner animals for quite a while.
The fact is this is the real core of the game, while Conan Exiles appears to be about exploration and conquest, you’re going to need gear to explore the map as enemies are difficult once you leave the starting area and from there need gear to go farther.
There is a rather sharp “difficulty” spike that happens around two to three hours into the game, that’s where Conan Exiles goes from simple clever crafting to massive resource farming, and while I don’t like to guess at what I think the developers were doing, I have to admit that part of me notices the change in the game around the time right after you can get a refund on Steam. Once you’re past the refund period, you start to see the spike in requirements. It’s not hard to get past these spikes, it’s just a lot of items being required for little or no reason.
A first build.
There is, of course, combat in Conan Exiles and the combat’s pretty good like most of the game. Combat is a bit obvious compared to most of the system in the games and a bit simple, as well. You are given a two-handed approach to the game. Your primary weapon is equipped in your right hand but if you’re not using a two-handed weapon, you can equip a torch or a shield in the second hand and use it as you want, including blocking with the shield.
The combat feels good, there is a health bar and a stamina meter and the game is played by managing both of them. The entire combat is set up with a … well, I’ll say, Dark Souls style. You attack, defend, and can roll out of the way as long as you have stamina. Health doesn’t regenerate so the goal is to avoid damage and deliver your own beatdown and at least early on this isn’t too bad. The dodge mechanic feels good, and moving out of the way of attacks is relatively simple. I found I didn’t have much trouble with most enemies in a one on one fight, even big crocs that were far higher than my level, I think, could be beaten by skill.
It’s a good thing the combat works well because Conan Exiles really relies on the feature. As I mentioned, I needed 125 pelts, and that meant I had to kill close to forty to sixty enemies for my first outfit of real armor. There are different size enemies and different types of enemies, and that’s the one issue I have with combat. It’s hard to look at an enemy and figure out if it’s harder, easier or just right for your character. I don’t believe there’s any way to consider an enemy before attacking it and sometimes you’ll just take a hit and see a large chunk of your life disappear and have to run away, or play even more skillfully.
While stamina recharges like you expect, Hit points don’t return on their own even when you’re in a shelter or out of combat. Instead, you need to eat food to heal up. While you need food so you don’t starve, you also need to eat so you’re HP restores, and the better the food, the more health you get back. There are potions and alchemy, but I never reached that point in the game. However, food is the main restorative in the game as far as I played.
The downside of the healing system is you have to eat your food one item at a time. Rather than stack all your regeneration benefits the game only awards you with the last thing you eat, and usually, items only give a few stat points in the early game, so you might eat 10 items to get a full health bar.
Another interesting feature in Conan is the climbing mechanic. It feels ripped right out of Shadows of the Colossus, but the player is able to climb any rock formation in the game. If you can’t walk up an incline, you can climb it, and as long as you get to the top of it before your stamina runs out, Conan Exiles allows you to climb over anything. In fact, the climbing is rather cool, though the animation for jumping and climbing looks really awkward.
Though I will say climbing down is a bit of a danger. If you climbed up a great cliff and recharge your stamina, you usually have to take a leap of faith and then cling to the wall as you fall down it. I didn’t find a way to gently lower myself down the side of a cliff so I often had to jump, and then “Climb” the wall as I fell to slow myself down, then release, and “climb” again. It works and can be exciting if you do it correctly, but it’s definitely unwieldy and leads to more fall damage than the climb up ever did.
There’s also a thrall system in the game, and my understanding is it requires a special item that you can build that I never completed due to some resources issues. My understanding of the thralls is that you can beat up humanoid NPCs with a bludgeoning weapon called a truncheon, and lead them back to your base by rope, then put them in your wheel of pain, breaking them, and get yourself your own … well let’s be honest, slave to do your bidding, craft your items, or cook your food. It’s actually an interesting feature, but I had trouble keeping my interest up in building the blacksmith bench, and ultimately didn’t play with the thralls, though I saw them at other people’s houses.
So that’s the major systems for Conan Exiles in my opinion, but there’s still one more place we have to go. Bug Town. Yeah, it’s an MMO style survival game, that’s launched only two months ago. There’s going to be bugs.
The problem is a lot of bugs that I saw in this game are rather major. People were claiming their buildings were Purged (attacked) even though they weren’t supposed to be. I don’t know how true that is, but Conan Exiles didn’t give the best indicators of that.
I also saw people flying in mid air quite often. Usually other player’s thralls, but a few enemies did it as well and at least one enemy got the drop on me because he started a few meters over my head.
My corpses disappeared often, leading me to do a corpse run which ended with me having trouble finding my corpse even though I was in the right area, so I was forced to log out in a dangerous area, log back in and sometimes have to do this process twice to get it to appear. Once it appeared I then looted my corpse but even there, Conan Exiles doesn’t reequip all your items, and instead, you have to manually put on your entire outfit, and set up your quick bar again.
The inventory is a bit of a mess. It looks fine, but once you start to move items around, there are big empty spaces in it. Sorting is only by some stat, and returning to custom means you still have an unsorted mess. Trying to filter doesn’t do much to help either, items are highlighted but it’s “Components” which is every type of combinable item, not “Food” which is what people would usually want.
I placed a few pieces of a building and couldn’t remove it. Don’t know if this was a bug or just a subsystem that wasn’t explained well. Either way, it was a rather bad annoyance to me and my house was misshapen for the rest of time. My biggest example is that I couldn’t place a final ceiling piece in my house for no reason. I made a 2×2 house and placed three other ceiling pieces and then the game decided I couldn’t place the final piece.
Finally, there’s a huge lag spike when you die. It feels like Conan Exiles is cheap and kills you but it’s pretty clear that it is a lag spike after you take that final hit. I don’t know why there’s the pause but it’s noticeable every time you die and causes more frustration than a simple death animation could have.
The players say it’s often the case that when the developers add a new feature, they break a lot of stuff and cause these bugs. The fact is I believe it. There are not many game-breaking bugs here other than the corpse issue, but there’s a lot of frustration, and again part of that is due to not knowing if it’s a broken subsystem or if I was doing something wrong because I didn’t know how to use the game.
So, there is a lot in Conan Exiles. I would be lying if I said I had a great time with Conan Exiles, I stormed off one server calling the game trash after losing a corpse. As I complained people tried to explain the game. In fact the best system I think I found was the community. The people playing on PVE are VERY friendly here. I’m sure there are jerks and I wouldn’t try the same thing in PVP but PVE wanted to help and show me the game. They told me that The Journey rushes you too far too fast. I could have stopped there because I was angry, but I chose a second server and tried it again and found a slightly better experience after having learned a few things.
At the same time, I reached the same annoyance in the iron bar and gathering resources stages of the game, and didn’t get much farther, however, I completed my armor set and saw a little more of the game. I didn’t start this game loving survival games, and leaving Conan Exiles I still don’t think I like survival games, but after my second attempt, I started to appreciate the game more, but not enough to make this a heavy recommendation, or really a recommendation.
The fact is I can’t tell if this is a good survival game or not. There’s a lot the developers should do to make this more accessible, a tutorial, or an improved journey would go a long way to making this something I can recommend. At the same time, it’s still early, and two months out isn’t a long time for an “MMO” style game. Yet Conan Exiles should be fully shippable at launch and I question if this game was.
Worse there’s a 10 dollar DLC already out, two months after “launch” and there’s still a lot of bugs, which might tell you a bit about the state of the game. The fact that it’s already in the Humble Bundle also might tell you a bit about how the sales are going.
So with all this information, seven pages of writing, I have to give the game a score. I’m going to do something I haven’t done yet on this site. You might call it a cop-out and it is. But I think I have to give Conan a special score.
Conan Exiles earns a
I have yet to give that specific score yet, and there’s a reason. It’s essentially a non-recommendation. A 2 is a bad game, a 3 is a good game. A 2.5 is neither. When forced, I will mark this game as a “recommendation” but it’s the slightest recommendation.
The fact is I can’t recommend it as it is, but at the same time I fully see a potential game, and if you’re willing to take a little more crap from a game and read a lot of guides and FAQs to understand it, Conan Exiles is enjoyable. It’s just a lot of work in its current state to be enjoyable. I also would caution people to either buy this in the humble bundle for 12 dollars (And you get A Hat in Time too) or hold off on purchasing, it’s just too rough right now and it’s still near launch.
If the developer polishes Conan Exiles up and keeps improving on it, it’ll be worth a purchase for sure. But I think there are more bugs than there should be at this point in the game.
Final thoughts: Conan Exiles is still a very rough survival game after launch. It has a lot of issues and should be better. It is thematically tied to Conan but Conan really isn’t a part of this game. Buyer Beware.
Stats: 12.9 hours played 22/25 achievements earned