Fresh out of early access, we begin our adventure in this harsh land.
Robert E. Howard’s Conan universe was an unforgiving place filled with dangers around every corner. Conan Exiles lives up to that reputation. It’s not just the other players and NPCs in the world that make this survival game rough; it’s the wolves and giants and other terrors stalking the deserts and forests around you. And even if you manage to survive all that, a sandstorm or the brutal northern cold might lay you low. It just came out of early access yesterday with a load of new content, but here’s what I’m thinking about it so far.
Conan Exiles captures the tone of Howard’s hard world right from the start, casting you as a criminal who’s crucified and left to die naked along a highway that last saw better days a century ago. Unlike Funcom’s other Conan game, the MMORPG Age of Conan, though, it focuses more on mood rather than elaborate storylines. Conan himself makes only a brief cameo at the start, cutting you down from your death tree after you’ve created your character. After that, you’re set loose in the Exiled Lands to carve your own tales of high adventure.
The Exiles Lands are full of areas to hunt, forage, build and fight across multiple different biomes, whether it’s the lush river lands in the south, the harsh desert that makes up much of the map’s center, or the fertile woodlands of the Frozen North. Newly added at launch are the swamp biome in the east, as well as the large volcano biome towering over the snow-covered peaks in the north.
You can take on the hardships of the Hyborean Age with a friend in co-op.
As with many survival games, there’s a wealth of ways to go about experience all this. You can jump into a single-player mode – although it’s kinda dull that way – or you can take on the hardships of the Hyborean Age with a friend in co-op mode or across a multitude of server types. Some of these are hosted by players (which some of those are set up with crazily increased leveling, abundant resources, or both), while the official servers tend to offer a more balanced experience. BattlEye software also protects you from players intent on cheating or hacking, but not all servers have it enabled.
Each server is either player-versus-layer or player-versus-environment, allowing you to choose which type of experience you want should you decide to venture online. As for me, I’ve set up on a PvP server with a friend, wanting the unfiltered Conan experience after spending my early access hours warming up on a PvE server.
After spawning on the Broken Highway at the far south of the map, I made my way north, intent on setting up on a large island near the newly added swampland. Conan Exiles helps speed along the early moments by giving you journal prompts to complete, such as crafting a stone tool, drinking water (which you can find a conveniently placed water skin along the highway ahead of where you begin), and even slaying your first enemy, which is great for early direction when you’re just getting started.
The process of crafting becomes more and more complex as you go.
Crafting is essential to surviving in Conan Exiles, as staying well equipped can mean the difference between victory or defeat in a pinch. With each level you gain you spend knowledge points which gives you access to higher-tier crafting recipes. The process to craft these new items, however, becomes more and more complex as you go on. Crafting a set of medium armor, for instance, requires three separate crafting stations to complete: a tannery, furnace, and armorer’s bench. You’re required to turn hide into leather, refine ironstone into iron bars, and then bring them all together on the armorer’s bench. Then, in order to craft the armor, you first have to craft the shell – such as the padding for the chest piece or the lining for your gauntlets. It feels incredibly convoluted and oftentimes ends up making crafting feel more like a chore than fun. Additionally, the cost of ingredients isn’t cheap, meaning you’ll be spending more time harvesting resources rather than exploring the landscape, especially on servers with the default harvest settings.
Additionally, crafting items and armor alone won’t help you survive in the long run. Building a shelter is just as essential to surviving the harsh Exiled Lands. Everything from sandstorms to snowstorms threatens your existence, forcing you to find shelter at a moment’s notice. For that matter, these shelters are also convenient places to stash the junk you’ve collected or made, or even house the various crafting stations for holding more junk. I found them especially useful for logging off while playing on the PVP server, as they afford some protection from other players or the elements when I log back in to a potentially dangerous situation. Depending on the server settings, these structures can be made indestructible or inaccessible to other players as well.
Despite their depressing name, the Exiled Lands are kind of a land of plenty – which, especially in a survival game, is always a plus. Resources dot the map, meaning it shouldn’t take too long to have a basic structure up and running. Within an hour of hopping in I had a small house, a few chests full of supplies, and a furnace hard at work creating the stack of bricks I’d need to make a blacksmithing table. Some resources are harder to find than others, such as iron or brimstone, while basic stone, wood, and plant fiber are all over the place. This is fine early on, but there is nothing more frustrating than hitting a wall because you’re in dire need of ironstone to continue upgrading but there are resource nodes nearby where you decided to set up camp. It’s even more frustrating when you do find and harvest the resource and begin to refine it, only to have it stolen out of your camp by a group of roaming players, which is something that happened to me early on.
These dungeons aren’t to be taken lightly.
Conan Exiles offers plenty to do, though, giving you a break from crafting and building to explore the world around you. Multiple dungeons and world bosses are scattered throughout the Exiled Lands, each one providing its own challenges and rewards. These dungeons aren’t to be taken lightly, though, and it’s best to go in with a group.
The dungeons are fun, although you’ll likely be disappointed if you enjoy puzzles or complex enemy encounters. I haven’t had a chance to play in any of them since launch, but I was able to try out a few in the final days of Early Access. One dungeon in the Frozen North called The Black Keep required nothing more than finding a key in a chest, after which we merely had to hack our way through some tough NPCs in labyrinthine passages until we found the barely memorable boss. The rewards for these dungeons are worth it, though, as they’re the only way to get some valuable armor and weapon recipes. I’m looking forward to seeing if Funcom made any changes to the existing dungeons since launch and the introduction of the new swamp and volcano biomes, but right now I’m not expecting any.
Combat, while serviceable and sometimes enjoyable, feels incredibly unrefined at times thanks to a finicky targeting system. This is felt especially when grouped with other players, with the lock-on oftentimes zeroing in on your friends instead of the enemy by default with no easy way to change to the correct target.
While I personally didn’t have any launch day issues, there were reports of issues of Xbox players crashing while playing online, as well as EU server outages at the onset. On Twitter, Funcom recommended a workaround for Xbox players and reported that they’re trying to get it fixed as quickly as possible.
I ended the first day on a new server, having just finished crafting my first set of iron weapons and medium armor. Over the next few days I’ll be venturing forth to explore the new additions, taking part in some PVP, as well as capturing thralls to put to work in my camp. Stay tuned to IGN for our full review next week.