First Impressions on Conan Exiles
Pros: Great graphics, fun environment, lots of gear to craft, interesting late game features
Cons: Clunky combat, excruciatingly long loading times, buggy
This week we got access the early access of Funcom's new survival game, Conan Exiles. It is a classic resource gathering / build to survive title with a harsh and cruel fantasy theme set in the world of Conan the Barbarian. For our play test we spent some hours getting to grips with the game and checking out what features we could get access to; the reality this review is "The many ways that we died in Conan Exiles"; come share a campfire with us and listen to our adventure.
The first steps of the game are choosing your server, from PVE, PVP and PVP Blitz there is something for everyone whether you want to battle against just the environment and many creatures, monsters and NPCs as a solo player or working in co-op, or go into a PVP server and have the battle against other players as well. Currently the servers are even more refined, with a few ruleset tweaks here and there to try and best suit different types of players from hardcore levelers to casual players to those who wish to roleplay, offering various official servers and even the ability to not only host your own server, define your own rulesets, but even apply mods to the game through the Steam Workshop. This alone gives the title one thing: a LOT of potential.
Server chosen (with some difficulty as it happens, with the buggy server lists our first foray was on a server we created ourselves) we got to make a character, either male or female from the many human races of the lore, we won't see any elves, dwarves or alien species. The game offers quite a few customization options, with the devs saying they want to add more such as various body sliders, but for now there's hair styles and colour, various markings, skin tones, facial features, breast size and penis length.
Yeh, the game features full nudity for both male and female characters and depending on your server choice will either have classic loincloth/wraps when stripped down, or full frontal breasts and genitalia, penis and testicles drifting and twitching unsettlingly on the desert breeze. Thank god the developers choice to prioritize "Endowment" length over body sliders; but at least now PVP players can actually "tea-bag" their kills more efficiently. After five minutes of facepalming and giggling at the nudity it actually goes unnoticed for the most part, but it's a... big enough element (hehe) that it warrants mentioning.
The UI is pretty simple, as are the controls and various craft elements; using E to interact with pretty much everything to either pick up resources (stone, branches, grass, bugs, etc.) or talk with NPCs. The game works off a standard advance over time mechanic, building up skills to unlock new tools that in turn help you create weapons and better shelters to survive greater threats. The early content is essentially just trying to survive, starting in a desert waste we managed to cobble together some clothes and an axe and follow a path that lead to the main riverland area, surrounded with grasslands and a huge river, it offered us a wealth of resources and constant access to water and. Where there is life then in turn there is danger and the area was crawling with creatures, from freakish ogre looking "Imps" to crocodiles, huge turtle beasts and various other fauna that COULD be killed for their meat, but that was no easy task.
Combat is clunky, one of the things that these survival games always seem to struggle with is a decent combat system and Conan Exiles feels like it has fallen foul of the same sluggish movement and wild swinging you see in other games. It is in early access and the developers have said they want to greatly improve the combat mechanics, so hopefully its final form will be a lot more polished.
Moving through the jungle we found an abandoned camp/bonfire, which looked like a perfect place to set up a base of operations before we ventured on. Gathering resources we managed to get enough materials to start building our own structure; stone huts require a floor foundations, three walls, door opening (and door) and a roof; all of which give you somewhere to store gear, stop enemies from killing you and protect you from the raging sandstorms. Unfortunately for us after about 30 minutes of gathering resources and starting the structure three NPC exiles appeared and started attacking us, armed with crude swords and shields we had no choice but to run and abandon our home and materials. As we carried on playing we realized that these camps are spawn points for NPC enemies.
We didn't notice too much the dependency on having a shelter, so it's not a major priority early on (but a lot of the late game focuses on building up settlements, etc.), access to water was constant, but gathering food was difficult. Huge grubs, robbing eggs from nests and the occasional handful of insects just constantly kept us sustained but always looking for food, which realistically had to come from the bigger creatures. Armed with an axe we had to hit and run a few times on one of the big turtle dudes and managed to get some meat off him; we wandered around for a while gathering more resources and didn't concentrate on gathering our normal food sources until we realized we were getting seriously hungry, so we ate the meat... uncooked... and poisoned ourselves. Slowly but surely our health depleted, we had some type of grass that was used as medicine, but hadn't unlocked the recipe to craft it yet, and so death was inevitable. Once your body died it stays there, so you can go and loot it, and if you've crafted and interacted with a bedroll then it acts as a one time spawn save point, but if you die again without placing another then you end up right back at the starting location.
Advancing through the land was challenging, we managed to make our way down the river to where some sort of city of structures seemed to be (according to the map), which meant climbing through the canyons. In our assent we were attacked by hyenas and promptly dismembered, showing that players really need to follow the pace of progression and be much stronger before advancing through the map.
Overall the game was a pretty fun experience but it is every way in its Early Access, it is neither finished, refined or free of bugs, but for what there is it's definitely well on its way and the late game features such as building settlements and summoning huge avatars of your god to crush your opponents sounds hellishly fun. The graphics are fantastic, but extremely taxing on mid-range systems when playing on Ultra, we had to switch to "Auto" settings which put us on medium graphics and the game looked a lot worse. Aside from the system demands we have a lot of hope for Conan Exiles, well worth checking out in the future, and there's definitely fun to be had paying for the Early Access.