Conan Exiles – Retrospective Review
I recently had the chance, to sit and read the majority of Robert E Howards original short stories, all revolving around a golden skin, fierce-eyed Hyborian named Conan. While the stories themselves were new to me, the character wasn’t. I already knew who Conan was, he’s an icon amongst fantasy enthusiasts like me. There have been few games of his that, at least to my knowledge, capture Conan so completely. Until I found Conan Exiles, developed by the good folks at Funcom.
Conan Exiles is a survival game. What is a survival game? It’s a game where you play a character, in a situation you must survive in, with only the environment to help you. Or, in many cases, hinder you. Conan Exiles has plenty of examples where the land will give and take things from you. From the weather, to the people you meet, to the life-giving water.
First, you make your character, and the options are both deep, varied, and yet, also lacking. More on that in a minute though. After creating your hero, you’re tossed into the desert with literally nothing. You find, thankfully, a water pouch, (By the gods, don’t lose this!) a note, and… That’s it. You’re left to figure things out from there. Now, if you’ve never played a survival game before, you’ll look around the vast nothingness of the desert, and wonder what in all hells are you supposed to do. Like I thought at first, I’ll explore, and like most games, things will start to happen as I kill things. Not really what happens here.
My first experience with Conan Exiles was a few months prior to its official launch. So when character bounded down the sandy hill towards water, thinking I was safe, and could start to survive, I ran into unhappy exploding, creatures. Remember, you start off with nothing, and at this point, I hadn’t figured out you have to craft things as you go. In fact, I’ve only had minute exposure to the Survival Game genre. Soon, however, I figure out how to craft, and set about doing just that. Not realizing, I lost my water pouch when I died. Whoops. So I made the decision to stick close to the water. I found a small island on the river and stayed close to it for the majority of my first game. This was a good call because the area was crawling the Hyena’s, other exploding troll things, giant turtle things, and alligators. But for the most part, this area, being surrounded by water, gave me a place to retreat should things go awry. Which they did. Often. I managed to build myself a nice hovel, and level up a bit. That’s when I hit my next big roadblock. How do I expand and go further away from safety? It became apparent the further away I went, the harder things got. And the creatures only became more relentless from there. To say there is a learning curve with the game, if you’ve never played a survival game before, is an understatement. And since I was playing off-line, there was no one to hold my hand and show me the ropes. (My choice there, if you do play online, you’d probably have better luck.)
Anyway, back to the game itself. My experience at the start wasn’t really diminished. It was in fact a frustration I didn’t mind trying to figure out my way past. The reason I didn’t mind it, was because I saw the potential the game had. It was rough, (this is pre-release remember), sure. But it had something other games of it’s genre didn’t have. It treated you like an adult. It didn’t hold your hand. And it was, Conan. It felt, like Robert E Howard’s Conan.
So, I was not disappointed when it officially released a few months later. I bought it, along with two seasons worth of DLC, and continue to play it off and on. I build, tear down, and restart again, sure. But I always come back to explore and rebuild my character’s world. Which, in the end, becomes Conan Exile’s greatest asset besides the atmosphere. The first strength is the building and what you can accomplish with it. Do you want stone, wood, or marble palaces? You can build one. You want your character to look like they came from one of any number of historical era’s? You can have that. Even with all those building and character choices, it still never stops feeling like they belong. Mostly because, Robert E Howard’s works had ALL the base era’s that eventually became well-known civilizations.
The second strength is the community commitment to making the game better. And Funcom embraces them for it. Mods are an essential part, to me, to the Conan Exiles experience. Funcom made the cake and frosted it, but the modding community put the cherry on top. And I do love cherries. I don’t know what else I can say about this strength. It’s there, not much else I can say. Bravo Funcom and Modders, bravo.
Now, the downsides I’ve found, that really get on my nerves. First is the lack of hairstyles. There are dozens of different war paints, lipstick, eye-shade. But there are only, what, a dozen or so hairstyles. Base faces too only have a few selections available. So while there are some things that are deep and varied, there are some options that are not so much. Then there are the color and dye systems. I’m going to bunch these together because they pretty much suffer the same issue. Color options are not that great when it comes to hair, eyebrow, or clothing. What is there, may look like one color when you’re looking at in your inventory, but as soon as you apply it, it oftentimes looks drab and not at all what you were hoping for. Hair color suffers this too at the start, when you create your avatar, your hair color sometimes doesn’t look like what you’d select. Not to mention there are choices that don’t match your eyebrows.
Then there’s the End game. Or, lack thereof. There’s a huge cinematic entry when you launch the game, which, kind of sets up the story and why you’re there. Beautiful cinematic by the way. However, when you complete the game, if you manage to figure out that you’re supposed to collect end game content, to begin with. You’re treated with an end game… End. There’s no cinematic… Nothing. It’s very anticlimactic. You spend so much time and effort collecting all the items and getting them set up to escape the hostile place you’re in, and when you finally do and you complete it, the game just ends. To add even more salt to the wound, you have to create your character all over again. Starting from scratch.
Honestly though, those things are admittedly small in comparison. There are bugs, sure. Funcom continues to work those out and they are absolutely amazing when it comes to interacting with their community. I don’t think I could say that for many other game developers. They make news, even bad news, feel like they genuinely care. They keep their community up to date with changes, and even allow them to test out possible changes and releases.
Overall, if you’re looking for a game to survive in, and you’re a fan of Conan. Then I highly recommend Conan Exiles for its continued growth, the atmosphere, the depth in its construction system, and the modding community.