Released simultaneously on Xbox One, PC and PS4, Conan Exiles is Funcom’s ambitious new open world survival game. We played both the PC and console versions – here’s what we thought.
When Conan Exiles was first announced, I was excited. Although not directly familiar with the comic book series, the Conan universe has been interesting to me ever since Schwarzenegger’s early (pre-Terminator) work on the movies. A sequel’s constantly being rumored even though Arnold’s past 70 now, but Conan Exiles felt like a way to actually go hands on with the franchise myself. The fact that it wasn’t a story-driven adventure and you don’t get to actually play as Conan were slight setbacks, but I still couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game.
Or rather… the release version of the game. It was on Early Access for a while prior to the game’s release, but I wanted my experience to be feature complete when I started a no doubt lengthy trek through the Conan world. I’m glad I did, because even at release the game feels a little rough around the edges, with performance issues that are especially apparent in the console editions. Framerate issues are more common there, but so-so animations can be found in all three versions.
Nevertheless, Conan Exiles is a fun experience despite these technical issues – and also despite the relative lack of the kind of strong writing that can be found in other Funcom titles like The Secret World. Progress in Conan Exiles is initially slow and the learning curve is steep, but it’s constantly rewarding and there’s never a shortage of things to take on or experiment with. And that’s a big compliment, because I’m not usually a big fan of games in the survival genre.
Perhaps fitting very well with the Conan theme, you start off with pretty much nothing – a prisoner in the middle of nowhere. Conan sets you free, but then leaves you to your own devices. Quite literally so, because you have absolutely nothing to fall back on. No weapons, no food, not even clothes to wear. You’re completely naked and unguarded, and need to work your way out of the situation from that point on. That means scrounging the area around you for things you can wear, weapons to craft in order to defend yourself and build yourself a place to spend the night in.
As your adventure evolves, so do you. You’ll use animal hides to dress yourself in something a bit sturdier than an outfit made of leaves, and you’ll start building a proper house for yourself as well. Getting some of these basic securities in place also allows you to travel further, which exponentially grows the number of options you have in terms of discovery and development. You’ll upgrade to stronger weapons, learn how to protect your home and craft some basic armor, just to give you a few examples.
Conan Exiles doesn’t give you much of a helping hand at first, and things don’t get much better after that in terms of tutorials – as is the nature of survival, much is learned by just doing things and experimenting. Unfortunately, less-than-intuitive menus can sometimes break the flow of immersion and I found myself on “pause” as I tried to navigate my way to what I was trying to do – rather than just trying it out instantly. This too gets better as you play, but it’s part of an already steep learning curve that will no doubt put some players off.
Although you can challenge the harsh wilderness alone, Conan Exiles also supports online multiplayer – and you can choose whether or not you want PVP (Player versus Player) battles to be a part of that or if you prefer a more cooperative experience. Conan Exiles doesn’t support cross-platform multiplayer at this point in time, but getting together with a few friends is rewarding in terms of tackling bigger foes and obstacles together – though there’s always a lot of charm in facing the wilderness of Conan the Barbarian by yourself as well.
Unfortunately, Conan Exiles isn’t the most gorgeous game around – a few of the animations and some of the environments look like they wouldn’t be out of place in a five year old game, though there are some pleasant exceptions with areas that are lush and vivid in detail. The performance issues (again, especially on console) don’t help though – especially when you consider that you’re playing this on the same system that powers Horizon: Zero Dawn or even Fallout 4.
So, while it may not be perfect and I think the Conan universe would lend itself very well to a more narrative-driven experience, Conan Exiles is a solid survival experience that’s made better by a good use of the harsh conditions of the Conan universe.