Video Games Preview: Conan Exiles shows promise, but has a long walk across the desert ahead of it

If you have played any open world survival genre in the last 2 years, you’ve got a good idea how your time with Conan Exiles, even in this early state, will play out. Conan Exiles doesn’t really try anything new at this stage and for most that will be okay. It is essentially another entry in the already saturated survival game market. It trades on its name in the hope it will be seen among the rest. Until we all see the final release build, here is what I have experienced in my first 16-hours of Funcom’s Conan Exiles.

One of the rarest form of creatures you will likely see in Exiles!

Starting off, Conan Exiles is a third- OR first-person experience and both options currently work well, but I stuck to first-person due to not needing to see my naked character again every time I died and re-spawned — and death happens a lot, this seems to be the Dark Souls of survival games. Some of the animations are still rather stiff as well (no pun intended) and took me out of the experience. The graphics as pictured aren’t anything to write home about. The fact that all the text and scrolls you find are narrated is a cool addition. I am not a huge fan of having to stand around and read a 4 or 5-page book every few minutes, so it was great and the voice acting is top notch for the most part.

Loading up the Alpha build of Conan Exiles was straight forward and when I got into the main menu I was given a wide selection of choices, and my own server to make them on, before I started my adventures.

The optional settings were crazy, I have only ever played an hour or so of survival genre titles like Ark and Subnautica, but the options here really outweigh most of what I saw from those titles. For example, I could choose something as basic as the number of players that can join my server, clan sizes and even the usual password protection to the more advanced feature options such as time of day/night cycles. I could also choose how much nudity the game can have, the XP gain ratio, harvest, craft and kill multipliers and even how much you get hungry and thirsty in-game. For the first time however, I decided I would leave everything as default and started my character building in the next screen.

Religion building time!

The option to turn nudity on or off is available straight out of the gate and, to be frank, I found that all the fuss the game makes over nudity settings with multiple warnings “Please be warned there is Nudity” made me wonder what the point of having it even was. With the option off you are covered with a cloth in all the relevant areas. If  they have to make it such a big deal, I have to wonder if the game really needed it.

Anyway, I know a lot of you love spending hours on customizing your character, but it wasn’t for me. If it is for you (I am going to lump my brobarian with an elephant trunk dong and make him run around battling it and there’s nothing you can do to stop me — ed.), there certainly isn’t lack of choice here. You are given Race options set in the world of Conan and they come in the form of the human formed Cimmerian, the serpent obsessed Stygian, the Hyborian and the viking-like Nordheimer. The usual facial, head and body options come next with the forced addition of adjusting things like eyes, ears, mouth but that made no real difference that I could see at all. I chose a voice style and then a more intriguing option finally became available, choosing your religion.

Religion in Conan Exiles plays an important role, a role to which I never really found a need for in the early stages of my playthrough. But later, your choice of Crom, Set, Yog and Mitra can be changed anyway all by learning them all from the NPC’s you eventually come across. Changing whichever Deity, you feel like following give you benefits when trading or even help you in the exiled lands from being killed by certain tribes. You can also choose not to follow any and go solo into the wild without a god at all.

The game’s story is fairly basic and only stands as a gateway to make your own story. You are one of many exiled prisoners, sent to the baron dessert known as ‘The Exiled Lands’ to hang on a cross and be left for dead. That is until Conan himself rescues you! Your time with him is short-lived because, having freed you, he immediately buggers off, leaving you cold and naked and fending for yourself. Cheers Conan, what a legend!

*Honest Trailers voice* Beeeeewwwwwwbs.

Moving onto the gameplay itself. I finally got into the world after an extensive load time of about 6 or 7 minutes, which was weird considering my PC spec is no slouch. #JustAlphaBuildThings.  We are given the main quest of getting to the city “All roads lead to the city” a voice tells me when starting up. So, I bring up the map and it’s a huge one (Apparently about 54 square kilometers of exiled lands), I have no marker and no idea where I am, but once I was in, I was excited to get going, until I found that I was stuck in the middle of a baron dessert surrounded by nothing but stone and sand. The first initial instinct as your thirst meter and hunger meter is dropping would be to find food and water. Can’t do that in the Dessert, so you must run to get somewhere fast. This is where my first annoyance stood. I died about four times before I could even find a tree and a bank of water. Which doesn’t sound that tough right?

Desert – Lots Of Desert

Well, to survive getting through the dessert I needed a weapon or tool of sorts to fend off huge goblin-like creatures that would find me every few meters I walked. To do that I needed to hit stone with my fists to harvest rock, which in turn would hurt me. So here I was, hurt and bleeding, I had enough stone and a few sticks to build a blunt axe or hammer. I would then try gathering more sticks and more leaves to make twine to then create some clothes for my extremely cold bare behind, Done! I was getting excited, I was doing this!

I see a bank of water far in the distance and bam! I was dead, my thirst and hunger got the better of me before I could even reach anything to help. I then respawned right back to the start of the dessert again with nothing but my bare hands and every-single thing I’d come to craft was just gone.

My Exiled Character and Her Ever Disapearing Items

I wasn’t used to this style of gameplay and I was infuriated. Almost turned it off in fact. Later I found that I had to go out of my way before even crafting clothes and weapons to craft a damn bed. The bed could be laid down anywhere on the map for a spawn point in case I died again. Great, but wait, the bed could only be used once. Meaning I had to keep crafting another bed every single time I died.

The point to my little story is, no matter how addictive a survival game can be, if there is no sense of progress and it is just pure and brutally hard to master and stay alive, what incentive does one have to keep on going? Thankfully one thing remained, your level and skills you learn. I was level 6 or 7 before I finally found a decent place to keep my bed and a fire going and I was still nowhere near a city. I would just learn to survive day in and day out in the exact same area I had been for countless hours. If I did try going any further and getting used to new land, it would usually end up with me being torn apart by a ridiculously overpowered creature of some description or a tribe or warlords in the opposite direction.

There wasn’t a huge range of enemies in the land I was discovering. Human based tribes, huge crocodiles and rhino’s the size of my house. Throw in some goblin like creatures that get bigger the more you progress and until you get to a city area with NPC’s this was it. Oh wait, I saw one Vampire bat like demonic creature at the start which flew away before I could even get too close.

A Vampire Bat?

In saying all this, yes, this game has Multiplayer and Co-Op, of course it does. Maybe this game needs to be played online and with other friends or strangers and for me, that wasn’t right at all when it is largely marketed as a huge single player experience.

16 Hours in and I can just barely get across the creek I started near. But I do have a nifty camp and a few buildings I can call my own. I can go out hunting for a crab or two just enough to survive the night to do it all over again the next day. My character is now a Level 17 and if can kill one of those level 40 creatures I may be able to craft some armour ready to make my way to the city? No, sorry, I’m exhausted. When it says, you will travel the ‘Exiled Lands’, you will, most of what I played consists of nothing but rock, deserts and leaves.

So, I will leave it here. Again, if you love this style of gameplay and you have played it before with Ark or many of the others in this genre, you will be right at home. I myself sadly cannot bring myself to play another five minutes. Maybe this will change once it’s finally finished Alpha comes into a full retail release. Maybe it won’t. Features I would love to see without messing with the advance settings is a single player story that is a little more forgiving when it comes to death and respawn and item loss, a map that works, one you can zoom in and out of and see where you previously died. An empty sense of progression just doesn’t do it for me. I would love to see Funcom’s attempt at a single player story again. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was an amazing game. Their attempt at copying genre’s is getting a bit stale. We need their originality back or maybe I’m just getting old?

Conan Exiles is currently out now in Early Access on Steam. It is currently in Alpha release.