Conan Exiles promises brutal combat and epic warfare within a vast, seamless world full of challenge and opportunity. Set within the harsh and unforgiving lands of Conan the Barbarian, this sounds exactly as it should, but the real question is - Have Funcom conquered the setting or destroyed it?
Not being one for comics, when I think Conan, I think Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing minimal armour and running around with a Greatsword. This carries through into Conan Exiles and my weapon of choice was in fact the Greatsword, but was it the most practical weapon? Definitely not. Being able to block with a shield really helps to survive and like most modern titles, Sword and Shield really is the way to go.
That aside, the learning and difficulty curve in Conan Exiles is in all honesty ridiculous. The game doesn't hold your hand or tell you what to do. It instead gives you challenges to accomplish and from there on out it's all trial and error. With the need to eat and drink on a fairly regular basis, these mechanics prove incredibly problematic when you're just beginning your adventure. I didn't even know I could drink from lakes until I'd died at least three times. You're not told a thing and the only reason I knew I could was because after I'd completed several challenges, I received a new challenge to drink from a water source, so naturally I went up to a lake and without any on-screen prompts, pressed buttons on the controller until I found the right one (I play on PS4 - It's Square by the way, which I discovered is the universal gathering button in-game).
When starting a new game, you're given the option to play either multi-player or single player/co-op, which to me indicated there was some kind of story to be told. Jumping into single player you're able to create your own male or female character from a list of options. This isn't Black Desert or Monster Hunter World level, but does offer enough options to at least give you a little individuality.
After spending many hours with the game, I truly feel there should have been a tutorial of some kind and as somebody who never looks at the controls before playing, also finishing God of War 1 on God Mode and achieving a platinum trophy for Dead Space 2 (completing hardcore mode), Resident Evil 5 and Modern Warfare 2, this isn't something I normally have to think about. Reason being? You can survive for about 20-30 minutes before dying of starvation and thirst, but when you've just begun and have no idea what you're doing, only to die and respawn back at the original spawn point until you get into the swing of things, it becomes a little frustrating.
After you've made your trek across the desert, the first thing you'll want to do is gather the many branches and pebbles found strewn across the land. Pressing the touchpad will bring up the item and crafting menu. From here, you'll need to craft yourself a stone hatchet and pickaxe. This allows you to mine from rocks and cut down trees which are essential for crafting bigger and better things. Immediately after this you'll want to craft a campfire along with your first stone weapon of choice.
You'll also need to eat. I opted not to eat human meat as I didn't wish to play a cannibal and after devoting myself to Mitra - The Deity of Light and Healing, I didn't feel it was a good thing to do - Mechanically of course, it really doesn't matter what meat you eat. Regardless, once you've found something to kill, you'll be rewarded with craft materials and/or meat. Cook the meat at the campfire to avoid food poisoning and use the hide you'll obtain to start crafting your first set of armour (you'll need an Armourers Workbench first). If you're preparing for a long trek across one of many desert areas, don't forget to craft that waterskin either!
As for the story, in short there isn't one. The opening cutscene suggests otherwise, but in-game, other than a few spectral memories and the odd bit of dialogue from the rare NPC's you'll cross paths with (I killed the first one and instantly re-loaded after I realised they weren't an enemy), the story is very much one of your own making. Due to this, you're really better off just jumping on the multiplayer servers and joining a group (but be warned, if you've already started playing solo, you can't port your character or items across to the new server, so you'll have to start from scratch). The monsters and enemies you'll face aren't scaled individually to single and multi-player either, meaning the overall experience is actually inferior when playing alone and though co-op is an option and building is unhindered, without a dedicated group to play with, the bosses really are far too hard to kill alone.
Unfortunately, the fights aren't even very exciting. Difficulty levels increase the further north you venture on the map, so naturally, I stayed south fpr the most part, in order to improve my gear, later finding an area South West of the map that eventually lead to an underground lair with a fairly large Serpent Boss. Even with my Steel gear (which is the best gear I can currently forge at the time of writing this review), the boss could kill me in one to two hits. So, how did I beat this? Well, thankfully the good folk at Koch Media provided us with two codes, so I could play with my good friend and the Editor-In-Chief of this site - Liban Ali. I had Liban run in to distract the beast, while I ran behind it to attack. There were two problems with this - 1. It wasn't fun for him and if I ran in as bait as the host instead, it would just respawn us both back at my base on the surface, so this was something only Liban could do, but did mean he had free respawns in the boss area. 2. The game glitched and only counted my first hit every time the boss revealed its vulnerability. Then finally, after countless respawns and nearly an hour later, we beat the damn thing.
Was it satisfying? Not in the slightest. I had a new talking staff that gave hints as to where I should head next and while this was kind of cool, I only found out I had it the next time I loaded up my inventory. There was no "congratulations, you've slayed the boss! Here are your awards:" announcement or anything like that. It just simply dropped dead, allowing me to carve (there's no real carving animation) it for materials, giving me the recipe for a nice looking set of armour - The Reptilian set. The same can be said for clearing camps. You can go in and clear an entire camp out, but the game doesn't say "camp cleared" or anything like that. Give it a day or so in-game and everyone you killed will have respawned unless you build a base in or around the area, and even then you're limited to where you can build. I tried knocking enemy encampments down to build on their grounds, but the game wouldn't allow it. This is a real shame as it removes all feeling of satisfaction, and just leaves you feeling hollow. Enemies never feel particularly threatening either and their animations feel dated and somewhat reminiscent of those found within the original Guild Wars.
After this, we ventured east into the Jungle. The wildlife was definitely different here, with Rhino's and Panthers to take out, but more intimidating was a giant spider just wandering around in the open. We both tried to kill it but it instantly destroyed us with a single attack. "No problem" I thought. "I'll just go back and claim the gear off of my corpse". How wrong was I? The game isn't riddled with glitches, but they are present. It also proved impossible to reclaim my gear in this instance, as my body was nowhere to be seen. We both searched the entire area for it and by that point it became clear to me - My body had fallen through the map as it had done so before in a previous session, only back then I found it stuck in the middle of a rock, not by sight, but because the button prompt to reclaim my gear popped up as I passed said rock.
That's not to say the game is a piece of garbage. There's fun to be had, but it's more just thinking of things to do yourself that would increase your enjoyment. I'll be honest and say that after the first eight hours I spent grinding for materials, once I discovered the admin menu, I spawned all of my building materials in (though only those I'd unlocked through my own progression). It's a lot quicker, but still takes forever. It's a nice feature as it saves you time and allows you to activate God Mode while building, so you needn't worry about dying from thirst or starvation mid-build. Plus, with the amount of materials required for each building block, it would literally take you weeks to build anything of decent size.....real life weeks I'm talking here, which brings me to my next point.
There's a lot you can do with the building mechanics and you're mostly only limited by your own imagination. However, call it an awkward or slightly odd design choice, but you can only build in 90 or 60 degree foundations. There are no 45 degree building blocks, making circular buildings problematic and worse still, a lot of your structures won't match up/connect properly if you jump between the two. It only really works with mega structures that are built mostly on square foundations. This is incredibly frustrating, but something you just accept with a smidge of disappointment. That being said, you can create some pretty epic structures and if you feel like it, you can even capture men and women from enemy camps, grinding them into submission as one of your own on a wheel of pain, before assigning them to guard your base and man your Watch Towers.
In Conan, you'd expect combat to be fast paced and immensely fun, but sadly this is not the case in Conan Exiles. Combat is very rigid and yet, perhaps more surprising is the fact the combat we have in the final release is actually an upgrade of what was there before. Previously, animations were even more minimal, with just a simple swing of each weapon, unlike the new combo system we have now, which allows you to use R1 and R2 to string together both your light and heavy attacks in one combo. I mean to call it a combo is a bit of a stretch, but it does what it sets out to do and is okay, if you consider okay to be incredibly basic and lacking in imagination.
On the plus side, the world is fairly nice to look at and explore and the music really does give a sense of wonder. There are also environmental hazards such as sandstorms and a good amount of weapons to choose from. Character customisation is a nice touch (even if you can be silly with male endowment or female breast size), allowing me to create a character more fitting of Conan than the actual dev-created character intended to be said character. Disappointingly, the official Conan felt more like a generic Barbarian. Nothing more, nothing less.
While Conan Exiles isn't exactly a very good game, there is some fun to be had, but disappointingly it lacks the experience I would have expected of the Conan name. While playing, the base building is addictive and you'll not want to stop, but this is a Conan game - It should be more about the combat and experience, not about building your ancient, luxury virtual home.
Overall, Conan Exiles is visually relatively pleasing, but with no real plot and a system too reliant on groups of friends making their own fun, Conan Exiles proves to be a relatively hollow experience and ultimately, a disappointment. If Funcom ever decide to make a narrative driven Conan game (akin to Skyrim), then by all means I'll be back, but the desert-lands of Conan Exiles have left me feeling dry in the mouth and thirsty for some of the much better titles out there.
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