In the early 1930’s, Robert E. Howard began publishing short stories about a massive Cimmerian barbarian and his quest to rule a kingdom. At the time of Howard’s suicide in 1936, he had written 21 complete stories about this barbarian. These stories faded in and out of publication for almost the next thirty years, never really grabbing the popular culture again, until 1982. In 1982, a movie about this barbarian hit the big screens, starring an Austrian bodybuilder that was aiming for stardom as the next big action hero. That bodybuilder is named Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the title character of this movie is named Conan. Since that movie, Conan has had relative success in both movies and video games, but it wasn’t until Funcom released Age of Conan that Howard’s vision of Hyboria truly felt realized in the medium. Currently, Funcom is working on their next Conan game named Conan Exiles. The best way to describe Conan Exiles is that it is like Rust or Ark, but with balls. And by balls, I mean actual testicles. Yes, Funcom went the Full Monty with Conan Exiles. Is it enough to make you want to play the game? Let’s take a closer look with our preview.
You begin Conan Exiles crucified. Yes, actually crucified. As in, strapped to a cross and left in the desert to rot and die. The intro cinematic shows Conan wandering through the desert, as he comes upon you and your cross. Conan cuts you down, defends you against some hungry monsters, then abandons you to your fate. You next find yourself an exile, a criminal, left alone in the desert with nothing. You must make your way to the relative safety of the valley in front of you and build your camp. While in the valley, you will need to hunt for food, gather materials for structures and weapons, and defend yourself against everything that wants to kill you.
Let’s start this preview by saying that Conan Exiles is still in early access, so not all aspects of the game are polished, or even present. Conan Exiles does a good job in setting up the narrative in the beginning of the game, by showing you your crime during the character creation process, and then by having you find journals as you make your way to the valley. Once in the valley, the narrative begins to take a life of it’s own. You will run into some characters that will talk to you, and let you in on more of the story. Other than that, the story will progress by your own creation. You make your own narrative, in a similar way as it is in Minecraft, 7 Days to Die, or Rust. There are stones and journals that dot the wasteland that will fill in the gaps and inform you of the ancient civilization that once was here, but like most games of this nature, the story will change depending on your actions and you can create your own narrative.
Let’s start with the naked, swinging genitals in the room, shall we? Conan Exiles will get a lot of publicity over its approach to nudity. You have the option at the start to go with no nudity, partial nudity (breasts), or full nudity (everything! and I mean everything!). Character creation is very deep, allowing you to customize your race based on Howard’s world, and then begin to change all of your features using sliders. Yes, there is a slider for penis length and breast size, you naughty person, you. Part of the character creation process is also choosing your God. You can select many of Howard’s pantheon of gods, including Crom, Yog, Set, and Mitra. This selection will give you access to special structures and items that can only be crafted by a follower of that god. You can view the game in first person or third person point of view, which alone will give you at least an hour of laughs watching your bits sway as you jump and run across the desert.
Once you get passed acting like a 13 year old boy, you will realize that Conan Exiles has much more to offer. The main part of the game is truly survival, and that means keeping yourself fed, hydrated, protected, and healthy. You gather materials as you travel across the land, and craft items that will help you live longer. Tools, weapons, bedrolls, and even structures can all be crafted and placed in the world. You will need to watch your encumbrance as well, so you cannot just grab everything in site and take it back to camp. You will have to manage your pack and the weight of the pack.
Combat is fairly straight forward, but I found it incredibly difficult in the beginning. Most everything will kill you in the beginning, so picking your fights will be very important. As you level up and learn new recipes, gather better items, and even collect slaves, you will discover that these enemies will no longer prove a challenge and will need to find stronger enemies to fight. Then there is the other players. Depending on what server you are playing on, other players will also prove to be a hazard to you. Many will kill you and nick all of your stuff, burn down your fortress, and make your life hell. On the other hand, if you can get a few of your mates to band together, you can become the object of fear in the valley.
Conan Exiles feels right, though the difficulty curve is something that you will need to get used to. I found the game fun and enjoyable, even in its early access state. Lag was an issue on some of the servers that I joined, but here’s to hoping that gets hammered out before release. What is here, is in good condition and was fun to play.
Conan Exiles is a nice looking game, with full voice acting. Many of the animations seemed off during my playthrough, including many enemies that just glided towards me, but hey it’s early access. You definitely get the feeling of Conan here, from your character’s look, to the look of the enemies, and the structures you are able to build. I love the way Funcom allows you to pick your character’s origin, which helps define your character. Choices like Hyborian, Stygian, Kushite, and Zamorian are all offered in game, and will help determine the look of your character.
Graphics wise, Conan Exiles looks good and comparable to other similar games on the market. The game had issues at distance, but again it’s not a release copy yet. Structures look fairly generic, but will be completely up to you on how you design them. I found it fairly easy to build a two story hut out of rock and wood.
Conan Exiles is looking to be a very good, if not a great survival/crafting game. The game has the look, the feel, and the blood of a Conan game, with all of the nudity that goes with it. As of this writing, Conan Exiles has already sold about 300,000 copies and Funcom has completely recouped their cost for the game. This is one game that I will be keeping a close eye on when it fully releases. Funcom is also preparing an Xbox One version of the game, with a possible PS4 release later. Conan Exiles is currently available on Steam Early Access.