As certain members of my family will attest to—me love Conan long time. Not in some twisted, creepy, obsessive way. It’s only that I used to read Conan novels (the original Robert E. Howard ones and those by other authors) and also collect Conan comic books of various types. I read a ton of fantasy books when I was younger, but Conan’s adventures always appealed to me more than any others.
Since then, Conan has emerged into quite the archetypal fantasy hero. But one thing always confused me. They’ve had some Conan movies (the modern one was abysmal), but I’ve always wondered why no one had ever made a really good Conan video game. Norwegian developers Funcom came close with 2013’s Age of Conan, a pretty decent MMORPG in its own right, but to me it just sort of lacked that special something.
Then suddenly a couple of months ago, Funcom announced that they were making a new sandbox, MMORPG that had much more in common with Rust and Ark: Survival Evolved, than it did with World of Warcraft. After loosely following the game’s development, I became more and more excited as its Early Access release date came into view. To put it simply, I’ve kept pretty high hopes with regards to Funcom’s latest effort. Would I finally get to play a game that more closely emulated the Conan universe?
Well, I got a chance to play the early version of their new game, Conan Exiles, and if my experience is any indicator as to its future, it may indeed come pretty darn close to realizing that lofty goal. The game opens with a pretty slick cinematic depicting Conan emerging out of a desert and cutting down a crucified prisoner. You are then transported to that very same place and the very same thing happens in a cutscene, except that Conan is cutting your character down from their rather precarious ensnarement.
Character generation is handled well. You choose your gender, ethnic origin (there are many), deity that they worship (there are four as of right now), as well as their various physical traits. The physical traits, such as head types, hairstyle, body type, and other physical measurements (including boob and junk size), reminded me of Skyrim’s, but a little less detailed. In an apparent nod to Rust (if you allow full nudity within your game options), your character can begin their journey buck naked, with their appropriate body parts jiggling or swaying in the desert wind.
I chose a large Nordic fellow to play as, with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. He actually turned out to sort of resemble Conan, so there may have been something subconscious going on there on my part. After being released from my chains, I swaggered around looking for any signs of civilization. All I saw were some creepy looking ruins—however, my surroundings did give me a good approximation as to the graphical prowess of the game (more on that in a bit).
I then wandered into some sort of oasis area, full of lush vegetation and plenty of resources to scavenge. Unfortunately, as I soon found out, the area was also chock-full of all sorts of hostile denizens. The first ones I encountered were angry fellow AI humans. There were also these grotesque looking semi-human monstrosities who had a sort of hunched over appearance and gait. Both of these enemy types had a pretty large detection range, and usually, if I spotted them, they’d already peeped me and had commenced to running my way.
This, of course, resulted in me meeting my end quite often. Conan Exiles is a brutal game—I don’t know how many times I died just trying to sneak a sip of water from a nearby lagoon, or while furtively attempting to gather some meager resources. You have to keep your head on a constant swivel, let’s just say that. And then there were these large, lumbering tortoise looking creatures. Now, in most games of this ilk, any big, sloth-like creatures are usually gentle herbivores. So, I dared to approach one of them. However, in Conan Exiles, even the large lumberer-types are extremely aggro, and Mr. Turtle-thingy suddenly reared up and stomped my character to death with its nasty nubs.
Eventually, I found a relatively safe spot underneath a gigantic statue which was holding a glaive. From there, I learnt how to craft items beyond the simple stone tools. Soon, I had my first basic hovel erected, complete with a working door and fireplace. I’d also discovered the game’s RPG-esque leveling system. Each time that my character leveled up, I got to allot a couple of points to attributes such as Strength and Endurance, etc, as well as learn some new crafting recipes.
Conan Exiles’ building and crafting system does indeed reminded me that I seemed to be playing the red-headed stepchild of both Rust and Ark. But to its credit, I could see the game’s potential to eclipse both of those games, with the right guidance. The developers promise such things as “city building,” “sorcery,” and “fatalities,” in the future, and I can see these and other proposed elements propelling the game into the stratosphere. But for now, many of these features aren’t yet in place (or I haven’t yet experienced them), so the jury is still out.
Graphically-speaking Conan Exiles certainly looks the part. Sand realistically billows and cascades over the worn cobblestones of forgotten ruins. Trees and other foliage shift and sway in the digital wind, and bodies of water are also well-rendered. Character and creature models are very detailed, as are weapons and other equipment. They really nailed the visuals right off the bat with this early release version, so it’s shaping up to be one beautiful game.
In all, Conan Exiles is too early in development to get a good picture of what the future holds for it. But the potential is there to be a bright one, if it is handled with care by its developers. With the right guidance, Conan Exiles could very well be the next great survival gaming experience.
Conan Exiles offers some excellent visuals that suit its fantasy theme. However, you have to have an very fast gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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