There’s difficulty in reviewing Conan Exiles, where so much of the enjoyment stems from figuring things out for yourself in as clumsy a fashion as possible. This is par for the course in the survival genre, as games like Don’t Starve and Ark are at their best when players know little at the onset.
Part of the problem is that these days, video games so rarely allow the player to stumble around in the proverbial dark looking for answers. Tutorials guide every step and attempt to answer all questions, while mobile games go that extra mile and hold your hand like you’ve never played a game in your life.
There’s a level of shock when a game like Conan Exiles comes along and literally leaves you in the desert without a clue. After the titular Conan saves your created character from being crucified, he leaves you to your own devices, naked and unarmed in an unending desert.
Emphasis on the “naked” part here, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much unabashed male nudity in a video game. To make matters better — or worse, depending on how you feel about pixelated genitalia — there’s even a slider during the character creation phase to decrease or increase your character’s… uh … “endowment.”
Grade: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
System: PlayStation 4, XBone, PC
No. Players: 1-40
Published by: Funcom
Developed by: Funcom
Genre: Survival Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Grades: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Outstanding; ★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good; ★ ★ ★ Good; ★ ★ Fair; ★ Poor
Their word, not mine. For the weak of heart, nudity has an on/off setting. Parents everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief.
The course of the game is up for you to decide from that point. Sure, the main goal is not dying, but in a world as harsh and unforgiving as Robert E. Howard’s 1930s pulp franchise, this is easier said than done. If it isn’t cannibals, mutated alligators, or Lovecraftian horrors trying to eat you, then there are also real players more than willing to thwart your plans of living.
Playable either offline in a single-player experience or on 40-player servers, Conan Exiles gives you the ability to play how you want without ever feeling like you’re being punished. Jumping onto a server with actual people is a risk, as hours of your hard work building houses and other structures can be destroyed in an instant. That said, there’s a thrill in joining up with other players to conquer or be conquered.
My preferred mode has been the offline single-player, with the option of co-op. This play style lets me go at my own pace, collecting materials and building fire pits dedicated to human sacrifices with great joy in my heart.
If you’ve played other survival games, then you know the shtick here: Collect rocks and sticks to build basic tools, which let you collect more materials, which let you make more stuff, which lets you so forth and so on. This is what I meant about the game letting you stumble around for answers. I spent three hours looking for a source of bricks before I realized it was a simple as putting rocks in my furnace.
Did I feel dumb afterward? Sure. I also felt like I had accomplished something. The real reward in playing Conan Exiles comes from these “Eureka!” moments and it never stops feeling good.
That stumbling comes at a price in the form of bugs, glitches, and a constant sense of jankiness with your time in the Exiled Lands. Enemies appear out of nowhere, the combat never feels quite right, and other quality assurance issues happen with frequency. Most of the time it adds to the quirkiness at work, but then something happens that causes a loss of progress and it stops being charming.
Being an early access game that originally came out last year, I chalk a lot these problems up to a lack of development time. This is even more noticeable on the console version — which I played first, then switched to the PC version — where Conan Exiles runs and looks awfully pitiful. It’s a shame if the console version is someone’s only exposure, as the PC version looks and runs smooth as silk. If given the choice, go PC as it is a better time all around.
Despite its performance problems on PS4 and XBox One, Conan Exiles is visually appealing. There’s something magical about seeing a huge landmark in the distance and being able to go there, and this is made all the better by a wonderfully realized world. From gigantic beasts to foreboding fortresses and … pleasure palaces (once again, their words) Funcom has done a great job at making this cruel world varied and grim.
If wandering around this world aimlessly doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, there is a story at work and some guidance in the form of the “Journey’ page.” Giving players a loose set of lore and direction, these quasi-quests will guide you around the world if your aim is more single-player oriented.
That said, there’s no wrong way to play Conan Exiles and that may be its greatest strength. My hope is that Funcom straightens out the bugs and glitches in updates, as Conan Exiles is an engaging experience that is marred by enough small problems as to be cumbersome.
Now, if you’ll excuse me: I really must get back to my pit of sacrifices. The Dark Lord gets mad if he isn’t fed.
The Blade received copies of the game on PC from the publisher for purposes of review.
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