I don’t really know why, but I absolutely adore survival/crafting games. Whatever was sparked when I first played Minecraft way back in its alpha days, has well and truly blossomed in a full-blown love affair. Unfortunately though, I only have a very old, very slow laptop and so I often have to wait until games like this make their way to consoles before I can enjoy them. It’s lucky then, that Funcom’s Conan Exiles has followed in the footsteps of Ark: Survival Evolved and Subnautica and has finally been released on consoles. Come and join me as I oil up my rippling muscles, strap on my loincloth and dive into the unforgiving world of Conan the Barbarian.
If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, the premise of these types of games is fairly simple. In Exiles, after you create your avatar, you’re dropped into a living world full of danger with absolutely nothing but your wits to keep you alive. In order to survive, you’ll have to find materials to craft everything from clothing and tools, to weapons and shelter. As you’re scrounging around for branches and stones to make things like pickaxes and clubs, you’ll also have to keep your character fed and hydrated, all while avoiding (or hunting) the menagerie of weird and deadly creatures that want to kill you. If you have the skills and patience to establish a foothold in this treacherous realm, you’ll progress through the RPG-like level system and unlock more complex crafting recipes that utilise advanced materials like iron, steel and beyond. True survivors will eventually become self-sustaining, building sprawling fortresses, exploring all the different biomes and creating clans in order to tackle the genuinely life-threatening enemies that lurk in the dark recesses of the various territories.
Started from the bottom, now we’re here!
As with most survival/crafting games, Conan Exiles does have the option to play in an offline single-player mode where you can tweak the world settings to your liking, however, it has been built with more of a focus on a shared world multiplayer experience. If you choose to play in online PvE mode, it will be you and every other player on the servers against the AI controlled environmental dangers roaming around. If you’re brave though, you can choose to play on a PvP server and have the added risk of also versing the other player-controlled characters on the map. With official servers hosting up to 40 people at a time, chances are you’ll need to learn who to trust, who to avoid and which other survivors you can count on to help you stay alive throughout the game, because whether you’re facing massive frost giants or massive player clans, you’ll never be able to rest on your laurels.
You may be thinking that if you’ve played one survival game, you’ve played them all, but Exiles does have quite a few features that set it apart from other titles in the genre. For starters, although the core mechanic is multiplayer survival, there is actually a fairly interesting optional story element present as you play. After a brief appearance by Conan himself, you’re encouraged to explore and discover the secrets of the Exiled Lands through scattered journal entries and weathered obelisks that show you glimpses of the past through ghostly apparitions. While it’s not essential to seek these out in order to fully enjoy the game, it does make dungeon delving and temple raiding more appealing to solo players or lore nuts like me. There is also an ongoing journal system that acts as a loose waypoint for players who may be unfamiliar with how to play a game like this. While they aren’t exactly quests, you’ll get pretty decent experience rewards for completing different kinds of tasks, like crafting light armour, killing an enemy for the first time and establishing a home base.
Hello MTV, welcome to my crib
Another big difference that sets Conan Exiles apart is the thrall system. In Ark: Survival Evolved you can tame dinosaurs to help you stay alive but in Exiles, you’ll need to knock out, capture and break the human NPCs in order to build your ranks. Once you reach a certain rank, you’ll be able to craft the equipment needed to basically enslave the AI enemies and bend them to your will. There are different kinds of thralls that are available in the game and they can be utilised to defend your base, unlock crafting recipes and even remove negative status effects that plague your character. Again, although this aspect is optional, thralls become very handy when another differentiating feature of Exiles appears, The Purge System. Essentially, every so often your base will be attacked by a small horde (sometimes big horde) of AI enemies that can do some pretty hefty damage. Although you receive a warning that a purge is about to commence, if you can’t make it back in time, it’s going to be up to your thralls to protect everything you’ve built. Thankfully, I haven’t fallen victim to a purge yet, and although I have mixed feelings about yet another danger to contend with, I definitely think it’s an essential mechanic to keep late-game players interested.
Speaking of late-game players, the final feature of Exiles that I want to talk about is the religious avatar system. Basically, you can craft shrines to various gods within the world of Conan and once you reach a high enough level, you’ll be able to summon huge representations of the deities. Depending on your chosen faith, you can rain destruction on your enemies by commanding giant bronze statues or tentacled horrors to attack them.
Trying to survive out here is snow joke
As with most games that begin life as an early access title, Conan Exiles has its own fair share of shortcomings. There are a few technical issues in terms of performance and glitches, but for the most part, it’s actually a fairly stable experience. What really bugs me is that although Conan has released on consoles, the UI seems to have missed the memo about the move. Crafting can feel quite clunky at first as you have to go into your inventory, scroll across the whole screen and then down to find what you want. Also, in order to build anything, you need to craft it, then assign it to your quick-select wheel and then place it using the less-than-perfect controller mapping. You’ll eventually get used to it, but when compared to console versions of Ark and Subnautica, there is definitely room for improvement. Also, for a game that is based on bloodthirsty barbarians, the combat is not as satisfying as one would expect. Although it’s passable, I would have liked to see more integrated feedback from the weapons, so that I can actually tell the difference between hitting an enemy with a stone club or a Starmetal greatsword.
Just in case it hasn’t been made clear in my screenshots, Conan Exiles is definitely not a surviving/crafting game for kids or the easily offended. Not only is the violence gratuitous and gory, there is also the option for complete nudity in the game, including an endowment slider in the character creation screen to determine your avatar’s penis or breast size. If nudity isn’t your thing, there are options in the game to always have your character clothed, or filter servers so that you can avoid it completely.
Just call me Bare Grylls
Obviously, I’m a huge fan of survival/crafting games and Conan Exiles is a fantastic example of how much fun they can be. If you’re into these kinds of games, Exiles feels like a more mature experience where you’ll have to work hard and experiment with various mechanics in order to progress. Even if you’re new to the genre, I still recommend that you try it out because it’s full of fun and high-stakes adventuring that I’m sure will spark something inside you. Be warned though, this ain’t no Minecraft.
Reviewed on PS4 | Review code supplied by publisher