Review – Conan Exiles
So here we are again, just chopped down enough trees to gather five hundred pieces of wood, mined three hundred pieces of rock and gathered enough twine from tree leafs to finally build my armor crafting station. I use my resources to craft the armor station and place it on the outside of my house that I also built from scratch. I open my new crafting station and realize that I need tanned hides to create a basic leather armor set, but to do that I need to create a leather tanning station. Alright, I bash up some more trees, smash in some more rocks, finally have enough to build it only to learn that I need to skin some leather hides off of some animals. Makes sense, can’t tan hide without the hides themselves. I’m killing deer after deer, hyena after hyena before realizing I can’t obtain their hides just by using my axe. I need a skinning blade, but before I can obtain said skinning blade, I need to reach a certain character level and obtain a handful of other upgrades and prerequisite crafting stations. This is the constant loop you’ll find yourself in with Conan Exiles. A game with a ton of survival game features, but is so bloated that only the most patient.
Conan Exiles, if you didn’t gather by my first paragraph, is a survival game set in the world of Conan the Barbarian. Yes, the Conan the Barbarian universe from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. No, he unfortunately does not voice any characters. The game starts with you customizing a character who has been exiled out in the desert up on a stake to die. You’re then saved, by whom I presume is Conan, to then start your journey of survival.
Once you’re in control of your character there is a brief tutorial area that gives you some basic controls and an extremely important waterskin. The survival aspects begin immediately with you needing to drink to quench your thirst and quickly find a water source to drink from and refill your waterskin. From here the help essentially stops and you’ll be left with your own devices to build and explore. There is a quest log, kinda. What I mean by that is they essentially give you a list of objectives and unlocks you should have that correlates to your character level. For example, some of your first quests is to gather enough resources to build a fire and a bed roll to save your progress. The next one will be to create an axe and pickaxe to harvest wood and rocks. The more you explore, build, gather resources and fight the more XP you get to gain levels which unlocks higher tier items.
The first oasis you come across will be where you set up for a while until you get familiarized with the game and gain a levels. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of other characters will be around you ready to murder you. Of course that’s only applicable if you’re playing on a public server, and this is where I give Funcom credit. They offer a ton of serer options to play how you want to play. They even have official servers that limit home raiding between certain hours that way you won’t come home from work and everything you built the night before is destroyed without you even being able to defend it. There are also a few single player servers. I ended up opting for those more often than not because the multiplayer servers on Xbox were atrociously bad. I was experiencing frequent lag, server kicks, and a strange glitch that would lock up the game when I entered my home. It was frustrating, but I give Funcom credit for offering a variety of server options and catering to a wider audience of player.
It may seem like I have glossed over a lot of things and I’m doing so intentionally. There is so much to this game that it’s quite daunting and the level of survival aspects can be overwhelming at times. The amount of time it takes to make it to the higher levels is enormous and it is no thanks to the extremely bloated survival aspects. There is a lot to unlock, but it takes so long to get to most of it that I eventually lost interest before I even got to the really awesome things you see in the trailers. The figures I gave in my first paragraph are those of the first few major unlocks, as you proceed to more important things that resource amount of course grows larger. Be ready to spend some game sessions just harvesting resources.
Luckily the world is actually very fun to explore and gives you a great sense of discovery as there are a lot of lore and other settlements to discover and minimally interact with. There are a vast amount of biomes that all have their own unique hostile and non-hostile characters and animals. Be careful to not stray too far as enemies do not scale to your level. Not only do you need to worry about actual enemies, but make sure you’re well prepared with food, water and some clothes to help with the elements. Pro Tip: while exploring, make sure to periodically make a bed roll to save your position in case of death. Upon death, and yes you will die often, you will only be able to respawn at the very beginning desert exile point or the last bed roll you slept at.
Like I mentioned before you will die a lot and it’s in part to the not so great combat system. It mostly functions like a Dark Souls game where you lock on and L1 is block, R1 is light attack, R2 is heavy attack, and B is to dodge. Unfortunately, it does not flow as well as Dark Souls leaving it feel like a cheap imitation that is just not much fun. There are a decent variety of weapons from swords, spears, maces to bows, throwing axes, and magical orbs; Weapons also posses various tiers of quality as you gain access to different ore and smithing techniques. One of my favorite gameplay mechanics mostly effects exploration and it’s the ability to climb anything. It is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild where your main limitation is your stamina levels. Luckily in Conan Exiles rain won’t have you sliding down every couple seconds.
Speaking of stamina limitations, you do have the ability to upgrade your stats through upgrade points once you have gained enough XP. The abilities are pretty standard ones that you will see in most RPG or survival games. You have Survival where food and water have more effect, Accuracy which improves long range attacks, Agility for stamina loss, Grit for total stamina, and Encumbrance, Vitality and Strength which all RPG fans should already know. Now, like most games that have a PvP/PvE mode there will be builds that are better suited for each if you want to maximize your total effectiveness depending on your goals. Honestly, I would recommend a basic guide to help you get your feet wet or to peruse the Conan Exiles subreddit.
The graphics are decent enough for such a large game filled with a lot of other players. By no means is it breathe taking, but there are times when the lighting is just right that it can look good. I do appreciate the varied graphical flair for each biome e.g. the desert heat waves in the distance, the fog in the dense chill forest areas and so on. Also the animals are well detailed and even though there are a lot of them the quality never dips between any of the models.
Overall, the sound design could have been much better but some of the sound effects are decently done. My main problem is that you will be repeating the same activity so often that the same sound effect, even if it’s well done, gets tiring after a while. To make it worse there isn’t even a good sound track to try and cover up all the thudding noises while you go chop trees for 2 hours straight.
Conan Exiles isn’t a bad game, it is actually a very well done game that just lacks some proper balancing. For the folks who love to get lost into interesting worlds and don’t mind repetitively harvesting resources to marginally proceed then this is the game for you. If Conan Exiles didn’t have me gather 1,000 resources just for one item I probably wouldn’t have gotten as burnt out as I did. Also, even though it does have server issues I do like they give you plenty of options to play the game as you want. For that I would recommend Conan Exiles to only those that really enjoy survival games.
Console limitations even on the Xbox One X are present here, but the large and varied landscapes and enemies are impressive.
It’s obvious from the start that a controller is not the best option. Beyond that the combat is similar to Dark Souls but clunky and annoying.
Various sound effects are well done with chopping trees and mining rocks, but the lack of a good soundtrack is deafening.
Online servers are very laggy and buggy, but luckily there are plenty of server options. There is a very large game to sink into if you have the patience to deal with the crafting.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Reviewed on Xbox One.
Conan Exiles is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
A copy of Conan Exiles was provided by the publisher.