As my friends and family will all tell you, I’m a big Conan fan. Although I feel that the mythical hero has been sorely misinterpreted and dumbed down in film media, I’ll always appreciate Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels (as well as some other authors). I also used to lap up any sort of Conan comic books (loved those “King-sized” ones) whenever I could get my grubby little mitts on them.
When it comes to the digital realm, it always surprised me how game developers, both large and small, could never seem to take well-established IPs and translate them into video games. This could be said for many Alien games (they finally got it somewhat right with Alien: Isolation), Warhammer and Warhammer 40k (which they are now just getting right here and there), and especially Conan. I mean, with a famous IP that is brimming with content (books, games, movies), you’d think they’d at least get it right once or twice.
Norwegian gaming developer Funcom has probably come the closest. With their penchant for developing excellent MMORPGs (The Secret World, Anarchy Online), it came as no surprise that they would attempt to re-envision Conan’s world as an MMORPG with Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (now Age of Conan: Unchained). Age of Conan, which originally made its debut on Steam back in 2013, was critically well received by some reviewers, but for me and many others, it seemed much like any other MMORPG we’d already experienced out there. It just didn’t seem to scream “Conan” in its atmosphere and feeling, let alone have its own identity in a sea of MMORPG titles that more or less all seem to blend together.
Well, Funcom apparently saw that survival games are the flavor of the day right now and recently released Conan Exiles as an “open world survival video game.” No, you don’t get to play as Conan himself, but rather a custom-built character who is rescued by him. Indeed the impressive opening round, which includes you creating your character with the game’s well thought our character generation system, includes a cutscene where Conan cuts your avatar down from their rope bindings.
From there you start your adventures wandering various ruin-studded, wind-swept sand dunes. For my first character, I chose to play as a strapping Nordic fellow, with piercing blue eyes and a dark mane of unruly hair. Apparently, I was subconsciously channeling Conan, because he turned out looking like the titular hero himself. However, I wasn’t sure about getting the endowment part right. That’s right, the character generation system allows (if you have “full nudity” settings on) you to set a slider for how well-endowed your manhood is. Or, in the case of female characters, how much boobage they come stacked with. In the case of male characters, of course everyone has their downstairs portions set to maximum size.
As I jogged by other equally well-endowed adventurers, I thought to myself: “Why am I still alive?” Indeed, even though Conan Exiles has been branded a combination of the post-apocalyptic rage-quit-fest Rust, and the prehistoric/futuristic mishmash that is Ark: Survival Evolved, by many, it hasn’t seemed to live up to Rust’s ultra-toxic player community. Maybe that’s because people were as equally confused as I was as to what I was supposed to be doing, or maybe it’s attracting a milder player base on its own. The jury is still out.
When I finally got my wits about me and began realizing that I was supposed to be scavenging for resources (duh—it’s a survival game), I set about to collecting wood and stone in order to fashion basic tools. In this respect, Conan Exiles is very much like most other modern survival games. You begin with nothing, and have to craft tools for more efficiently harvesting more resources, so that in turn you can build better weapons, and eventually, some basic lodgings.
Unlike many other survival titles out there, however, you can choose to play from amongst several different servers. For example, for those whom want a more traditional survival experience which emulates most other survival games on the market, they can select from “Pure” servers. If one prefers more emphasis on friendly relations and building things, they can opt for “RPG” servers. I really like how the developers allow you to pick from these options, as opposed to other games where they just cram everyone into the same servers.
Conan Exiles has a pretty standard crafting system. You’ll find many of the tools and weapons that you’d find in other titles, including axes, bows, swords, and the like. Where the game deviates from the norm is in the fact that you can create alters to your particular chosen god, which can in turn, grant you specific bonuses. You can also capture NPC characters and drag them back to your domicile in order to turn them into vassals, in an apparent nod to Ark.
Conan Exiles also sports probably the best combat system of any survival games that I’ve played so far. You can attack, dodge or sidestep incoming attacks, block (if you have a shield equipped), and eventually cast spells if you choose to be a magic-user. This opens up a whole new horizon for players like me who are used to the “hit-them-over-and-over-until-they-drop” type of bland combat that we’ve all become accustomed to. And after playing with it, I keep wondering why other survival games haven’t implemented something similar to it, so far.
The visuals presented in Conan Exiles are top-notch, and really evoke the atmosphere of Conan’s mythical Hyborian Age in all of its splendor. For an Early Access title, Funcom has really packed this game with some seriously gorgeous graphics, including brilliantly realized character models and clothing, and stunning environmental effects such as trees and other foliage, which realistically sway in the digital “wind.”
There is still a lot of work to be done with this title, which has steadily climbed the Steam sales charts, as well as TwitchTV in terms of popularity. There are still some systems that need polish, or are yet to be implemented, but for where it stands right now, many gamers are tweaking out on this game like cracknip. Once more content is added, I’m really looking forward to revisiting the savage lands of Conan Exiles.