Shlong simulator 2018
Having gone into early access on Steam in September 2016, Conan Exiles launched as a full retail release across all platforms on May 8th 2018. Being another open-world survival simulator in the same vein as Rust and Ark: Survival Evolved (only with ridiculously in-depth penis physics) Conan Exiles does a lot to stand by itself in a somewhat over-saturated genre. As usual I’ll be covering the PlayStation 4 version of the game, going over the positives and negatives while ultimately discussing whether it’s worth the £44.99 asking price.
1982’s Conan The Barbarian was one terrible film, there’s no other way to say it. While I’m a massive fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor (every bloke alive shed man-tears at the end of Terminator 2) his role as the titular barbarian certainly wasn’t his most shining performance. Criticisms aside, the universe of Conan The Barbarian is possibly one of the oldest fantasy franchises in modern popular culture, as the character (and his associated universe) was initially created in 1932 by writer Robert E. Howard, going on to be hailed as the progenitor of the ‘Sword and Sorcery’ sub-genre of fantasy as we know it today. Alongside the series’ success in film and other paper related media, the Conan franchise has also had quite the history in the realm of video games, starting with 1984’s Conan: Hall of Volta for the Commodore 64, with the most recent release of Conan Exiles from Norwegian developer: Funcom, who have previously worked on the series with the 2008 MMORPG Age of Conan: Unchained.
Conan Exiles is an open-world, survival simulator of the same vein as games such as Rust and Ark: Survival Evolved, which place a strong emphasis on survival stats such as thirst and hunger, all the while giving the player the ability to craft numerous tools, weapons and structures in order to survive. The game takes place in the fictional prehistoric Hyborian Age (roughly 10,000 BC as featured in Howard’s original stories from 1932) and sees a crucified criminal (the player character) get rescued by the titular barbarian himself: Conan. Right before the audience with the big man himself comes the game’s somewhat in-depth character creator, which holds the usual array of customisation options, as well as completely new ones such as choosing your character’s religion (all based upon the lore of the overarching Conan mythos) as well as how endowed your character’s genitals are (no really) complete with their own physics to boot (nothing shows off how much of a barbarian you are like a 20 inch dong flapping about in the wind). Soon after you finish modelling your toon you are informed as to why you were crucified in the first place; in my case it was because I was a bandit who had a penchant for defiling temples and shitting on statues (so it at least mirrored my real-life personality in tandem). Soon after, Conan cuts you down from the crucifix, throwing you a water skin and informing you that you are marked (indicated by your character’s ornate bracelet) and that you are going to have to survive in a harsh desert terrain known as the exiled lands (Conan’s great at stating the obvious).
Lock him up and throw away the key: Defecating on a statue accompanies the death penalty in Conan Exiles.
Once you’re eventually left stark bollock naked and alone, is where Conan Exiles lives up to its “Survive. Build. Dominate.” namesake. Your first objectives are to find signs of intelligent life, as well as eat and drink something, throwing you head first into the ‘survival’ aspect of the game. These objectives are all tracked via the Journey tab, which has a number of set objectives that award you XP and allow you to level up, rewarding you with attribute points as well as feats that allow you to learn new crafting recipes for better weapons, gear and structures. The Journey system (while simple in nature) makes the game a lot more approachable and user-friendly than Ark: Survival Evolved, which quite literally throws you in at the deep end from the get go. Additionally like most of its ilk, Conan Exiles puts a strong emphasis on crafting, eventually requiring you to set down roots in a strategic location (e.g. near a body of water) and build a house or settlement depending on your play style. While this might be a typical trope found within the survival genre, there is actually a nice ratio of cosmetic and utility items to be found in the game, allowing you to decorate your abode with trophies from your hunts or turn it into a fully blown production site, complete with your own slaves to boot (although you have to bash them over the head and hog tie them into submission first). Conan Exiles also features a massive 53km2 open-world (that’s also due to be expanded in the coming months) with its own distinct biomes ranging from mountainous forests teeming with game to harsh, arid deserts that are home to dangerous, venomous creatures. In addition to this there are numerous friendly and hostile settlements whose NPC’s can be interacted with, killed or enslaved depending on what your preference is (being a slave master has its advantages) and thanks to the overhauled combat system, raiding NPC camps can actually be quite fun (once you get yourself some decent equipment of course). By far the most fun to be had are the game’s dungeons, which house their own unique navigation puzzles as well as bosses (which you can then turn into unique sets of armor once they have been defeated and skinned).
While the gameplay in Conan Exiles can be exceedingly fun at times, the game is definitely not without its share of hang ups (and some of them are huge). For starters the game is best played as part of a group, for two reasons; firstly it makes the game more enjoyable by building a community and playing with clan mates, I recommend PvE over PvP as offline base raiding is a prevalent issue within the game. Secondly the grind found in Conan Exiles is no joke, and is already pretty tough when you’re part of an established clan, let alone within the single player mode (though the option is there if you prefer it). This foreshadows the biggest problem that I had within Conan Exiles, it’s less than stable server platform. Once you join a group of friends who have set themselves up in a specific server (PS4 – EU PvE #3006, come at me bro) you will occassionally be hit with the ominous ‘Server Full’ pop-up (servers can hold a maximum of 40 players) which can sometimes take up to an hour for it to free up somewhat (the game would definitely benefit from an inactivity kick/queue system). Once you eventually get into a server, you’re also going to suffer some pretty bad lag and frame-rate issues that can sometimes make the game borderline unplayable; one minute you could be gleefully farming some Ironstone only in the next instance to be knocked off a cliff by an invisible Rhino that appeared to be 10 feet away, which never stops being frustrating. In terms of performance (other than the aforementioned frame rate issues) the game runs at a resolution of 900p on the launch PS4/XB1, with it bumping up to 1080p on the PS4 Pro and 1440p on the Xbox One X; while the resolutions on the beefier consoles are a nice touch, the game regularly suffers from textures waiting to pop in, as well as muddy textures for long periods of time, taking away from the immersion somewhat.
There’s wolves in them there (pixellated) hills: Muddy textures and frame rate issues are the norm in Conan Exiles, which can pose a problem when you’re on the run from a pack of hungry Hyenas.
Overall Conan Exiles is a pretty hard sell at the £44.99 asking price in its current state, as the game genuinely still feels like it’s in early access. While there is a wealth of fun to be had in the game (especially so if you’re playing with a group of friends) the overall server and graphical issues bog the game down into the realm of borderline unplayable at times. If you’re a veteran of the Survival genre then you’re probably used to these sorts of bugs at launch, in which case I wholeheartedly recommend Conan Exiles if you have the patience to put up with it’s blemishes; if you’re thinking of jumping into the genre for the first time, I would wait a few months for the game to stabilise and come down in price a bit, as it’ll definitely be worth your attention then.
A review copy was provided by Funcom.