Conan Exiles: review

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbone, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Deep Silver
  • Developer: Funcom
  • Players: 1 (offline), 2-40 (online)
  • Site: https://www.conanexiles.com/
  • Game disc provided by the distributor

Using the Conan licence for an MMO is an interesting move. It theoretically puts the whole experience at a disadvantage when it comes to fans because you do not, as you may have guessed, get to step into the sandals of Conan himself. Nor do you get to fight alongside him, or even see him during gameplay. The intro scene sees our simmering Cimmerian toddle up to release you from what is essentially your crucifixion, but then he buggers off and leaves you to fend for yourself in the middle of the desert.

This is, at least, an unambiguous way to start off a survival game. From the very beginning, the clock is ticking, counting down to your inevitable demise. Will you die from hunger? Thirst? Exposure? Food poisoning? A long fall? An enemy? An animal? So many choices!

Rewinding a little, to just before the intro, you do of course get to create your own character. Cosmetic options aren’t Sims level, but you can make something approaching the ‘exile’ you want. The option to control the size of your character’s willy or boobies is infantile (much like the words we chose to use there) at best, especially when combined with the fact that servers can (and will) allow nudity. More interestingly, you can also choose which religion your chap or chapette subscribes to. This matters because each god, apart from grumpy old Crom, can temporarily bestow some sort of benefit upon you… eventually.

You can switch to a first-person perspective, but it doesn’t do much for the experience.

That word “eventually” sits at the heart of the experience, and whether or not that’s a good thing is likely to vary wildly from person to person. You start the game with even less than you’d expect at the start of a battle royale match. No weapons, no clothes (save a loincloth, thankfully – in our experience at least), no materials, no food, no nothing mate. Depending on the settings that you or the server host settles on, you could also find that you lose all your belongings on death and have to retrieve them, Dark Souls style, from your place of death. Or perhaps it’s even possible for your corpse to be looted by other players.

The point is, it’s a pretty brutal experience at the beginning; though you do at least have a little control over exactly how difficult. The fact that server settings can be tweaked mean that you can, for example, seek out a PVE one that dials down deterioration while pushing the XP multiplier up to hilarious levels. Even then, it takes a very, very long time to become the well-travelled, exquisitely armoured, intimidatingly-armed warrior that enjoys rather than endures the game. It happens – you guessed it – eventually. Presuming, that is, you can crack through the multi-layered and largely unexplained systems.

MMO games often employ mechanics unfriendly to those unfamiliar with the genre. Early Access games often employ mechanics unfriendly to those who didn’t buy into the game as soon as it first became available. Conan Exiles is an MMO that went through Early Access and, well… it shows. Quite aside from the fact that the game still carries many bugs and glitches, and shouldn’t really have gone to full release yet, anybody going into the game blind today will need to fight hard to understand exactly how it all works. Even basics such as the fact that your character is tied to the server you first created it in (and, on a related note, offline progress can therefore not be carried over to an online game) is not explained.

Llleeetttt’s get rready to rrrruuummmbblleeeee awkwardly.

Despite what the marketing may lead you to believe, this is definitely not a game where you can jump in and start enjoying the best it has to offer immediately. Even the best is disappointing. Although there’s a variety of interesting structures, weapons, enemies, and even a base-building element, this game is so far from a smooth experience that the nearest smooth experience is but a dot on the horizon. Combat, for example – not always at the forefront of the experience, but very important – is fumbling and stilted. Crafting rapidly evolves into a spiderweb of ‘gather these to make this so you can make those and put them together for this’ that necessitates a lot of head-scratching while you peer at the tiny icons and text on-screen. Building, at least, is nice and user-friendly.

It’s easy to argue something along the lines of “If you’re not prepared to put a lot of work in to learning the systems, you shouldn’t be playing an MMO”. It’s even easier to argue back “MMO players shouldn’t have to put up with more work and less fun than other players”. It’s true that the genre requires more time and effort than most others by its very nature. It’s not true that this is an evergreen excuse for technical shoddiness and obtuse systems.

The truth is that Conan Exiles makes you work long and hard to get your teeth into the fun bits – and then you’ll find that those are only small bits of fun. It demands much, and gives little in return. Those who already embrace the genre will find that this game, once it gets going, is better than many of its peers. Everybody else, though, is likely to find themselves disappointed.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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