Conan Exiles has finally arrived on Xbox One via the ever so popular Game Preview scheme. Naturally with this being a game that’s subject to Game Preview, we can expect a heap of bugs and issues as the developers work to iron the experience out, prior to release in 2018. It’s also important to note that everything within this Early Access Review is subject to change, and that the opinions and impressions here, as well as the state of the game in its current form, does not reflect final product quality. Now we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s dive right in.
Conan Exiles is an open world survival game that’s set within the universe of Conan the Barbarian. One of the first things you’re able to do is create your very own character, and yes, there’s plenty of skin on offer. Conan Exiles (PC) received wide spread praise for not holding back on the nudity, even allowing players to change the size of their manhood via a penis slider. Sadly this option is not present in the Xbox One version due to age certification issues, but last I heard, fans in EU were due to get the feature at launch but that never came to pass. If a tweet from the devs is anything to go by, they’re currently working with the respective parties to get this added in. As of right now it’s absent, but I’m sure we can all survive a world where naked men cant showcase a foot long Subway at every chance they can get. On the flip side female characters can indeed alter their breast size, so if nudity is something that you just cant live without, there’s your silver lining.
The tools that you’re given to create your character are in-depth enough to ensure that each and every character will look unique, and does offer quite an impressive portion of options. It’s not the most in-depth character creator I’ve seen, but it certainly gets the job done. Once you’ve selected your chosen race from the lore, you’ll then be able to alter height, facial features, and so on and so forth. When you’re done fine-tuning your character, you’ll be cut down from your cross and left there to fend for yourself, literally. I don’t mind a game that doesn’t want to hold my hand, I can live with that. However when it comes to a game such as Conan Exiles, there needs to be some level of understanding. What do I do? Where do I go? How do I do this? In Conan Exiles, you don’t get jack shit.
Furthermore, you know that cross you were just cut down from? Well it was only situated in the middle of a damn desert. Surrounded by sand for as far as the eye can see, it wont be long before you self-help yourselves and head off in the right direction. Armed with nothing but some cloth to keep the sand out of your ass crack, you’ll continuously be warned that you’re falling victim to the heat. This is exactly where a tutorial would have come in handy. Not only did I not know where to go or what to do, but it wasn’t too long before I stumbled upon a small group of trees that provided some shelter. The problem? Creatures were roaming (or floating off the ground might I add) around the immediate area. Should I kill them? Should I sneak through? Will they eat me? Conan Exiles and the lack of any guidance makes this a game that sees you constantly relying on trial and error. This formula may work in other games, but here, it just felt far too frustrating.
As a result there’s a huge emphasis on survival gameplay here. It seems as though everything within is out to kill you. If sunstroke isn’t your number one enemy, dehydration is. If dehydration isn’t your number one enemy, hunger is. If Hunger isn’t your number one enemy, the lack of self defence is. You get the idea, Conan Exiles is every bit as survival-based as Ark: Survival Evolved is. You’ll quickly learn that there’s a level-up system in place that will gift you with various abilities as you make your way through. This is closely followed by a recipe system, which is something you will need in order to craft specific items that will aid you in the long run. Mercifully these systems are not overly difficult to get to grips with once you’ve applied the aforementioned trial and error. I was soon kitted out with an axe and some makeshift clothing, as well as a bed that allowed me to save my progress and location.
It’s vital to collect as many materials as you can and learn the recipes that you need in order to build items from said materials. Your upgrades are available through the points you earn via XP progression, which can then in-turn be spent on a number of stats. Combat is very hit and miss at the moment and simply requires you to slam the attack button as often as you can until whatever you are hitting is dead. One major issue for me is that the many creatures and animals that populate Conan Exiles, seem to move (slight above ground) in the same zig-zag pattern, often at rapid speeds. This makes combat overly annoying at times, and certainly something that needs stabilising in a future update. it doesn’t help that during combat you will die for no reason whatsoever. Several times did I have to reload my save following a death during a fight, almost as though my enemy killed me with its mind.
One effect I did enjoy was the weather system and the day and night cycle. When the sun sets the game is dark as you can imagine, and if you don’t craft a source of warmth and light you’re as good as dead. The time that it takes to switch between day and night is well struck and gives you enough room, once you understand the mechanics and functionalities of play, to keep yourself safe. There are several biomes that come with their own weather conditions, all of which will test you to your limit if you don’t prepare yourself and grasp what it means to be subject to each / all of them. The downside again is that this all falls to trial and error. It’s never explained to you exactly how you’re expected to make it through in one piece, and if there is some form of explanation, I sure as hell couldn’t find it. Some of it boils down to common sense. If it’s hot, seek shelter. If it’s cold, wrap up.
That being said, there are areas within the game that come with very particular survival requirements, and there’s no way in hell that a player can know what to do without surfing the internet. I’ll point out again that I do not mind a game that doesn’t want to hold my hand, but don’t make me go and scroll through the internet to find the answer, because that’s counterproductive and takes me away from the game. Hopefully come launch, the devs add these much needed tutorials in. There’s only so many times I can tolerate the excessive on-screen warnings before I get further annoyed by how detracting they are. Seriously, sometimes the last warning message barely fades before the next one persists.
You can play Conan Exiles either single-player / co-op or multiplayer, as well as toy around with several server options. Taking the lack of tutorials into account, here’s what I would heavily advise you to do if you’re yet to dive in. Mess around with the server options before loading up the game. You can turn off several functions and make the game so much easier to digest as you get to grips with the experience at hand. If that’s not something you fancy trying out, stick with single-player. Multiplayer is (understandably) chock-full of greedy self serving barbarians that can smell a n00b like a fart in a car. I have yet to encounter one nice player that will be so kind as to simply let me go my own way without greeting my skull with their superior weaponry. This isn’t a fault on the devs part by any means, it’s just the aim of the game I guess.
Despite being in Early Access, Conan Exiles looks great. There’s some animation issues as I’ve already pointed out, and you’ll definitely notice some texture and render problems as you venture further in, but when you take a moment to enjoy the world, there’s a lot to admire. There’s also a decent amount of enemy variants within that help to keep the adventure feeling fresh, and when you tie this to the systems that are in place, it’s hard not to picture exactly how big Conan Exiles could be in 2018. On top of all of this, Xbox One also houses The Frozen North expansion, which adds a huge portion of content to the game. Safe to say, it’s now down to the devs to act on the feedback and fine-tune their survival game to ensure that it hits all of the right marks.
Conan Exiles is a good game that’s hidden underneath countless problems. These issues range from poor combat mechanics, the lack of any guidance whatsoever, render and texture issues, and several bugs that will either crash your game or force you to do so yourself. The systems within are strong enough to hold up the experience, and there’s no denying that Conan Exiles could prove to be a big hit come 2018, but the devs really need to act on feedback to see this through. Pulling a ‘Studio Wildcard’ and focusing on content over problem solving will only see this game walking the same path as Ark: Survival Evolved, and we all know how delightful that game was during Game Preview. With all of the faults to the side Conan Exiles shows a lot of promise, but as it stands, there are far too many problems and lack of much needed tutorials to describe this as a thoroughly enjoyable adventure.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.