Conan Exiles – Early Access Preview

 

“Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms laid spread across the world. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, sword in hand. It is I, his chronicler, who knows well his saga. Now, let me tell you of the days of high adventure…”

Conan Exiles was released as an ‘Early Access’ title on Steam at the end of January this year.  On impulse I spent the ~$40 AUD and snapped it up.  I don’t typically spend that much money on games (I tend to wait until they are on sale for ~$10) but I’m a long time fan of Conan and hadn’t spoiled myself in a while.

It’s not my first experience with a Conan video game, nor for Fun Com the developer either.  Their MMORPG Age of Conan is still in operation and doing reasonably well.  I played the game for some time when it was pay to play and enjoyed my time with it.

I also purchased a ‘life time account’ for the Fun Com MMORPG The Secret World based upon the first map (or zone) alone.  The story was rich, the detail exceptional and I loved everything about it (I’m also a big Lovecraft fan).  Unfortunately, I found the following zone to be horrible, defaulting back to a bog standard ‘fetch quest’ and dumping the story.

The lesson learnt here was that Fun Com make great games, they just suck as story telling.  Which ironically is why I felt comfortable purchasing Conan Exile, it’s a sandbox survival game with little to no story, so how could they botch it?

Now to be fair before I go any further with my thoughts, it’s important that you know I haven’t played Ark, Rust or any similar PvP survival titles.  I never even jumped on board with Day Z.  I prefer PvE and co-op gameplay to PvP so my background here is with titles like Wurm Unlimited, Life is Feudal, The Forest, Savage Lands and Minecraft.

I enjoy long arduous hours of crafting.  Wurm Unlimited (for me) is close to being the ultimate crafting game.  However, my friends prefer a little more action and aren’t too fussed on spending several hours in real time just to make the perfect plank of wood to help build a wall of your tiny shanty.

Both Savage Lands and The Forest have seen a lot more co-op play between myself and friends with the games having a solid balance between crafting and survival.  If you’ve played either game then you’ll know exactly what I mean.  Having said this, neither are designed for 70 or more players running around the map on dedicated servers, creating clans, raiding or teaming up to defeat powerful enemies.

 

 

As such Conan has a slightly stronger emphasis on crafting than say Savage Lands or The Forest, allowing for more customisation and greater variety.  While something like Savage Lands will allow you to craft entire prefab buildings it doesn’t allow for a great deal of customisation.  On the other end of the scale you have something like Wurm Unlimited or Life is Feudal which requires you to flatten turf, fashion individual planks and painstakingly craft individual pieces of wall and floors.  Conan Exiles doesn’t go to quite the extremes of the latter.  If Savage Lands was 1 and Wurm Unlimited was 10 I’d put Conan Exiles at about a 7 in terms of crafting complexity.

If you aren’t a big fan of crafting then you definitely want to team up with a friend, friends or clan who do so you can focus on gathering or fighting.  You simply won’t get very far without the assistance of all the items, work stations and gear that crafting provides.

Visually the game looks excellent, although I’m not a huge fan of the Unreal 4 engine at this time.  Despite my top of the line hardware I often find Unreal 4 games to be a little sluggish, quite a difference from the lightning quick earlier Unreal engines.  Hopefully performance will improve in time.  I didn’t notice much in the way of complaints in the Steam forums however, with the game apparently running well on more mid range systems as well.

Music is likewise exceptional and thematic with very obvious influences from Basil Poledouris who composed the soundtrack for the original Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer movies.  Voice acting is very limited at this stage, mostly grunts, a few curses and the odd letter or parchment.  I’ve only encountered one non-hostile at this stage who reminded me a bit of M’aiq the Liar of Elder Scrolls fame.

 

 

I’ve been asked by more than one friend about how thematic Conan Exiles is.  While the man himself appears in the opening cinematic promising to meet with you again would it be fair to say that you could just as easily have called the game ‘Exiles’ and not notice any difference? Perhaps.  Character building allows you to select a race and religion based on those in the written works.  As mentioned, the soundtrack is suitable as is the ‘mature’ appearance of the game.  Much like the novels and world that Howard built Conan Exiles features copious amounts of violence, gore and full frontal nudity; be warned Conan Exiles is definitely not a game for younger players.  Later in the game you’ll be able to construct various ‘Wheels of Pain’ as seen in the original Conan movie and enslave Thralls to serve you (Slavery also being a big topic in the original Conan stories).  Sorcery is non-existent at this stage of the game and while it will be introduced later Fun Com have stated that it will be very difficult to acquire and use making it quite rare (again like the novels).  Various weapons in the game are identified as ‘Stygian’ or ‘Cimmerian’ with certain pieces only available (initially) to certain races.

Considering that Conan Exiles is a Sandbox Survival game with little in the way of overarching story, what story and lore is present is definitely enough to give it a feeling of existing in the Hyboria world.  I suppose ‘Hyborian Exiles’ would be a more apt title but ‘Conan’ is far more widely known than ‘Hyboria’ and so from a marketing point of view, if you have the license why not use it?

 

 

If you take a look at the reviews on the Steam page for Conan Exiles you’ll notice it’s mixed.  The majority of the negative reviews are due to network issues.  Currently most of the official servers are filling quickly and suffer from lag and rubber-banding issues.  This can be circumvented (for the most part) by running your own private server or joining one.

I’ve spent close to 50 hours since picking up Conan Exiles and thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.  Fun Com hopes to have the game out of Early Access within twelve months and have already released a half-dozen or so patches since the game became available.  While I’ve enjoyed titles like Savage Lands and The Forest it’s interesting to see how quickly things progress with a much bigger team like Fun Com at the helm.

Here are a few ‘Pro Tips’ that I can share with you if you do end up picking up the game –

  • The current level cap is 50.  Without cheating you wont be able to acquire all of the recipes in the game.  You will however be able to get most.  I would recommend avoiding cosmetics at this stage as they serve no purpose.  Tables, chairs, rugs, flags, mounted heads, pots and the like all take up precious points you could be using on weapons, armour, workstations and building materials.
  • Likewise you’ll stop acquiring points to spend on your abilities (Strength, Vitality, etc.) at level 50.  Some of these are still a tad bugged.  I avoided accuracy for pure melee action but found with 30 Strength I wasn’t killing things much quicker than when I had 15 or 20.  Apparently dumping enormous amounts of points into Agility is a bit of an exploit at the moment (according to Steam forums).
  • While it’s tempting to build a base at the south end of the map where there is plenty of green, water and easy mobs it’s worth pushing further north.  I built a base closer to the center of the map and while still near a river I had easy access to plants, trees, coal, iron, sticks and the like.  The only time I needed to travel was when I ran out of Brimstone or Ichor.
  • I used a stone pick and axe for my entire playtime.  While I had the resources to build iron or steel tools the fact that I could repair stone tools with only a few stone essentially made them infinite at virtually no cost.  Sure it might require me to strike a stone six times instead of four or two but unlike titles like Minecraft at this stage at least in Conan Exiles there wasn’t anything I couldn’t acquire with simple stone tools.
  • If playing online in PvP consider building your base on the top of a cliff. By building stairs up the side and your base at the top you can simply remove the bottom section or two of stairs and prohibit hostiles from entering your base. The game allows enemy players to destroy your structures but not build near them. Make sure you build stairs all around the cliff area as smart enemy players will build on the other side of the mountain and come down from the top.

Presently the only thing holding back more of my friends picking up the game is the $29.99 USD (~$40 AUD) price tag.  However, it’s probably just as well it wasn’t released at ~$15 as the current servers are already under huge load.  Once Fun Com tidy up the servers and network lag I’m sure a weekend sale will see many gamers snapping up this title.

Should you drop $40 AUD and pick it up now?  If you love crafting games and/or have a friend or two who is willing to buy the game as well – definitely.  If you aren’t a huge fan of crafting or are only curious because you’re a fan of Conan perhaps wait for an inevitable sale.  At ~$20 AUD it would be a no-brainer purchase.

Fun Com have plans to introduce a LOT more content over the coming months which I look forward to.

 

 

Being that most of my playtime has been single player and that I’ve reached level 50 my time now will be spent on exploring the map and waiting for further updates.  I’ve already found a rather large hole with an enormous bone dragon inside and a few other caves filled with terrifying nightmares.

Conan Exiles is available now on PC via Steam as an Early Access title and will be also arriving on Playstation 4 and Xbox One sometime in 2018.

 

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