I spent a good part of my younger years reading every Conan book I could get my hands on, first those written by Robert E Howard, the giant Cimmerians creator, then later ones by a cast of authors who all fancied a crack at Conan’s legacy. What this somewhat convoluted introduction is leading to is the introduction of a new game featuring the enormous barbarian, and it goes by the somewhat descriptive name of Conan Chop Chop.
It’s from the developers Mighty Kingdom, and published by Funcom, those behind the Conan Exiles game. My expectations were high, and lasted about as long as the first introductory cutscene. A realistic, blood and guts depiction of the Conan story this isn’t, but the big question is can it still be fun?
First off, a good point has to go to the developers of Conan Chop Chop, as they have done their homework in regards Conan’s enemies and allies; it is nice to see people that I know from the books, like Belit the pirate and Thoth-Amon the sorcerer popping up, both in playable form and in the cutscenes. The actual graphics look a bit like the people behind the POP! Vinyl range of figurines had decided to make a Conan range; all small, squashed and disturbingly cute. The characters are well represented though, in a hand drawn kind of style, and the good thing about these, admittedly simple, graphics is that the speed they move around the screen can be fast indeed.
Sound is as you’d expect, with fully voiced cutscenes adding to the atmosphere, and a series of grunts and meaty sounding sword impacts making up the rest of the soundtrack. All in all, the presentation of Conan Chop Chop is pretty good, even if it isn’t what I originally hoped for.
But how does it play? Well, to quote Funcom, Conan Chop Chop is “a party roguelite for 1-4 players full of mayhem, loot and adventure”. As we all know, what roguelite means is that if you die, you have to start a fresh run from the beginning. In a weird touch, though, the only time that you ever actually level up and get points to spend in each characters skill tree is after you die, so in order to make progress, you really do have to fail. I’m used to this mechanic, still being irretrievably hooked on Elden Ring (seriously, send help, I’m on NG++ and I still can’t stop playing), so it isn’t too much of a hardship. Of course, dying in Conan Chop Chop is easy, as it’s very difficult alone, and even with friends it is still a stiff challenge.
Each run is different, with the levels that lead up to the dungeon where the boss lives, and the dungeons themselves being procedurally generated; you won’t play the same layout twice. So, the exploring part is certainly there, and as you go on, you’ll notice that the mini map in the bottom right has differently coloured doors on it. If they are yellow, it means that there is loot in the next room, but it doesn’t head towards the boss, while a white door shows you the way to the dungeon and the level’s boss. It is worth your while exploring and clearing rooms out, as new loot can lie anywhere, and armour and weapons of higher quality than the stuff you are wielding can make all the difference. Armour in particular gives you extra hearts of health, which will certainly come in handy!
The characters you can choose from are a varied lot, with different abilities to unlock and utilise. There is Conan, as you’d expect, and I mentioned Belit earlier, but there is also Valeria, a female warrior, and Pallentides, with a nice line in Roman style helmets. They all control and play much the same, except for their ultimate attack, which when charged can make all the difference. Belit, for instance, has a rain of arrows, and saving this up for the boss level is highly recommended. It’s a shame the bosses don’t stay still very long, really!
Of course, with a game like this, what makes it live and breathe is the combat, and here the story is mixed. The actual fighting included in Conan Chop Chop is dealt with on a twin stick approach, with the left stick running your chosen hero around whilst the right stick aims either melee attacks or a bow and arrow shot. There is a dodge action, a block action, and if you can track what is going on on the screen well enough, you can even parry attacks – doing that outside of the tutorial is a task though as once you get into the game proper, things are a bit frantic with enemies and projectiles flying everywhere. The actual combat lacks feel though and there is a lack of sensation of applying a bit of pointy metal to a monster. Equally there is no real sensation of danger when you are being hit – it’s hard to tell when you are dying until the screen starts flashing red.
Another issue with the multiplayer action is that it’s tricky to tell which character is which, with the only real differences being a bit of colour under their feet. With how busy the screen gets, it’s very difficult to keep track of. The number of times I thought I was Conan while playing as Belit, for instance, beggars belief, and it can’t all be down to my stupidity…
So, a conclusion is traditional at this point in a review, and here is mine. Conan Chop Chop comes alive in multiplayer whilst the single player feels like a bit of a slog; almost too hard for its own good. The levels are clever, the bosses are very tough, and so if you have a group of like-minded friends, Conan Chop Chop should be a recommend. For solo gamers, have you thought about Elden Ring?
Conan Chop Chop is over on the Xbox Store
- No two runs are the same
- Combat is fast, furious and challenging
- New gear is always fun to find and argue over
- Single player is a slog
- Combat is a little numb
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Funcom
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch
- Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 1 Mar 2022
- Launch price from - £16.99