My first experience of Conan the Barbarian was as a teenager watching a copy of the film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I remember there were a lot of freeze-frame moments because of the use of nudity and gory fight scenes on offer. But it was in the 1930s when the Conan story started, created for a magazine called Weird Tales. Over the coming years, it has spawned films, TV series, comics, books, and games. The world in itself is huge and Conan Exiles hopes to live up to the size of that ambition with a full fresh release. But does Exiles allow Conan to achieve its full potential?
So before you begin this survival RPG, you have a number of choices to make. Do you play alone in single player, across co-op with a friend, via PvE or PvP? A quick answer to this is to try and play with others, because that is where the great narratives and journeys happen, moving on from finding yourself crucified in the desert wastes, naked and left for dead. Like all good RPGs your race, voice, and eyebrows can be set, before we have a rare meeting with the big man himself, Conan, as he sets you free from the cross… and then you’re on your own.
Conan Exiles can mostly be compared to ARK: Survival Evolved in that there is this huge world to explore, and for me, it doesn’t get going until you are a good few hours in. To begin, you’ll need to be prepared to die a lot, as surviving is what your main focus should be all about, and to help you out in that matter there is a kind of journal, rather than a tutorial that sort of guides you on what to do first. The main thing though is to find water, then to start crafting items and weapons, and very quickly, to get some accommodation.
If you like to use your imagination and craft, then you’re going to love Conan Exiles. It’s an essential part of the gameplay and will reward you with safe housing, useful items and attacking options. You will spend your early hours playing around with gathering a plentiful amount of supplies; stone, plants, and wood will be your go-to options. But it can get very complex and you will find yourself needing to build multiple things just in order to build other multiple things. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll be in crafting heaven.
Building encampments and buildings can deliver a creative freedom that many will love, creating somewhere they can call their own, before filling it with fixtures and fittings, as well as great defenses if you are worried about PvP attacks. The possibilities seem endless and you easily can sink many an hour into the tiniest of details.
Should you need to ignore all that and head on out for a fight, then the combat is okay and it seems to work well enough, but it just doesn’t have that heft or skill that a normal RPG might employ. That said though, it seems perfectly adequate for a game in this genre, whereby it’s not a highlight of the gameplay as a whole, however the “thrall system” – which makes those you defeat become your personal army of warriors – proves vital later on when you get round to attacking armies or big boss creatures.
The highlight though is in the world itself, which is absolutely huge and beautiful. There is plenty to explore and do, with encounters and little features dotted in around its deserts, woodland, ruined cities and more. The story – and there is a big one – is found in bits of discovered lore and NPCs delivering a detailed narrative to the world you are walking about in. It’s a massive game but it puts its hooks into you, never letting go and you’ll constantly want to head back in to discover further details along the way.
Like most of the titles that hit Xbox Game Preview, Conan Exiles initially came with some visual issues, but thankfully most of these have been ironed out for the full release, with the game now looking great whilst running on Xbox One X, really impressing with the environmental landscapes and textures. The characters are good too, as is both the lighting and shading. There is the odd stutter here and there mind, but nothing too bad that will ever see you wanting to quit your adventure early. The soundtrack is as epic and stirring as you expect, which works well with the swords and sorcery setting.
I have to admit that this isn’t usually the type of game that would be my cup of tea, but it has kept me wanting to go back to it and I feel the journey I am currently on is one that will continue in the future. There is loads to do and even more to explore and Conan Exiles rewards you with the amount of effort you put in. There are great options available for those wishing to play online, or via co-op with friends, and it is certainly well worth the money for the number of things you can get up to. Yes, the crafting does get overcomplicated, the first few hours are a real slog and there are some visual stutters, however, if you loved ARK: Survival Evolved and other games of this ilk, then this is a must buy title for you to experience.
But be prepared because this is a life drainer of a game should you wish to immerse yourself in the lengthy tales found in the marvellous world of Conan Exiles.