Barbarian Homemaker Simulator 2018
There is a lot that you can do in Conan Exiles. Fancy building up an army? All you need to do is start capturing thralls. Feel like exploring? There are plenty of unique locations just waiting to be discovered. Interested in living like Conan himself? You’re free to scour the lands, viciously cutting down any and all who stand in your way. Regardless of what piques your interest, the world is yours for the taking! There are plenty of ways to live out your life within like this game like a total badass. And then, of course, there’s me — the barbarian-turned-homemaker.
I’m not even sure what drove me to focus on building houses (single houses, mind you, not kingdoms) in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun fighting monsters, raiding villages, and conquering the very earth upon which I walked and everything. Making houses just ended up feeling more rewarding in the end, though. And it’s not even like I was that good at it. They all ended up kind of looking the same, really. But that didn’t matter to me because I was still having fun. And that’s precisely what makes this game so enjoyable — the freedom to do as you please.
Death and Rebirth
The story of Conan Exiles is, overall, very vague. The game begins with you who — after reasons which are left up to player speculation — find yourself crucified and left to die in the middle of a desert. Before you completely wither away however, you are discovered and summarily rescued by none other than Conan himself. After saving you from your brush with death, Conan warns you that the bracelet which you were you have been forced to wear prevents you from leaving the realm in which you’re currently in, suggests that you find a way to keep on living, and leaves.
Although the initial cutscene is almost the entirety of the story, Conan Exiles does pad its narrative out a little bit with lore. As you wander the Exiled Lands, you’ll come across old journals, mysterious relics, and, every once in a while, even other creatures (human or otherwise) who are capable of shedding some light on your situation. Aside from that, your story is exactly that — your own. And with a game like Conan Exiles, that’s the way that it should be. Survival games are all about having a unique and immersive experience, and nothing kills a player-crafted narrative like a heaping helping of unchangeable story-related content. A small, steady, drip feed of lore isn’t the way to go in many games, but it fits perfectly in the survival genre, and thus within Conan Exiles as well.
Levels of Exploration
Exploration, not surprisingly, is a major part of Conan Exiles. The Exiled Lands, though treacherous and terrifying they may be, offers plenty of unique places to explore, and, if you really wanted to, you could explore everything right away. I can tell you right now, however, that that probably won’t go well for you. Unless you cheat and turn on God Mode or something. Despite its open-world approach, Exiles actually has some structure to it. Structure which it doesn’t even outright tell you about. Although most certainly a survival game at heart, Exiles actually has quite a few RPG elements thrown into the mix. Gaining EXP and leveling up are paramount trying to surviving — something which, you know, is pretty important in the survival game genre. And if you’re not constantly becoming stronger, then you’re not going to get anywhere easily (nothing’s completely impossible, however).
Fortunately, Exiles is generous when it comes to you becoming a bigger, badder barbarian. Nearly everything you do — from slaying dragons to picking up rocks — nets you EXP. Naturally, certain actions are going to get you more EXP, but there’s more than enough wiggle room to ensure that you can still level up without having to sacrifice your favorite activities. Leveling up, in turn, nets you attribute points — which can be used to level up stats like Strength, Vitality, and Grit, and will allow you to gain special perks in the process — and feat points — which can be used to unlock new crafting recipes. Feats and, most especially, attributes are vital to survival, but it’s important to keep in mind that the point pools for both are incredibly limited. In fact, even at max level, you can only max out one attribute (getting all of the feats you want is much easier). And it’s not too hard to reset your stats if you realize that your build just isn’t working out, either.
I’d also like applaud Conan Exiles for being as accessible as it is. While I’m a sucker for small-party co-op games (like those in the Monster Hunter franchise), I’m generally not too keen on open-world multiplayer settings. Especially when they’re geared toward PvP. Because of that, it’s probably not surprising that I spent most of my time taking on the Exiled Lands alone. I’ll admit that I was nervous at first about how balanced it would be — after all, this game is basically a mini-MMO — but I’m happy to admit that everything turned out really well. Sure, I was more prone to dying on my own than I would have been had I joined a clan, but I didn’t feel restricted by a lack of party members. In fact, it was the opposite. Having to ensure responsibility for my own survival ended up heightening my sense of immersion, and made my victories that much more exciting and fulfilling.
Paving Your Own Path
Mercilessly killing any and all who stand in your path is cool and everything, but do you know what’s really fun? Carpentry. Seriously, though. My weird obsession with building the hellscape that is the Exiled Lands with an abundance of quaint little homes aside, the freedom to create Conan Exiles gives to its players is incredibly impressive. So long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort to collect the proper resources (or just cheat and spawn everything, if that’s what floats your boat), if you can dream it then you can build it. Not only can you essentially build whatever you’d like — from a tiny one-room house to a kingdom that takes up a quarter of the map (probably) — thanks to the vast number of customizable building and accent pieces, but you can also do it wherever you’d like. Unstable terrain not withstanding, the world is literally your carpentry oyster. Why build a kingdom on the ground when you can build one on the side of a cliff? Or amongst the trees? Or on top of a volcano? Sure, ideas as grandiose as that take some time, but they are do-able — and fun, to boot!
Conan Exiles also makes use of a unique “thrall system” which, although not directly related to building, certainly has an impact on it. You see, in this game you can amass an army. Literally. You can have dozens upon dozens of thrall at your beck and call, eager to do whatever is commanded of them. …Only, they won’t join willingly. Instead, you need to force them by beating them to the point of unconsciousness, dragging them to a makeshift device called the “Wheel of Pain”, and waiting as they slowly lose their minds from the endless torture which they’re enduring. After that, they’re all yours! Yay! It’s as easy as that to gain thralls. If all of that sounds pretty immoral, well, it is. But hey, that’s the Conan universe for you.
So, what do you do with your thralls after you’ve thoroughly stripped them of their humanity? Well, that depends. Each thrall has their own specialty (which is viewable even before you capture them), which in turn denotes what they’re good at and dictates where they need to be placed. Blacksmiths need to be placed at a blacksmith’s bench, alchemists at a cauldron, and so on. Although they aren’t entirely essential for smaller bases of operations, thralls essentially end up being the oil which helps keep the metaphorical machines that are larger castles running smoothly (especially in PvP servers). By making use of thralls, you can ensure that you have a constant, steady supply of materials, and can ensure that your home won’t be completely destroyed by invaders. Well, maybe not “ensure”, but it’s way better than leaving things unattended. Just keep in mind that they can die quickly if not utilized properly, and breaking thralls takes several (real-time) hours, so don’t go taking them for granted.
Rough Around the Edges
I feel like I should wrap things up by touching upon the few parts of the game that I found wanting. For the most part, my complaints have to do with the technical hiccups I came across which, although hardly rampant or game-breaking, are still visible enough that they put the occasional damper on my experience. First and foremost, there’s an issue with frame rate. Before playing Conan Exiles, I had never seen a PlayStation 4 game lag (and this was offline, mind you). Now I have, thanks to Conan Exiles. Nearly every time I initiated combat with an enemy, the game would become choppy. Typically, the choppiness would occur right as the enemy was about to attack me, making dodging and defending more difficult. Generally, the game would correct itself after the first frame rate drop, but combat is something which happens all the time in this game — that adds up to a lot of stuttering.
Spawning also seemed to be a re-occurring issue, both for other creatures and myself. Now, I’m not going to blow things out of proportions here. Typically, things did spawn where they were supposed to. The issue seemed to be confined more to certain areas as opposed to the whole game itself. Take Scuttler’s Shortcut for example. Upon reaching the very back, I was met with an empty arena. After waiting a few moments for something to spawn (nothing did), I assumed that it, for some reason or another, was empty, and walked to the very center of it — only for the spider boss to spawn on top of me, literally trapping me inside of it momentarily. Needless to say it killed me very quickly, and it was a nightmare trying to get everything back from my own dead body afterward. Similarly, my own character started spawning in inappropriately after a while (although I’m not sure what caused it). Rather than spawning beside my bed in my main house, my character would instead spawn inside of the wall — killing me in one case, and later on not letting me move until I destroyed that corner of my house. Like I’ve already said, none of this stuff is game-breaking. But it sure shouldn’t be happening in a game which has now been “officially released”.
A Bright and Bloody Future
Despite still being a bit of a work in progress, Conan Exiles still manages to stand out in the survival genre thanks to its vast and exciting world, unique thrall mechanics, and vast role-playing potential. Regardless of what it is exactly you’re looking for in an open-world survival game — either single or multiplayer — there’s a very good chance that you’ll find it with a power fantasy of a game like this one. Unless you’re looking for something peaceful. That might not work out so well.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Funcom ; Developer: Funcom ; Players: 1 (Offline), 1 – 70 (Online) ; Released: May 8, 2018 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PS4 review copy of Conan Exiles given to HeyPoorPlayer by the developer.