“Conan Exiles” is one of the few survival games to actually exit early access and see a full retail release. Can this fantasy take on the once popular genre make a splash at retail?
Despite the Conan universe having a rich lore, which has been explored in various books, comics and movies for decades, Exiles feels like it fails completely to make the most of the setting. Sure, you meet Conan at the start of your journey, but there’s precious little backstory or even scene setting to describe why you and dozens of other naked people are being crucified in the middle of a desert.
And, like most other genre games, Exiles then pretty much leaves you to it, with no further story, despite the fact the game features a number of chapters and quests called ‘the journey.’
I got off to a rather unfortunate start with Exiles. My first character wasn’t saved by the server upon logout (so about 30 minutes wasted), and my second resulted in a hard crash back to the dashboard just as I clicked ‘done’. Thankfully, these early issues seemed to be the worst of the bugs and glitches that I found along my journey in Hyboria.
Like many survival games, Exiles throws you in at the deep end. Creating a character won’t take you very long (just about the only option which makes a significant difference to your initial appearance is the slider which selects your chest or wang size). Like all of the competition, you’ll then need to think about hunger and thirst pretty quickly, although Exiles is pretty forgiving compared to the most hardcore games in the genre, with little need to sleep, and no need to worry too much about heat or cold. So, you’ll probably die on finding your way along to the first main area of the game, a little oasis which has plenty of crafting materials, an infinite supply of water, and enough insects and seeds to keep you scraping by until you can craft a weapon to kill creatures with and have enough materials to build a campfire to cook them on.
Exiles could certainly tutorialise all of this much, much better though. Even the online manual is absolutely appalling at telling you how to get on. And whilst the controls map to a console controller pretty well, it certainly wasn’t always obvious what buttons you needed to press to get the right menus up, and it was very obtuse that your first building would also need foundations, which led to plenty of frustration.
Once you get into the swing of things though, Exiles does a pretty good job of slowly building and levelling you up through a series of activities and incentives. Levelling will then allow you to improve your stats and buy additional crafting materials. This all worked very, very smoothly, until I hit about level 15 or so, at which point I had far more points available to spend on new recipes than were unlocked for me, which I found a little bit bizarre.
Like the majority of survival games, the map in Exiles is absolutely huge, and the potential to build your own settlement is just as great. Whilst I tired of the grind after a couple dozen hours, you could easily put hundreds into Exiles and feel like it was a worthwhile investment of time, because the game does have a good feedback loop, and is pretty good at giving small rewards and upgrades frequently to the player.
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