I’ll never forget wandering the plains of Skyrim with my best friend. Each of us would play from our own living rooms separated by sprawling states yet connected through the power of internet and Xbox Live. We talked about our character’s skill tree wish list, random happenings we came across and among other things our own personal lives. It hearkened back to days when we used to play Oblivion side by side on a piecemeal PC while taking turns weaving our heroes’ tales. We were more than satisfied at the time, but just like many other aspiring bards and dragon-slayers, we wondered what our fantasy epic would look like if we could stand side by side in-game? I recoil a bit when drawing a comparison to one of the best games of all time, but that’s the kind of experience Conan: Exiles will inspire in your imagination.
The game opens up with your character left to die crucifixion style as you’ve been sentenced to suffer in the Exiled Lands. The world of Conan is still new to me but it features deserts, tropical islands and towering mountains. There’s also derelict ruins of an ancient civilization strewn about that do a great deal at establishing an actual narrative which is a welcome addition as many survival games lean far too nuanced. More about that later, but fate intervenes and your character is set free for a second chance. What happens next will be completely up to you.
The Exiled lands may not look like much at first but you’ll soon discover that nearly everything can be an asset with the right recipe. Conan: Exiles is mainly a survival game so you can expect crafting to take up much of your time. Start by grabbing a loose branch and some stone to make a pickaxe. Use that as a weapon until your crafting reaches a new level and you’re able to make a sword. Most of this will be familiar to fans of similar games in the genre.
You can choose to play the game by yourself or with other people in PVP and non-PVP servers. These break down even further in classification for role-players and non role-players alike. I wasn’t alone when wanting to play alongside a friend in Skyrim yet Elder Scrolls Online wasn’t quite what folks were looking for when they dreamed up that possibility. I wasn’t able to play with anyone else beyond the few Exiles I saw roaming in the distance but I can’t wait to eventually build up a clan and siege another player’s castle
Conan: Exiles begins impressing as you acquire the necessary items to begin crafting a base. The building system gives the most freedom of any survival game you’d compare it to. First off on the features list is the ability to build practically anywhere. The Exiled Lands is home to some intimidating rocky mountains and cliff sides but in Conan: Exiles these are more opportunities than deterrents. All player creations will share textures depending on what you’re building with but you won’t be limited to only choosing a flat piece of land. Venture deep enough in the Exiled Lands and you’ll find player-made castle structures built directly into mountainsides. I chose to build my villa on an island and some of it even extended onto the water.
After amassing a precursor castle you’ll need to start utilizing other barbarians so that you can continue exploring while they build from base. You’ll raid camps and attempt to knock out Exiled Barbarians. If you manage to avoid killing them you’ll be able to drag them with a rope all the way back to your base and make them your slaves. You can then assign them tasks such as armor crafting and leather working, but first you must subjugate their minds using an item called the Wheel of Pain. Force them to continually push this lever in circles until they lose the will to live and only exist to serve.
Once your captives finally become servants they are called Thralls. The Thrall system extends beyond just passive crafters and becomes important to what may eventually become the meta game in Conan: Exiles. Hidden in far off places such as dungeons or major cities will be rare NPCs with special traits that are basically best in slot for the duties you assign them.
You can tell that Conan: Exiles cares deeply about the story and lore surrounding the game and that appears to be one of the most appealing differences between many other survival simulators. Each item you pick up has a lore entry for you to read and hints at the greater mysteries swirling about in the world. There’s also hidden dungeons that lead to demonic statues whispering the dangers of staying too long and your mind becoming corrupted. There’s even notes left by dead exiles that read like warnings and riddles. This isn’t too surprising as the Conan IP has numerous fiction to draw from in the form of movies, books and graphic novels.
Combat is a huge part of the game, but it lacks the weight and feedback we’ve come to expect from first-person shooters at this time in early access. It’s difficult to gauge when an enemy is too strong to take on, but it’s kind of charming not knowing where the danger lies. Still, it’s rewarding to see your character go from literally just a loincloth to crafting your own armor and weapons. Going forward it’s expected that the combat will feel tight and responsive as the development team has set out to make the best fighting system of any open world survival game. Time will tell and we will look forward to regularly checking back in in the coming months.
Conan: Exiles is still in early access with plans to stay that way for the next year or less. The list of features the development team plans to add to the game is exhaustive and exciting for any fan of the open world survival genre. It’s impossible to say where this game will land, but judging from the community on Twitch and the experiences I’ve had, it’s clear that Conan: Exiles is off to a great start. Grab a friend and conquer the Exiled Lands before they conquer you.