I originally heard about Conan Exiles about a year ago when I saw a few popular YouTube channels playing the game, well I say playing, it was more like obsessed with the size of their mates manly ‘tool’. Since then I hadn’t heard much about the game as I game on the PS4 and we weren’t given any kind of preview or Early Access. Fast forward to May 2018 and I knew I had to try this game out to see if I had as much fun as they all appeared to have. Surprisingly, I had a lot more fun than I thought I would, as I don’t like ARK and tend to not bother with multiplayer focused survival games. With that being the case, what changed my mind?
The game begins just like any family-friendly game would, you customise your character and the get to see them pinned upon a cross in the middle of a desert stark naked. Now, one thing to be aware of here, if you are playing the EU version of the game then you have the choice to be fully naked or if you want your delicates to remain covered, in America I believe you can’t get into your birthday suit (I know this is true on Xbox but I’ve heard it’s the case on the PS4 as well). Now I know what you’re thinking – The game is called Conan, so if you create your own character and choose a name and a sex then surely you aren’t Conan. That right. Conan is actually the one who cuts you down from the cross and sets you free.
So it appears Conan isn’t as bad as people make out! Although, he does just leave you there, as naked as you chose to be, in the middle of the desert with no food, water, or means to defend yourself from the local monsters. And thus begins your quest, the quest to get dressed! That’s right, you progress through the game one step at a time, well eight steps if you’re being picky, as you are given a set of ‘chapter’ goals which you must compete with the first set being things like getting dressed, eat food, make a bed and sleep in it etc…
As you work through the game, using these ‘chapter points’ as a push on what to do next, you will get to explore a massive map, attack many different foes, build things, die, find secret areas, die, learn about the Conan lore, die, and possibly die. Also, if you’re a little childish, like me, then the amazing physics on the male baby maker will almost hypnotise you. I believe they have spent many hours getting the physics just right as it sways in the wind, flops as you jump and even slaps about as you get hit – it’s quite majestic…
The core gameplay mechanics will be second nature to anyone who is familiar with survival games such as ARK, RUST or The Forest. However, to people like myself, who never play those types of games, it can be a bit daunting at first. Even though you have your loose objectives to work towards, there is an apparent lack of tutorials, hand holding, or help in general. You’ll get a message like “make a bed and sleep in it” and that’s it – no hints on how to use the crafting menu or how to mine for materials. After a while though, you do get used to what you need to do and it isn’t that complicated once you get the hang of it. It’s just a little intimidating and overwhelming at first.
The first hour or two will basically consist of your fumbling around the desert, starting fights with people who are clearly much stronger than yourself, getting killed, figuring out how to make clothes and tools, then beating everyone to death with a pickaxe. The key thing you’ll need to know is to hold down square as you walk and you will suck up any item you walk over (as it isn’t clear what you actually can pick up) and any tools you make are in a radial menu you get by holding L1. these two things took me a while to figure out and are probably the most helpful things in the game!
Another thing you’ll soon learn is, just like in Metal Gear Survive, you can eat raw meat for a small health increase, but you run the risk of getting food poisoning if you do it too often so you must build a stove and cook your food. I died numerous times due to eating raw meat. My Conan 2.0 must hate me as I killed him off so many times in the first few hours. My first death was climbing to the top of a massive mountain and then jumping off as I wanted to see if his ‘thing’ floated as he descended down – it did and he died in the process. but I got my answer!
Speaking of climbing (ignore the dying part), just like Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you can climb anything as long as you have stamina. Simply run up to a vertical, or almost vertical, structure and hold down the jump button. You will climb in a rather awkwardly animated fashion, which can sometimes graphically glitch out, and you won’t let go of the wall until you get tired. You’re basically Spider-Man but without his web swinging ability. I love this mechanic as it lets you go anywhere you want and either perch on a ledge or jump off to your heart’s content!
Overall though, the lack of any tutorials opens the game up for experimentation and it lets you generally just mess about and try out different things. Do I feel it should have explained the core mechanics a bit better? Sure. Do I feel it should have placed a waypoint and kept telling me what my next objective is? Hell no! When you work those things out for yourself it’s very rewarding and it feels like you have accomplished something, rather than just doing what the game is telling you to do. When you’re 8-10 hours into the game and you have a place you can call ‘home’ which you have built with your bare hands and furnished with the local trees you cut down – you know that it was all on you, and not the game telling you what and how to do it.
That’s only the beginning of the game as well! Sure, it’s main focus is on survival – finding food, making clothes, fending off enemies, and drinking water – but there is an actual story which gets quite deep the more you play it. You will even travel through a portal at one point into another realm in order to face some pretty fierce monsters. Think of this as Minecraft, but with realistic graphics and giant dongs.
The game constantly pushes you to get out there and explore – sure, you may have a nice base all set up where you can be safe from everything as you lock yourself inside, but if you want that new sword or a shiny piece of armour then you will have to head out and find some iron or harvest some hide from a creature. I found that each day I would go out and venture further as I explored my surroundings and returned to my base with new things to work with.
The most exciting thing though is that all of the above can be played on your own or in online multiplayer with your friends. The server options are really detailed as it seems the full ‘Admin Panel’ from PC has been ported across in order to give the hosts full control over everything. You can enable god mode and infinity stamina if you just want you and your mates to run around like gods as you beat everyone up, you can disable friendly-fire, so you can’t hurt each other, and you can even spawn in literally any creature, boss, or item at will. that’s right, you can tweak, change and even spawn in anything you want in order to make this the ultimate sandbox game for you and your friends.
The servers are all dedicated as well, basically the hosts PS4 becomes the server, which means any progress made can be saved and re-loaded later on when you wish to dive back in and carry on, with or without your mates. One big thing that comes from having access to the Admin Panel though is the fact you can use it to abuse the trophies. That’s right, the developers never disabled the trophies if you play with the admin panel – this means that with one other friend, it’s possible to get the platinum in Conan Exiles within 35-40 minutes from first boot to platinum.
As well as the friend co-op play, there is also a load of servers set up by the developers. These are both PvP and PvE servers. In the PvP ones you are allowed to kill the other players, except when they are within their houses, and in PvE you can’t hurt each other but you can all attack the various creatures who roam the land. I Jumped into a PvP server today and the majority of them are full, so there is still a very active community playing the game and enjoying it. You also can’t cheat on these official servers with the admin panel.
Graphically, I thought the game looked pretty decent. Sure, some of the animations are a little off and the physics aren’t exactly perfect, but you don’t really expect them to be in a massive online multiplayer game like this. As such, I would say it looks decent and plays decently as well. Which is another thing a few of my mates have mentioned? They have said that their versions on the PS4 were a little jerky at times. On my Pro I had no issues in Single player but in Multiplayer I did see a few skips here and there but that could be down to my internet connection the servers ping or the number of people in the server.
When comparing this game to something like ARK, you can see the difference immediately. This game appears to be more polished, has fewer bugs, runs a lot smoother, has a decent campaign, and has a host of options which ARK doesn’t. This is most likely why I found getting into this game was a lot easier than trying to get into ARK when I tried that one last year.