Time Driving My Enemies: 5 Hours
Sponsored By: A Humble Bundle Monthly deal that was so good you could hear the lamentations of the developers.
It’s like Minecraft, but with so much more … genitalia.
I don’t know how many of you know this, but Conan was a series of books before it was a vehicle for an Austrian bodybuilder trying to make his way in Hollywood. The movie does a good job of capturing the feel of the books, which at the time the movie came out was pretty rare.
When Conan Exiles came to early access, I learned about it mainly by watching streamers make fun of how broken it was. It was hilarious, and I put the game on my wishlist based on that. Life being life, I didn’t get around to it until after it released. I’m glad I waited, because the broken hilarity that I saw bears little resemblance to the game I played. Conan Exiles is a very good survival game. Like the movie, it captures the essence of the books without having any story to speak of at all.
It’s just you against a hostile world. Are you strong enough? Smart enough? Barbaric enough?
The game starts with you literally crucified, and literally naked. From here you get to create your character. Without getting too explicit, let’s just say there are sliders for things that are only relevant to one of the things in that previous sentence, but I won’t tell you which one. I made an old, bald man named Cohen, because I’m a huge Terry Pratchett fan, who worships Krom, because I am also a Conan fan. From a gameplay perspective, that might have been a mistake. Of all the gods you can worship in Conan Exiles, Krom offers no benefits at all. The other gods will let you summon behemoths to help you crush your enemies, but not Krom. He just sits there and lets you sort it out for yourself.
Not that it matters much in the early game, anyway. See, this is a survival-crafting game, and idols for worshipping gods take a lot of materials that you simply won’t have for a while. I’m five hours in, and I’m still struggling to get enough stone to build basic crafting stations. This might be because I don’t know what’s important to level up.
… Because it’s also an RPG, so crafting things and killing enemies get you points that you can spend to improve your abilities. It also gets you different points that you can spend to buy crafting recipes, like the ability to make iron tools and armor, which use iron that you won’t be able to find for a while.
As I look back on what I just read, I come to the realization that Conan Exiles is one of those games that sounds absolutely terrible on paper. It sounds like a ghastly, free-to-play monstrosity that still charges you forty bucks to play. It sounds even worse when you factor in the multiplayer, which basically boils down to a massive griefing simulator because other players can just waltz in to murder you and destroy your home.
But if it reads like a perfect storm of bad design decisions, it plays like an M-rated Breath of the Wild. You can climb anything, at the cost of stamina. You can swim anywhere. From your starting point on the – let’s be honest – massive map, you can go anywhere you please. You can also go a lot of places you wouldn’t please because the enemies are too powerful for you.
Weapons have durability, but you can repair broken ones at the cost of less materials than it would cost you to build a new one, which is nice because you have an encumbrance limit and swords are heavy.
If I had to level a proper complaint at the game, it’s the menu interface. Virtually nothing is explained to you. I only figured out how to repair weapons because I accidentally right-clicked on the broken weapon and saw the repair option. The tech tree is deep and complicated, and displayed in the least useful way possible: a giant list. One of the quests I’m trying to complete now is to skin an animal with a metal skinning knife, which I cannot find in the ginormous list of craftable tools. Even using the text search bar they give you doesn’t help, because the name in the crafting list doesn’t match the name the tutorial mission gives it. Conan Exiles is a game to play with a wiki open on a second screen somewhere.
Or you can just blunder around with a stone sword killing alligators for five hours. That worked for me.
Will I keep on pushing that wheel of pain?
Conan Exiles definitely has legs. If you’re the sort of person who liked Minecraft, but wished it had more gore and shouting in it, this is the game for you.
I’d say I’ll see you there, but I’ll be playing offline. Because I am a fan of fun.
Is it the Dark Souls of games with snake-gods in them?
My sample set of survival-crafting RPGs is relatively small. Other than this, I’ve played Minecraft, Don’t Starve and Breath of the Wild. So I can’t tell you if Conan Exiles is harder than Rust or more obtuse than Ark. I can tell you that it’s nowhere near as punishing as Don’t Starve, so I’ll have to go ahead and say no, Conan Exiles is not the Dark Souls of survival crafting games.
It is tougher than Breath of the Wild, though, so you won’t lack for challenge. If I can ever figure out these menus, maybe I’ll revise that statement, but for now it’s kicking my butt just enough to be interesting without becoming frustrating. You can’t really ask more of a game than that.