When I played Conan Exiles in the Xbox One Game Preview program in September last year, I mentioned that while it had a lot of potential, it was also a mess, lacking functionality and a clear direction of what to do and how to do it. Now that it’s been released as a full-fledged title, I decided to return to the game to discover whether it’s now worth picking up, and whether the issues that I had with it previously had been resolved.
From first opening the game, it’s clear to see that this is a definite upgrade on what I’d experienced last time around. There’s more of an attempt to insert a story into Conan Exiles, which gives you a reason to progress through the world, and context regarding what you’re seeing as you explore. This is conveyed through giant stone monoliths that fill you in the world’s backstory, and a pair of spectral beings that you can follow in certain locations, who often lead you to their journal that relays their previous travels through the lands that you’re currently in. In terms of character progression, you’re now also given your own Journey, which is broken down into chapters, and acts as both a brief tutorial and a series of hints of how to proceed through the game.
These tasks start of relatively simply, such as blocking an attack, or cooking food, and gradually get more complex, requiring you to equip certain armor (which needs to be crafted) or scout enemy camps. They essentially serve as prompts to encourage you to venture out of your comfort zone, and usually teach you a thing or two about the game as you do so. They also award you with experience, which allows you to level up your character in two different ways. The first is typical to many RPGs, where you assign points to certain categories such as strength or vitality, but the second is a little more interesting. Similar to tech trees from the RTS genre, you’re also given points to unlock various crafting options, which allow you to focus on things such as survival, building or combat. Aside from the early options, most unlockables have at least one prerequisite, meaning that you have to do a little bit of planning before you can unlock the particular skill that you need.
Unfortunately, the crafting system is still fairly clunky, and it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for, especially the first time around. This can be coupled with the lack of description surrounding the tasks that you’re given, leaving you to feel like you’re fumbling around the menus in an attempt to discover if what you’re trying to do is even possible. I lost count of the amount of times that I had to Google a question that I had regarding Conan Exiles, just to make sure that I wasn’t barking up the wrong tree, or even to be sure that the tree that I was barking up actually existed. Still, once you get past this initial frustration, the building system is rewarding, and I felt a constant sense of pride each time I returned to the home that I built myself.
Similarly, Conan Exiles does a great job of making your home feel like a genuine place of sanctuary, and I often breathed a sigh of relief when I returned from a particularly arduous journey and realized that I was safe again. This is coupled with the crafting and leveling up systems offering a strong sense of progression, and I was constantly looking for things to add to my home to make it better and more inviting. One of Conan Exiles’ strong points is the fact that you always feel like you have a project, and something to work towards. Even if you’re not always entirely sure what you need to do to get there, there’s always a particular resource that you’re looking for, one particular item that you’re looking to build, or a certain enemy that you need to find and kill. I can look back on my early time with Conan Exiles and see a measured improvement in both my skills and my landholdings, from my early one-room hut where the roof pieces didn’t quite fit together properly, to my current multileveled mansion with an almost industrial-like complex surrounding it.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see that Conan Exiles has largely matched the hopes that I had for it when I played it in Game Preview. Then, I was never sure if my tools would actually make contact with what I was aiming them at, and at times it was impossible to even switch from one tool to the next. Now, this game runs like a completely different product. There are some frame-drops that are definitely noticeable, but not game-breaking, and it still feels like the game is deliberately obtuse when it comes to explaining some of its mechanics. Despite that, though, this is a game that I can easily lose hours at a time to, (which is dangerous when you’re an adult with a job and responsibilities!) and is one of those rare titles that I know that I’m going to return to after the review is handed in.
I already have a plan set out for my next few hours with Conan Exiles. There’s a cave I need to finish exploring on the edge of my property, a piece of armor that I need to craft, and then there’s this weird outcropping just on the edge of the horizon that looks intriguing. Before that, though, I need to gather supplies to make sure that I survive all of these adventures, and I honestly can’t wait. This is a game that surprised me by how much it’s improved in a relatively short space of time, and if you’re looking for a survival simulation, or even (if you put it on easy) a mining/crafting/building experience, then you could do a lot worse than check out Conan Exiles.