Survival games have been steadily gaining popularity since Minecraft first took the world by storm. These days if you’re on the PC, they’re a dime a dozen, but the consoles don’t have quite as many options. I’ve sampled most of them, and none of them quite resonated with me.
Sometimes it was just too glitchy, and other times there wasn’t enough to keep me engaged. Now, Conan Exiles is here to offer its own flavor of open-world survival. Is this the one game to rule them all, or will this one crash and burn? Read on to find out!
A World Brimming With Opportunity
Like any good survival game, Conan is awash with potential when you take your first steps into its brutal, beautiful, and oftentimes terrifying world. The game has more story than I’ve seen from most other games in the genre, which was a pleasant surprise for me. I find that story is a powerful motivator, especially in the early hours.
You play as a criminal exiled to this harsh region of the world for crimes that are randomized when you make your character. These range from standard crimes, to outrageous and downright hilarious acts of debauchery that had me cracking up when I tried making different characters.
During the opening moments of character creation, you are crucified on a wooden cross, left out in the desert to rot. Upon finishing your customization, the titular Conan himself arrives to cut you down and give you a new lease on life.
One element of character creation involves choosing which god you worship. There are some excellent choices here that add a lot of flavor to the game’s universe. An essentially agnostic option is available too, but I chose the Lovecraftian god that demands cannibalistic sacrifices. I was very happy that this was an option.
After this, you are thrown into the world to begin your journey. The game offers some basic tutorials, but it by no means holds your hand through these opening hours. There are tasks you can complete that act like objectives. They range from things like building a shelter, to harvesting your first meat.
While not a perfect means of teaching new players, these tasks do offer some structure to get you on your feet and they continue long into the game. Additional story tidbits and lore are found when you come across notes or journal pages in the game’s world.
From a story and worldbuilding perspective, Conan Exiles offers a lot more than you average survival game. While I would have loved a traditional story to follow, the efforts to flesh out the world’s lore and backstory are admirable and very welcome in a genre where this isn’t typically a priority.
Your goals in the game are in line with other survival-oriented experiences. You need to keep your hunger and thirst in check, build shelter, expand, and explore the game’s world to continue upgrading and enhancing both your fortress and your armor, weapons, and character level.
You can play online if you so choose and exist on a server with other players who can raid your base during specific hours. This style of multiplayer offers a lot of risk and reward gameplay. If your base isn’t up to snuff, you could find yourself robbed and starting from scratch next time you log on.
Separate PVP-Conflict servers offer a less harsh experience that removes the potential for your base to be destroyed. Instead, it’s a largely PVE experience with set hours for PVP. This is a really nice balance for people who want the aspects of PVP, but not the risk of losing their base, as that’s not possible in this type of server.
Finally, there’s the option to simply play alone or in co-op with friends on your own server. This is how I spent the majority of my time with the game. A colleague of mine and I set out to conquer the game’s world on our own and stake our claim.
The pieces are all there, and the option for PVP-Conflict servers is a welcome addition to the genre. Let’s find out if the gameplay is up to par as well.
Trial by Fire
Conan Exiles offers both first-person and third-person gameplay. In the beginning, you’ll harvest stones, branches, plant fiber, and the basic tenants of any survival experience. Water sources are plentiful and offer you a quick chance to refill your thirst.
You’ll also need to monitor your hunger and temperature accordingly. Harvest plants often yield bugs you can eat for small amounts of nourishment in the beginning. Once you have tools like a pickaxe and a standard ax, you can start cutting down trees, breaking up rocks, and harvesting your kills.
You’ll come across both human enemies and a variety of creatures in your journey. Weapons come in several different forms ranging from swords and shield combos to dual daggers which were my favorite for their bleed effect.
Upon killing an enemy, human or otherwise, you can equip your ax to cut them up and harvest the resources they have on them. Meat, hide, bone, and these sort of things will be your usual haul.
Even human meat can be consumed, provided you cook it first or obtain a perk to eat it raw without food poisoning. Meat will go bad if it’s not cooked, so having a fire handy is smart. One thing that I did struggle within these early hours, was a lack of explanation for certain things.
For example, when you place your meat and wood into a fire, you need to press the L2 button to start cooking. This isn’t represented anywhere on your UI, which left me to Google the answer. The same goes for breaking walls you constructed. You need to look at it and hold square to open the radial menu and then select “demolish.” Nowhere in the game could I find this information.
It’s a nitpick, and you can solve the problem by looking up one of the numerous beginner’s videos online, but I am a believer in putting the tool you need to succeed within the game, not relying on content creators to inform people about the nuances.
Growing pains aside, let’s talk about the combat. Where most survival games have simple and relatively dull combat, Conan Exiles takes things a step further by offering light and heavy combos, dodge rolls, and special moves based on the weapon type.
Where a sword and shield would offer a block mechanic, the dual daggers lets you do a backflip to put space between you and the enemy. It’s not the smoothest combat I’ve ever seen, and it can certainly get clunky when the frame rate stutters, but it’s a stronger effort than many others in the genre.
As you level up, you’ll have the opportunity to put points into several skills that eventually yield major abilities as you invest in them. Knowledge points will also accumulate, which you can spend on learning new recipes.
Beyond the survival and combat, you’ll find that the crafting and construction in Conan Exiles is a much easier experience than most. You won’t be slowed while crafting, and you can queue up items while you’re running around.
Placement and construction feel great and works really well. I’ve seen some truly inspiring creations and fortresses. The option to place traps and defenses for PVP is also here with a lot of choices at your disposal.
Tools like furnaces, tanneries, and artesian tables allow you to perform advanced crafting and build epic decorations to make your base feel like home. You can even build torture devices called Wheels of Pain and use them to break the spirits of NPCs you capture and force them to work for you and defend your base.
Even if you’re playing PVE or alone, you’ll also need to worry about The Purge, which is an attack from the local creatures that can come as little or often as you like, based on your server settings. With this, even PVE players can enjoy the thrill of defending your base from an oncoming threat.
Depending on your chosen religion, you can eventually summon an avatar of your god to fight for you. These are massive giants that can turn the tide of any battle, but they are very difficult to summon and they only last for a minute.
As you can see, Conan Exiles combines a lot of really impressive mechanics into a strong survival foundation. You’ll even continue to find more opportunities as you explore the world and its various biomes, all of which offer unique scenery.
Dungeons represent an excellent goal for PVE players who want the best loot, so there’s a lot to keep you motivated in this experience. With all of this available at launch, I’m eager to see what else the developers will add to this already impressive experience.
A Promising Future For The Genre
Conan Exiles launched in a relatively polished state for this type of game. After years in early access, it came to the PS4 in a stable state. The frame rate can stutter more often than I would like, but the overall gameplay is pretty smooth.
The use of a radial wheel for the inventory is smart on a console and works very well here. The User Interface does tend to feel like it was pulled from PC, so I had to sit really close to read all the text. You should take this into account based on your setup and how far you sit from your TV because it can be quite tiny to see some of the words in the menus.
The graphics and art style are some of the best I’ve seen in this genre. You have the desert area with ancient statues, crumbling structures, and beautiful oases scattered throughout. To the north, you have an icy biome, and you’ll find both a swamp and a lava area in the massive map as well.
Little details like the way bushes fall apart when you harvest them, or the way rocks crumble when you mine them really go a long way towards selling the survival feel. I also love the casual toss you do when equipping a tool.
Conan Exiles is by far the best survival game I’ve played on the PS4. It has some rough edges, a lack of guidance for new players, and inconsistent performance. Despite these things, the sheer selection of mechanics and opportunities to make your mark on the world are nothing short of amazing.
If you’ve exhausted the other options and you want something new to take up a hundred plus hours of your time, Conan Exiles is here to fill that gap.
Final Score: 8.5/10
A copy of Conan Exiles was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 5/25/18