"Perhaps It Is Crueler To Let You Live" - Hands-On With Conan Exiles
The following article may contain mature images inappropriate for those under the age of seventeen
It's been almost a week since FunCom released their fantasy sandbox survival sim, Conan Exiles. And the prognosis is...better than initial launch. The game looks great, and the loop of scavenging and survival is well worth it, sure. It's also the only game with (and this is obligatory since it's been the only news coming out about this game other than the lag info,) an endowment slider so you can choose the size of your character's breasts, or, if you are so inclined, pendulous lower extremities. But while the game has a lot of interesting systems and some absolutely gorgeous graphics, the extreme lack of balance, lag and rubberbanding issues, and just downright uncooperative AI mean that this game will have a lot of polish to deliver before its final release.
Conan Exiles casts you into the ancient and brutal world of Hyborea as an Exile, one who has committed terrible crimes (procedurally generated for each new character) and been thrown out into the forgotten wastelands, fastened to a cross to die. The player is then saved by Conan, who leaves them naked and unarmed on foot in the middle of vast ruins hewn from jet-black stone, to gather sticks, rocks, and plant matter until they have enough resources to get themselves clothing and tools. They then must build and upgrade their equipment, gain experience, and eventually rise to assert their dominance over the savage world, provided a crocodile doesn't bite them in half, forcing them to find their body all over again.
Yes, friends, it turns out that not being Conan or one of his allies in a Conan story isn't all that much fun. A lot of the early game is spent running from literally everything, because everything will kill you. Arguably the least dangerous two enemies are the giant bat you meet in a scripted event, and the "imps," nude guys who look like a hunchbacked Toxic Avenger and can't take you out unless in a pack. Even the under-equipped AI-controlled "exiles" who run around on the PVE and single-player instances of the game can take you out. The game is punishing, make no mistake.
But this highlights one of the major issues with the game. While brutality is all well and good, and is in fact a major feature of the Conan world, the sheer size of the difficulty cliff makes it annoying to play. Enemies will chase you across the map, and even after breaking line of sight. Also, none of them seem the slightest bit interested in anything but you, which means you can be standing on a rock trying to catch your breath and get around things, and suddenly be surrounded by enemies who are only interested in killing you. Moments after leaving the starting desert in any direction, you are swarmed by some fresh horror, which immediately kills you and drops you in the starting desert again.
This necessitates either finding your dead body to loot it in a very dangerous area, or starting all over again from scratch. It's frustrating, but much appreciated over the system where you would lose all your items, weapons, clothing, and any structures as well as everything else, which has since been patched out. However, with the hyper-aggressive enemy AI, this is still a dangerous proposition, and one difficult to enact. You will end up making a lot of stone pickaxes and stone axes to get through the early part of the game, and sometimes it isn't worth it.
Aiding and abetting the enemy AI is a system that doesn't register hits when you attack and some serious lag and rubberbanding issues, leading to such moments as an ibex who will stand still while you hit it, never once registering that it's hurt, only to teleport a mile away and start running like crazy. Enemies will drop you in four hits, regardless of armor or how much damage you deal to them with the same weapon they're using. Sometimes, I even saw people walk across water or through rivers. The lag gets even worse on the online servers, which, I should caution to remind everyone, are the entire point of the game. That you get your open ended Hyborian adventures in a world with real players and real player-created content. Which is nigh-impossible to play.
And all of this really ticks me off, because the game is great. It feels really satisfying when you win a combat and then butcher your kill for parts. It has bizarre moments, like harvesting human adversaries for food and hides, meaning you can be wearing human-crocodile hybrid pants. It's satisfying to gather and make things. It's even cool figuring out the past of the Wastes from the sinister glowing tablets hidden throughout the world, or trying to go to the distant spires you can see from locations. It's a fun game, cloaked in the worst nightmare of hardcore survival game nonsense. It's an awesome concept hampered by extreme performance issues.
Wait until this one comes out of early access. FunCom is working tirelessly to fix what's broken, and when it finally comes out of early access, the result should hopefully be an intriguing adventure in the brutal world of ancient Hyboria. Until that time, I suggest watching the patch notes intently until the game it is now becomes the game it could be.
Conan: Exiles is currently in early access. The reviewer received a complimentary copy for this hands-on look