Rule your thralls! Lay waste to enemies! Also, chop down trees
There’s an abiding sense of familiarity to Conan Exiles. On the one hand, it’s a return to the lands of Hyboria for developer Funcom, which originally built out Robert E Howard’s low-fantasy world of barbarians, breasts and beasts for its 2008 MMOG Age Of Conan. It’s not exactly the same world – Exiles is set in a new location, the Exiled Lands, a land of desert and oases encircled by a boundary called the Cursewall. But it’s still a place of high peaks and monumental stone constructions, fit for rippling pecs and flashing swords.
On the other hand, there is a lot here that feels familiar, with remarkable similarities to
Ark: Survival Evolved. It might lack dinosaurs to tame, farm and ride, but the resource gathering, crafting and building that underpins it, along with health, hunger and thirst management, are functionally identical. And then there’s the framing of the world: in
Ark your character is fitted with a strange device implanted in one arm, while in Exiles your character wears a mysterious bracelet which, should you attempt to cross the Cursewall, will kill you.
Sure, Exiles hasn’t only looked at Ark. It’s also taken on Rust’s impish love of nudity with some gusto. If your server allows it, you start the game entirely naked, and you’re bound to come across both NPCs and other players in various states of exposure.
Which isn’t to suggest these features aren’t a good fit. This is a game about building a fortress, establishing a clan by collecting thralls, creating grand shrines to your savage gods, and warring against all comers: all healthy pursuits for any smouldering brute. And you’ll start constructing soon after starting the game. By placing foundations on the ground you’ll build your first shelter out of modular walls and ceiling sections, affording some security for your valuables and a safe spawnpoint. Later, you’ll access pillars and steps that allow you to build upwards and even on top of the monumental buildings scattered throughout the land.
But the moment-to-moment reality of Exiles is feeling less a proud barbarian than a grubbing peasant as you run around gathering branches, building tools, and labouring at rocks, trees and shrubs to mass the vast quantities of stone, wood and fibre that every construction needs. Then there’s the grinding for XP: you’ll have to attain levels to unlock the crafting recipes for more sophisticated items, and after the initial flurry of unlocks for rough clothes, a fragile flint sword and other basics, they slow down suddenly. It’s also a dangerous game: other players are usually more than happy to murder you, especially when you’re naked and vulnerable after a respawn, and the endless search for materials, water and food is always there to push you into exploring new areas. NPCs and creatures are initially also a threat, but once armed with a sword and some clothes become quotidian sources of meat and hide. Since there’s currently little more to combat than hitting foes enough times that they die, NPCs expose a distinct lack of finesse in the combat of the initial Early Access release.
The power fantasy is promised to come later in the game, with access to grand tierthree constructions, armour-crafting and metalworking benches staffed by your slaves, and shrines. The latter provide special items specific to the game’s four different gods and eventually provide access to an avatar, a towering figure you can summon and control to wage a brief period of cathartic macro-scale destruction on your enemies. The big question is whether they’ll feel worth all the work you’ve put into attaining them.
Other players are usually more than happy to murder you, especially when you’re naked