Co­nan Ex­iles

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

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