Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Game Review: Conan Exiles

By Bixyl Shuftan

"Conan the Barbarian," the tale of a heroic warrior in a fictitious and ancient time and place when people were terrorized by monsters and warlords, the "Hyborian Age" described as being sometime between the destruction of Atlantis and recorded history, made for many stories since the 1930s, and would eventually make it's way to television and movies, notably the movie made in 1982 starring Arnold Scwartzenegger. Video games of the character and story universe began appearing in the 1980s. In 2008 came the first MMORPG: "Age of Conan," Developed by Funcom and published in cooperation with Eidos Interactive. The player controls an ex-slave, whom after escaping the beginning quests lead to him or her killing the master then goes on to further adventures. The game received "generally favorable reviews," but suffered from a number of bugs and other problems that resulted in a number of complaints. Funcom did eventually respond to the feedback with bug fixes and new zones.

In January, Funcom released a new Conan MMORPG: Conan Exiles. This is an open-ended survival game in which players start with nothing and use the resources they find around them to make basic clothes and tools while fighting hazards around them, which may or may not include other players depending on the server, and soon building a base, either alone or in cooperation with friends. The player controls an "Exile" sentenced to death, and after being freed by Conan tries to survive in the Exiled Lands, the goals described by the makers of the game as "Survive, Build, Dominate."

The first step is choosing a server. They are categorized into PvP in which players can attack one another or their buildings, PvP Blitz, in which players have only a limited amount of time before the servers are wiped and everything has to start all over, and PvE, where players don't have to worry about being attacked by other players but can't attack them or their structures either. Each has servers in five different categories from purist, to roleplaying, the sixth option being to list everything available. Choosing the later reveals many hundreds of servers, including some "official" ones and numerous ones hosted by others, some of which need a password to enter.

Upon choosing the server is the character creation process. Characters can be either male or female and can be Cimmerian, Hyborian, or several other races in the Conan universe. Players chose one of four Hyborian Age gods the player follows, three of which allow you to build temples of the chosen deity from the start. Besides choosing skin color and facial features, one can also choose the size of breasts for females, and "endowment" or penis size for males. This feature has gotten the game some chuckles in some low humor conversations. When the character is complete, he or she is hung on a cross with a proclamation stating the character is condemned to death for crimes including three listed that are apparently picked at random. These crimes can consist of anything from "unlawful dismemberment" to gambling to deflowering a virgin to "impersonating a priestess."

Following the cutscene where the character is rescued by Conan, the player appears in the middle of a desert with the remains of a stone road ahead. Nearby is a stone sign warning the civilized away from the Exiled Lands "where savages make war upon one another" and on a rock is a waterskin with a little water and a message from another condemned man who choses to leave his water for the next person to find it and allow himself to die. Going along the road, one can gather plant fibers, seeds, and insects from bushes, and stones and sticks on the ground (press E button). Fibers can be used to make simple clothes, and sticks and stones into a simple axe and pick. Gathering these resources, and making items, will get you a small number of experience points. By the time the player reaches the end of the road, they should see signs of small mountains and greenery in the distance, and you should have leveled up once.

Leveling up gets you points that can be used to raise your attributes, such as vitality which determines how much damage you can take before croaking, strength whch determins how much force you can deliver with melee weapons, agility which helps you avoid blows as you wear heavier armor, encumbrance with allows you to carry more, etc. Leveling up also gets you skill points which are used for crafting skills. You start out with just a few, but need more such as "Experienced Survivalist" to make campires and waterskins, stonemason to make bases, walls, door frames, ceilings, and doors for basic structures, "Mercenary" to make stone swords and wooden shields, etc. Some skills are locked unless you know all the prerequisites, such as "Apprentice Craftsman" which does nothing by itself but makes available a number of other skills. All but the first few skills have a minimum level requirement to reach.

At first, you'll be only able to take on the weakest of creatures, such as rabbits and baby shellbacks. Imps, which look like short and stocky severly mutated humans, are the toughest thing you can take on with an axe and expect to live, and if your computer is being slow you may want to level up a bit first. Melee fighting inevitably means your health goes down, which will heal slowly when you're not fighting. It also means damage to your weapons and clothes, which can be repaired if you have the materials on hand. Antelope and gazelles do not fight back, but will run when struck. Unless they're cornered or somehow get stuck, taking them down with a melee weapon can be very difficult. You'll need a bow and arrows for them. Taking on mature shellbacks, crocidiles, and NPC hostiles is not recommended unless you have leveled up several times, and without iron weapons and leather armor you can expect even successful encounters to leave you hurting bad. Unlike Conan, don't be afraid to turn tail and run (press and hold the shift button).

If you get clobbered, you'll respawn back outside the Exiled Lands. So eventually you'll want to craft and place a mat. You will also get hungry and thirsty. And once either your hunger or thirst points run out, your vitality begins to drop. While eating raw meat can satisfy your hunger for a short time, it means food poisoning which will reduce your hit points a little, so this should be done as a last resort.

You can eat the bugs you've collected from bushes, and the fat grubs that can be gathered in places, but nothing satisfies like cooked meat. To cook the raw meat you find from monsters and animals, you'll need to make a campfire, or bonfire later on, and place it and some fuel in and start burning. To get water, go to a stream or pond and press "E," or the button where your waterskin is on your hotbar. Meat will eventually spoil if it is not eaten, and is not good for anything.

Logging out in the middle of nowhere is sure to get your body killed by a passing critter, or another player in a PvP server. You'll also want to make a place to store your stuff and stations to help you make things. So you'll need to build a base eventually. At first you'll only be able to make simple stone structures, but one has to start somewhere. You'll need to make an armorer's bench to make light armor and wooden targes (reinforced wooden shields), which later you can make heavier armor from. To make iron and bricks, and later on steel, you'll need to make a furnace. To make iron weapons and tools, and then steel weapons and tools, you'll need a blacksmith's bench. To make leather from hides, you'll need a tannery. To make aloe extract and potions, and later steelfire and other items, you'll need a firebowl cauldron. Iron can occasionally be found in the rocks in the south of the Exiled Lands, but its uncommon. To get a lot of iron, you'll need to head north, but the further north you go, the tougher the creatures, and NPCs, can get. So you will be needing the iron weapons and armor.

Sandstorms are another reason for shelter. If you're caught in the open, your hunger and thirst will rapidly rise until your water and food levels are gone, at which point you'll soon expire. Ducking in cover such as between rocks or next to a cliff face will help when there's no building nearby, but it's not ideal.

Combat in Conan is a bit bloodier than some other survival games such as Rust and Ark. Blood splatters, your weapon gets bloody, and the looser ends up in a puddle of his or her blood, often with limbs missing. Given the setting of the story universe, this is not a real surprise. One can chop up a human body like they would an animal or monster for it's flesh. And after combat I've often found human flesh in my inventory. As one of the dieties in the game is a god of canibals, this may have been for roleplaying.

But another aspect of Conan Exiles is likely to be more controversial than human flesh. The game allows for the capture and willbreaking of NPC humans for use as slaves, or what the game refers to as "Thralls." Using a wooden club, you knock out attackers and drag them back to your camp to put on a "Wheel of Pain" until they submit. The tougher the NPC, the longer it takes them to submit. Thralls can make things more convenient for characters, such as blacksmiths allowing for the faster construction of weapons, dancing girls giving a health boost, fighters guarding your camp, etc. One condition you can get from caves, corruption, will lower your stats unless you get healed from a dancer thrall.

So do you take on slaves, or not? Every NPC human in the game is hostile to you, so in a sense you're sparing their lives. And slavery is a part of the Conan story universe, in addition to others. Even "Star Wars" had slavery. Still, it's a touchy subject to some. When Bree Royce of "Massively Overpowered" wrote on the subject, she admitted to finding the subject "unsettling," even though she knew of people who roleplayed as slaves in Star Wars games. Her article drew over 200 responses from people whom either supported the designers' decision, opposed it, or were of mixed feelings.

Perhaps later on, Funcom will update the game so no everyone is hostile, and it's possible for NPCs to freely join you, perhaps in return for food and goods (there's no gold in the game, yet). But until then players are left with the delemia.

The game is early release, and I have encountered some glitches and bugs. The most obvious, the game takes a while to load. At least it tells me "may take several minutes," and it does. Longer than Rust or Ark. Not only is this terribly inconvenient, it also means your character is vulnerable for that much longer as some monster or predator may come across it. Unlike Ark or Rust, there's no record of which servers you've been to. This means if you forgot where you were, you'll have to start all over again elsewhere. My experience with the official servers was a disappointment. These places had a lot of builds. One can't build a campfire to cook your meat within a certain distance from another player's build not of one's group. And there were so many in the official PvE servers I looked at, I couldn't find a place to build one. And as the campfires of others were locked so my character, this meant I was existing on bugs and grubs and always hungry until eventually dying of hunger or from being attacked by higher level beasts as I made my way north to search for a spot. When I checked out an official PvP server, it wasn't much better. I found a couple spots I could set up a campfire in locations impractical for building a base near. Unofficial servers were better, at least the ones I checked out. I didn't see many others, and had no problem setting up a campfire or base.

Like in Ark and Rust, the game is easier on a private server. Nydia's friend Mystic Xurina got one, and we've been playing on it a little. So there may be more to say about the game as time goes on.

If you're a fan of the Conan stories, or similar tales, this may be the survival game for you. But with it's longer loading times and the enslavement of NPCs as the only alternative to killing them, I can't recommend this game over others such as Rust and Ark. But the game is still in early release. Perhaps both issues will be improved as time goes on.

Sources:  Massively

image sources: Mystic Xurina,,,

Bixyl Shuftan