Funcom is taking a second go at the Conan IP with the new open world survival game Conan Exiles. The game hit Steam Early Access at the tail end of January and is scheduled to launch on Xbox One Game Preview in Spring 2017. In Conan Exiles, players take on the role of a condemned criminal left to die by crucifixion. After being cut down from the cross by Conan the Barbarian, the player must scrape together what little resources they can to survive… and then thrive.
We had a chance to test the first few builds of Conan Exiles on Steam Early Access. The patches are coming out hard and fast right now as the game is still very much in active development. Funcom believes the foundational structure of the game is in place. The future will bring new features, balancing changes, optimization, and of course bug fixes.
Conan Exiles is playable on dedicated servers that can be run with PvE and PvP rules or locally hosted servers for either singleplayer or co-op modes. Funcom has opted to provide a lot of flexibility to server hosts on how to balance their game. Everything from resource spawn rates down to maximum clan sizes can be tweaked. This is especially important as the game’s resource costs needs some balancing, so server side scaling serves as a good stop gap measure.
While open world survival titles are not exactly known for having rich lore, Conan Exiles is in the position of being set in an IP with a very long history. Funcom has opted to provide a good bit of storytelling in a very hands off sort of way. The game’s items come with some descriptions that may share a few snippets of lore, and players may stumble upon journals or notes that help give the world a little bit of colour.
Conan Exile does not stray too far from the basic open world survival template. Players will need to manage their health, hunger, and thirst to stay alive. While hunger and thirst are topped up with food and drink, health follows the standard regenerating health system made famous by Call of Duty 2 and now used in most video games today. Health regeneration is on the slower end of the spectrum, though there are certain consumables in the game that can help speed things up a little.
Players gain experience as they scavenge resources, craft items, and kill enemies. When they level up, players get separate points to invest in improving attributes and purchasing crafting recipe. The system gives players a good bit of progression in the game. Players start with crafting items from sticks and stone. As they progress up the levels, stronger attribute scores and better equipment will allow them to journey deeper into the map where stronger enemies and rarer materials are found. It is clear the game is freshly released as the gap between stone and iron needs balancing. A large amount of iron is needed to begin crafting proper weapons, but the iron often spawns behind enemies that are quite challenging. In my testing, two people often had to resort to kiting a few enemies out of camps at a time just to clear the camp.
Conan Exiles packs quite a bit of PVE content in the game. Even when playing on a PVP server, a large portion of the game is dedicated to fighting off NPC enemies that wander around the world. There are plenty of animals and humans to kill in the game, so the world still feels lively even in single player. One of the game’s more novel mechanics is the ability to knock out human NPCs and take them as thralls. Each NPC has their own specialty and provide players with services such as guarding the base or crafting special items.
Conan Exile’s religion system provides another avenue of progression. There are currently four deities in the game. Players select which deity to worship at character creation, allowing them to build an altar to the deity where sacrifices are offered. Players who are uninterested in the religion system can choose Crom, who is treated as the agnostic deity by Funcom. The rewards for worshipping a deity can be great. For example, Mitra can reward players with healing items and Set’s followers can turn snakes into arrows. Since the amount of sacrifices needed to progress in the religion system is so vast, religion will likely remain the domain of clans. Due to the fact the religion system will tend to favour groups working together, players are able to choose new deities to worship by spending recipe points to unlock the altars of other deities.
Combat in Conan Exiles is a mix of melee and ranged weapons. Players have the option of equipping two one handed items, such as swords and shields, or one two handed item, like a bow. Melee combat seems to lean towards dodging and attacking right now, as the timing for shields needs to be improved. The bows seem to be a little better balanced at this point, especially for PVP. Players are able to strike at range, but the ammunition is extremely expensive.
Funcom has a lot of work ahead of them still as Conan Exiles is very much an in-development Steam Early Access title and is no where near a Beta ready state right now. While it is way too early to pass judgement on Conan Exiles, the game has the potential to provide an interesting experience, especially for those who want play an open world survival game with friends without the pressures of PvP. Funcom plans on spending the next 12 months preparing Conan Exiles for launch, plenty of time to turn the game into a compelling option in a crowded market.