Conan is a long standing character with a huge following to boot. It’s been a franchise loved by so many spanning many books, movies and video games, but it’s unfortunately in the latter where it hasn’t quite flourished the way it should have. Conan Exiles has officially released on Xbox One after being in Game Preview for over a year and follows other similar titles such as Ark: Survival Evolved in getting an official version 1 release after a hefty amount of time in a preview program. Conan Exiles is a survival game that places players in to a pretty big open world, exiled in to nothing but set free by Conan himself to get a second chance in life, to start over and make a difference, to make an impact and justify the release from exile.
The game begins with players freely roaming the desert lands with nothing to their name and nothing in their inventory. Starting off with literally nothing can be a little off putting but it’s what gives Conan Exiles it’s base for a hardcore survival experience where players really have to not only be aware of what surrounds them, but also how to manage what little resources they have access to, particularly early on. Scavenging around, collecting anything you can that can be used as a resource feels daunting at first, especially if you’re new to the survival genre but patience and awareness of surroundings plays a huge part. Enemies will hunt you, creatures will hunt you, animals and beasts will hunt you so staying away is key to success at the start as continually dying and having to respawn became very tiresome and frustrating.
As time goes on you will find resources that will come in handy and the game does a clever thing of setting you on your path gently by giving you objectives that are imperative if you are to stand any chance of surviving this unforgiving game. Thirst, hunger, warmth and general fatigue need to be managed accordingly otherwise they can be as ruthless and unforgiving as the enemies that can be encountered. One thing I have to point out here is that Conan Exiles is grindy and I mean very grindy, in fact It’s almost not fun at all and I felt like the game was trying to torture me throughout, penalising me for trying to enjoy a game. That is not the kind of experience that I wanted, but I also felt obliged to give this game the benefit of the doubt and did the grind to find out if it was all worth it. Sadly it wasn’t and I found myself becoming incredibly uninterested with the whole experience even after putting a hefty amount of hours in to it.
While the open world is big, it’s also pretty empty too with nothing to it that has any significance. It’s almost like an average sized blob of mashed potato has been put on a huge plate but has been craftily been flattened out and spread across to make it look like there’s more there than there actually is. Yes there are enemies and other players to battle with, but for what purpose? There isn’t any kind of narrative or story as such to Conan Exiles so what is the whole point of this game? Well it’s simply to survive and that is where my main issue lies with the game. I want to have fun when playing video games, I want to be engaged with the world, the characters, the objectives and some kind of narrative or back story to go with it but there is none of that in Conan Exiles and if there is it’s nothing more than a snippet. There’s no excitement, no fun, nothing but boring dull grindy tree bark collecting and stone cracking with the odd underwhelming fight thrown in there occasionally.
Crafting is long winded and overly complicated where even the simplest of things to make needed around 5 or 6 different materials to be able to craft it, leaving me scratching my head as to why such an unforgiving survival game would rub even more salt in to those bite marks by adding pointless long haul tasks just to craft a basic axe that lasts around 4 hits at best. Everything within the building and crafting aspect of the game seems to be compensating for the fact that the core experience is so dull and empty. Building a shelter is just as grindy and offers very little reward for such a lot of work. Being able to make a grass bed took me a fair amount of time and didn’t offer any benefit other than it acted as a checkpoint. When there are materials available to build something of size like a house or even a small fortress, the actual building side of things is actually very easy to do and very well done, it’s just unfortunate that to get to that stage naturally you have to spend hours and hours and hours grinding through a world of nothingness, dying a lot and falling off cliffs due to low stamina just so you have a basic roof over your head. Not fun.
There is an admin mode that can be triggered which gives things like infinite health, stamina, weapons and unlimited resources to build the castle of your dreams. While this is essentially a cheat mode, it gives players the option of having everything at their disposal, taking away that survival aspect, the boring long winded grind and gives them god like power to literally control what happens in the world. While this sounds appealing, it really isn’t and takes away the very point of what the game is trying to offer. If anything this mode just exposes the emptiness of this huge open world of absolute nothingness and makes the game even more boring. This genre is certainly a marmite one and this game will appeal to some but won’t to others and while I didn’t really enjoy my time with Conan Exiles, I can kind of see why it would have some kind of fan base but it isn’t just the core experience that I felt frustrated by, it was the amount of bugs and performance issues that accompanied it.
Conan Exiles isn’t a very pretty game to look at, it’s not a bad looking game at all but it’s certainly not very pleasing on the eye, even at 4K running on the Xbox One X. The world looks washed out and blocky, with texture mapping leaving a lot to be desired, with very little detail on foliage and rocks. Character models look very last gen, not very defined with pixelated details on their body, faces looking very generic throughout and hair that seems to look separated from the head. The animations while fairly smooth, look very awkward, especially when swimming, as my character looked more like he was hovering above the water and shuffling like a fish gasping for breath. Characters getting stuck in the environment was a regular occurrence and my character had a habit of climbing thin air when trying to climb a cliff side. Falling through the floor happened a few times and as for the frame rate, well it’s not very stable at all with constant drops even when nothing is going on around the area. I almost feel like this game should have been put in to some kind of beta phase or even a preview program to iron all of these issues out……..oh wait.
The gameplay in Conan Exiles is just as dull as the rest of the game. It has uninspired one button bashing combat with an enemy lock on mechanic that seems to have a mind of its own, randomly changing it to someone else when it feels like it. Characters seem to clip in to each other for no apparent reason and trying to loot a killed enemy felt like a chore in itself. General movement is okay but other things like climbing and jumping is some of the worst I’ve seen in a game from this generation of consoles. Somehow my character was able to climb absolutely anything, almost as if he’d secretly been bitten by a radioactive spider in a previous life. The gameplay on Conan Exiles is dull, boring and buggy which for a game about barbarians and giant beastly creatures is somewhat disappointing. I can appreciate what has tried to have been achieved here but it just doesn’t deliver at all and the fact that it was in game preview for a huge amount of time to iron out all of these things, then it’s unforgivable that the developers feel that this is the standard that justifies a full game release. Conan Exiles is a boring, long winded, unrewarding experience that could have been and should have been so much better, but instead we are given yet another Conan game that hasn’t done the franchise justice and is just another let down.