There seems to be a general tired consensus across most sites at the moment. We are collectively weary of gathering sticks and stones to make tools to gather slightly larger sticks and stones. We have chopped down enough trees between us to deforest the planet a billion times over. Seeing a game tagged with “open world” survival” and “crafting” triggers emotional breakdowns. Since the dawn of Minecraft the open world survival game has become a bloated, ponderous beast, mired in endless early access and development with no end in sight.
Funcom know what they’re doing, of that, there is no doubt, and the well-established Conan world is coming to life in violent detail in this early build. All the roughness around the edges you might expect is present – a lot of the time AI enemies don’t walk towards you as much as glide effortlessly across the ground, and there’s unfinished textures a-plenty. At this stage of early access these things are part and parcel of the experience, though. What matters is that Conan: Exiles is fundamentally a very different game to what we’ve come to expect. Yes, a lot of your time is spent gathering resources, yes, you are going to die frustratingly often, and other people are going to build towering fortresses whilst you can barely scrape together a shack and a handful of insects to chow down on. But even at this fledgling stage, Exiles’ world feels unquestionably alive. Steeped in rich storytelling and genuinely gruelling survival, it feels less like an endless procession of resources and more like a persistent world. Some elements certainly feel tired and overused – there’s no way anyone can breath fresh life into chopping down trees – but the enduring wasteland is much deeper.
Exiles is perhaps painfully aware of its contemporaries. Games like Ark and Rust currently dominate with hardcore followings, comparisons are inevitable, and the game’s foundation already seems hellbent on setting itself apart. You can knock out NPCs and drag them back to your lair to torture them until they become your mindless thralls. You can build altars to gods and summon mighty avatars to crush your foes. It’s a savage world. But where this latest Conan adventure really makes the genre its own is in the mythology, and the vast, hostile place it inhabits. There’s a drive to survive and conquer that just isn’t present in similar games. It took me about an hour to see just what Funcom are doing differently here, and when it finally starts to click, it’s glorious. It’s fine to groan and dread the oncoming amount of building and harvesting, but that’s just one part of a much grander scale. In Conan’s vast horizon there is limitless promise for exploration, collaboration and confrontation. In my brief time on a multiplayer server I was chased by a naked man off a cliff, given pants by a passerby to maintain my dignity, and bludgeoned to death by an entire clan of players. This is the sort of goofy fun that the genre is adored for, and it’s here in no small amount.
When you finally manage to stop dying and eke out some semblance of living – without forgetting to eat or drink, or getting clobbered to death by violent nudists – you can start thriving, turning NPCs into slaves to hunt for you, mine for you, and defend your abode while you adventure across the wasteland. It automates the gathering process in a much slicker fashion and with some refinement will easily become a game-changer. Eventually, the developers are going to add ‘advanced city life’, which could see Exiles really pull out in front of the pack, establishing precious dominance.
Should you buy into Exiles early? Undoubtedly, yes. There’s a fine game here that will mature and change before our eyes into something fresh, complex and exciting as development continues. If you’re not keen on the whole concept of early access it definitely won’t change your mind at this raw stage, but if you’re tired of taming dinosaurs or dodging Creepers Conan: Exiles has some invigorating ideas and grand potential sure to lure you in. It remains to be seen how often we get updates but the game as it stands now is populated with enough content to keep you busy for some time.
I’m confident that Funcom, an established and talented team, armed with the brutal Conan mythology, can build an excellent world. The build so far is proof enough – and I really hope that the potential here carries it onwards and upwards past the endless sea of early access survival games.