Conan Exiles is an open world survival game that sits somewhere between Minecraft and Ark Survival. Players spawn with nothing and need to collect resources to clothe, feed and shelter themselves. But in the harsh exile lands, there are other dangers lurking around every corner.
Choosing a server is probably the most important part of enjoying Exiles. You can either play offline or online with friends and strangers alike in either PVP or PVE modes. The game offers a number of official and private options, but be warned, your character won’t migrate from one to another. While my friends and I chose a server with a somewhat low population I’ve not had any problems logging on, though I can’t help but feel this could be an issue for more populated servers.
As with many survival games, Conan allows the player to create their own character. Shaping and moulding him or her to their own specifications; head, nose, breasts, penis. The normal stuff. After being cut down from the crucifix by non-other than Conan himself, you begin in the desert. With nothing, not even clothing on your back. With no instructions or baring it’s easy to wander around until you die of thirst or hunger.
It’s usually here where players learn the first harsh rule of Conan Exiles; survival is hard. In time, managing your hunger and thirst levels becomes second nature but in the beginning, it’s easy to neglect. In the searing heat of the sand plains, it doesn’t take long for your meters to drop so it’s imperative that you find shelter straight away.
But this means nothing if you don’t know how to craft, and Conan Exiles isn’t really interested in teaching you anything. Much like the exile, the player must learn how to survive on their own. Venturing out of the desert into the vast map of Hyboria players are likely to be tempted to set up camp near the lush and vibrant river area – but even this is a trap, leaving new meat open for ripe picking by bandits and marauders.
Learning how to build is not as simple as gathering the materials. Your character must also know the correct Feat – something of which I initially struggled with. In the main menu, there is a list of skills that need to be learned before your character can, for example, build a sword. Hitting the R1 button on the Feats screen takes you to a sub-menu where you can pick and choose what you want to learn. Sculpting and defining your character’s strengths and skills. While it’s a system that makes sense, there is no indication in the main menu of this almost secret screen. Resulting in many hours of frustration and needless resource gathering on my part. Needless to say, I spent the better part of two hours trying to cook some recently pilfered crustaceans.
And this was one of the main issues I had with Conan Exiles on the PlayStation 4: the crafting menu and UI in general. Moving from point A to point B in the menu is more of a chore than anything else. It’s slow and counterintuitive and often lacks any of the subtle pointers to help new players navigate to where they need to go. Without even a basic tutorial new players are forced to learn on the fly – while I’m not entirely against this approach, spending 3 hours working out how to dry fish might argue against it. Learning all of the UIs small little flaws and nuances is just as important as learning how to survive in-game. Without mastering the navigation system you’ll never master the Exile Lands.
My gripes out of the way, however, once you learn how to craft and navigate the menus Conan Exiles is a lot of fun. Exploring your surroundings and venturing off into the unknown yields more rewards to help you get stronger. Leaving the small oasis I called home for the first time was daunting, but it opened up a whole new world of rolling fields and vast tundras each with their own native tribes and animals. Certain items can only be gathered in specific areas so it’s important to travel if you want to craft the best gear.
And that’s really the point. As you progress further and further through the crafting tree you’re able to build more and more impressive bases and weaponry. A legendary story from rags to riches with the stark reminder that it can all be taken away at any given moment by a like-minded band of players. The power struggle is real, keeping players on their toes, trying to survive. Will you be the conquerer or the conquered? It’s really up to you and how you want to play.
Ultimately Conan Exiles puts out what you’re willing to put in. With caves, ruins and distant areas of the map to explore there are so many different possibilities. Whether or not you’re content to build the largest base or to become the strongest warrior, Conan Exiles makes it possible. Some of the gameplay is a bit of a grind but that’s to be expected from any RPG and once you master the Feats system you’re pretty much halfway there.