Set in Conan’s venerable and extraordinarily brutal Hyborian Age, Conan Exiles is a survival game that is most easily described as a combination of Ark: Survival Evolved and Rust. Except both of those are good. Given the setting and the fact I generally enjoy these types of games, I thought that it would be a solid hit and instead, Conan Exiles is a basic survival game with stunning vistas and a bizarre mix of both excellent and horrific animations and models. Combat is frustratingly inaccurate and bland, if bloody and, depending on how clothed (or not) you and your assailants are, comical at times. In a title with so much promise it feels so flat and shallow; what could have been a rich experience turned into an uninteresting slog through endless amounts of sand broken up by the random gorgeous oasis. I hate sand …
I sat on this review for some time as I struggled with it right from the get-go and hoped that subsequent updates would address many of the concerns that I have with the game; unfortunately the patches did not come through for me. When in third person view the act of your beefity and well-endowed male character (or heavily breasted female) harvesting some stone or picking plants is about as articulate as an original 1959 Barbie. It is horrific and the fluctuating framerate is far from helpful, though if it drives you as crazy as it did me, you can always just zoom into first person mode, which lessens the ridiculousness of it all. Combat is equally frustrating, but not because it is wooden in the way it is animated, but rather in the fact that it is animated gorgeously, but actually striking something, though gory, is unexciting and provides no feedback outside of the splash of blood. Environments are full of sand … and that is about all I have to say about them (seriously though; they have a few interesting points, but are largely bland)
Where Conan Exiles seems to excel is in its skill tree / growth as it is well laid out and has a swell progression method. Rather than just a giant skill pile to gain from as you craft different bits or hunt/use weapons (which, in most survival games, allows complete tree expansion), Conan takes things in a different direction in the fact it is more like an RPG in how you gain skillpoints (called Knowledge Points) and the like. This RPG-like progression also comes with something a bit different … a level cap, and that level cap is not high enough to actually gain every skill / recipe in the game. I personally like that idea, as it means you need to weigh in on what is most important to you and you will need to pre-spec a build prior to just diving in head first. Each decision counts and if you choose poorly? Yeah … that is not going to go well for you.
Online play, as is most common in survival-type games, is littered with griefers and a-holes in general, with the rare “good person” being few and far between, but the single player option for Conan Exiles is a solid experience that I strongly recommend most players stick to as it is very easy in a title like this for other players to completely spoil the experience for you (see: MOBA communities). There is a severe issue with harassment and griefing; realistically if you are not an absolute badass, you will die. A part of becoming a badass? Taking someone else’s stuff, and while the weak perish in the actual Conan: The Barbarian universe, as a gameplay experience the concept of “git gud” is horrific and right up there with GamerGate and the rampant racism found in gaming communities. I do not believe we need to coddle and protect every player out there, but we should give everyone the option to enjoy the content they paid to play, and unmoderated asshats should not be able to dictate who enjoys that content and who does not.