Conan Exiles (Xbox One Preview)
Conan Exiles is an action/adventure game with survival gameplay at its core. Hand in hand with that, of course, comes crafting. It’s all something we’ve seen a hundred times before. So what makes Conan Exiles stand out from the crowd? I went hands on with the Early Access version on Xbox One to find out.
My first realisation as I was starting Exiles was that I know very little of the lore behind Conan’s world. I know there are movies and books and shelf after shelf of comic book, but it was never a mythos I had thrown myself into as I have with so many others. Hoping that wouldn’t impact my experience too much, I launched myself straight into character creation.
I was greeted by a seven minute loading screen, which I personally timed by making a cheese toastie. Regardless of content or quality, loading screens that long are just not acceptable in this modern era of gaming. Sure, maybe it won’t be so on the PC, but that’s not what I was playing on. My enjoyment of Conan Exiles was off to a very poor start.
When I eventually loaded into the game to create my barbarian, I was given my first opportunity to read up on some of Conan’s lore in the form of the Deity system. You can choose a God for your character to worship, which is supposed to impact how you roleplay your character I suppose. The deity descriptions also mention an Avatar that can be summoned, like the huge frost giant creature in the promotional art for the game, but I never managed to stay in a single game for long enough to achieve that.
I picked the God that has the smallest impact on gameplay for my maiden voyage into the wastelands of Conan Exiles, finished creating my mean looking barbarian, and began the game. After a short cinematic where a rather large fellow, who I assumed to be Conan, lets you down from the cross you found yourself crucified upon, you’re free to play.
The very name of Conan the Barbarian inspires images of a scantily clad Arnie wandering the desert with a massive sword. Sadly, my own barbarian, who I took to calling Grush as Exiles doesn’t seem to allow you to name your character, went a very long time without touching a sword. The scantily clad part matched perfectly, though, as Grush spent his entire, short life wearing nothing but a loincloth.
You’re free to just explore. Though, not really in any direction you want, at least for the start of the game. You’re funneled forwards along a broken highway towards an oasis-like area, presumably because it has all of the resources that you need to survive. You know, water and food and such. Exiles follows suite with a lot of other games in that you’re not given any sort of tutorial or how-to guides or explanations of any sort. Seconds after you start to play, the games advises that you’re going to die of dehydration if you don’t find something to drink. So, naturally, panic sets in.
Finding water is fairly easy because of the oasis you are lead towards, but the finding food is trickier. The shores of the lake you quickly find have quite a few turtle-like monsters dotted around, but beating them to death with your bare hands is challenging. Luckily, the world is covered in rocks and sticks which you can use to make rudimentary tools, like picks and axes, once you figure out the crafting system.
It’s not the most complex crafting system in gaming history, especially compared to the likes of The Forest or Minecraft, as if you know how to craft an item the game tells you what ingredients you will need. Collecting basic materials is easy enough, so it doesn’t take long to kit your mighty barbarian out with an axe and some clothes made of grass. I also crafted a bed roll, which the game advised will allow you to save your position by resting, and went to find some beasties to kill.
Combat is an unfortunately dull affair, revolving around mashing the attack button until you run out of stamina. Actually, running out of stamina didn’t seem to impact my combat in the slightest except for causing an annoying, constant pop up advising me I’d run out of stamina. It’s just a matter of beating your enemy to death before they can return the favor.
It was during my initial bout of combat I encountered my first of several glitches. Grush was happily beating a turtle monster to death, more than half of his health remaining, and he suddenly dropped dead. RIP Grush. Irritating, but no big deal since I had already saved my location, right? Wrong! After another horrendous load screen, Grush respawned somewhere in the clouds! Fun fact, barbarian’s are not immune to gravity or the effects of a fall. After cleaning up the large puddle of tomato sauce left behind by Grush’s rapid descent, I reloaded and tried again. Another fall from the sky. I decided to start a new character.
More importantly, I decided to call in some reinforcements, my brother David. David, taught me a lot about gaming as a child, so it was time to ask for his guidance through the trials of the wastelands.
And thus began one of the most frustrating gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Plagued by constant disconnects, serious lag and the complete inability to stay in the same server for more than a minute at a time, we spent well over an hour trying really hard to enjoy Conan Exiles, but it just didn’t work out. I had the exact same issues trying both player vs player and player vs environment online servers, in the unlikely scenario I was even able to find a game.
There’s an experience and levelling system in Exiles, allowing you to increase your barbarians stats like Strength, Agility and Endurance, but staying alive for long enough to climb more than a few levels is difficult when you’re faced with repeatedly disconnecting from the server or dying of apparently random causes every few minutes.
In its current Early Access state, Conan Exiles doesn’t only fail to live up to the hype, it’s an actively frustrating experience with little to no consistency or reward. Having to start a new character every time I played completely defeats the purpose of the genre, and the total lack of multiplayer functionality drains all enjoyment I might have found. As it is just now, Conan Exiles is in Early Access and I’d struggle to recommend it but there is plenty of time for the developers to tweak the issues I encountered and if they don’t I’ll surely run out of bread very soon.