Although I’ve seen the original Conan the Barbarian film adaptation and enjoyed it, I have not yet checked out the original books and comics, so this game kinda flew below my radar until a free weekend came along. It was at that point I decided to check it out, and boy am I glad I did!
Conan Exiles is very much a jack-of-all-trades game – it doesn’t do any one particular thing amazingly, but it does loads of things quite well (some better than others). And I mean this in a very positive way. Its delicate balance between hardcore survival elements, such as a temperature system with hunger and thirst meters, and more arcade-style building and crafting mechanics is what makes its gameplay varied and keeps things entertaining. Combat is a bit like a Souls-lite game, with a stamina-based system that keeps players on their toes by requiring you to stay mobile, dodge, and/or block incoming attacks. Enemies behave differently depending on their type and engaging them calls for different tactics, e.g. elephants and rhinos will charge at you for massive damage if you put any distance between them or stay in one place, yet their other attacks are less intimidating as long as you keep moving. It’s a satisfying and rewarding system.
Base-building and crafting are easily some of the most addictive elements of this game, with both systems pretty well balanced and allowing plenty of variety in how you want to build your house and how you would like to protect it. However, there is more to it than just utility, as bases can be decorated in numerous ways as you level up, unlocking feats that allow you to learn new recipes for various items. They also provide shelter from sandstorms, which are pretty to look at from a distance but deadly up close without the appropriate protection. Characters can also specialize in strength, agility, vitality, accuracy, grit, encumbrance, and survival as they level up by assigning attribute points – progress in each of these unlocks perks for you along the way. Experience points are gained not only by killing enemies, but also through crafting, building, and completing “Journey” steps chapter by chapter.
These Journey steps are basically small mini-quests that reward players for exploring the game and trying new playstyles, as well as giving the game more structure and almost functioning like a narrative. These alongside hidden friendly NPCs that one may converse with, notes and scribbled letters that can be picked up and read, ghosts that can teach your character new emotes, and other cool little details give Conan Exiles a story. It’s not the same as some grand epic quest you’d expect from a single-player game, but it makes the experience more engrossing and a little deeper. I believe it is partly the reason why this game has hooked me in and not let go where other open-world survival/crafting/building games have failed to do so. That and the aforementioned along with engaging combat expansive base-building/crafting mechanics. I can capture a foal, collect its dung as it grows into a mountable horse in my stables, and then use the poop to make compost for my plants!
It also helps that the game is downright beautiful, at least on the highest settings – and it runs like a charm too on my PC, with frame rate slowdowns occurring only when dealing with very large player-built bases. The map is divided into nine unique biomes: desert, savannah, the Unnamed City, river, jungle, highlands, snow, tundra, and volcano. Each of these is stunning in its own way, with a different ecosystem that consists of different animals, humanoid enemies, plant life, landscapes, weather patterns, and provides various resources. It is essentially like several maps jumbled into one huge land, with no loading screens in between. As you level up and get more powerful to progress onto a new biome, you feel like you are exploring a whole new world and you get a nice new soundtrack to listen to as well. Also, nights in this game are really dark – they can get pitch black if you’re in a forest/it’s cloudy/can’t see the moon. This is cool as it encourages players to actually craft torches and use other light sources.
Overall, this is a really addicting and engrossing game that has kept me hooked and will likely keep me around for many hours more. Yes, since it’s an online game, some updates might come along and upset that delicate balance I spoke of – but you either learn to adapt and change your playstyle or, if the introduced issue is too significant, the developers have been known to backtrack on some poorly made decisions. With the exception of the new expansion pack that adds a whole new map, all of the DLC is purely cosmetic and is by far not the best gear you can get in the game. There are some glitches every now and then, but this is sort of expected and I’m surprised at how few I’ve encountered considering the sheer scale of Conan Exiles. I haven’t covered PvP in this review, which is due to the fact that I play on PvE only, but all the expected base-raiding mechanics are there, along with the option to build siege equipment!
And yes, the game does have the option to play it with full-frontal nudity for all genders (at least in Europe) – penis and boob sliders and physics included, haha! Jokes aside, the character models are actually really nicely done and textured, plus the nudity shouldn’t bother anyone when the combat is visceral; bodies get sliced in half, heads roll, limbs fly off, and the ground becomes literally soaked in blood as you slaughter your enemies. You can skin human enemies for hides and flesh, which can then be cooked. You can even knock human enemies out, lasso them and drag them to your base, and then assign them to a “wheel of pain” that will wear them down and turn them into thralls that will do your bidding. Nudity belongs in a Conan the Barbarian game. It’s sexy, bloody, brutal, and badass. But those who, for whatever reason, are offended by this and not the delightfully excessive violence do always have the option to play without it.
“Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!”
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