Much like one of the players on the server I spent most of my time on, Conan Exiles appeared out of nowhere and started streaking into view. Funcom’s survival title gathered a decent amount of hype prior to its Early Access release, and, I’ve joined in on running away from crocodiles on a more or less daily basis. The Early Access launch of Conan Exiles was not a smooth one. Problems abounded, some technical, other graphical, peaking at the cessation of working with the initial server provider, mainly due to large amounts of lag. During the first few days the game was nigh on unplayable for me. After spending an hour on loading screens in order to join a server, bad performance and the aforementioned lag made sure that I wouldn’t really get far. The developers have been working hard, providing constant patches and, in the past week, I’ve managed to put a couple of hours into the game.
After spending some time with the character creator, which offers a decent amount of choice, you get thrown buck naked in the middle of the desert. A giant stone slab with glowing characters, a note and a waterskin are all you get. As with most survival games, you must scrounge up whatever resources you can (rocks and branches, in this case) and make your way inland. One of the lessons you learn quite early on is that, until you get your hands on a sword, you want to steer as clear as you can from the wildlife. Playing on servers with standard settings, Conan Exile’s world is harsh. Thirst and hunger come visiting quickly. At low level, Shalebacks, large turtle-like creatures, can kill you in two or three hits. So, especially if you’re a solitary barbarian, you’ll want to use caution.
As you travel inland, you’ll bump into more types of wildlife and resources, while also gaining levels. The level up system in Conan Exiles allows increasing stats which make you stronger, quicker or more adaptable, depending on your choices. Every time you level up, there’s also the possibility of selecting new recipes to learn. These range from crafting tools to weapons, armor and structures. Conan Exiles allows you to build your own barbaric abodes. The system is pretty straightforward, too. You place a foundation, walls on top of it, ceilings and a door and you’ve got somewhere to hide from the crocodiles you haphazardly decided to settle next to. These buildings can also be placed on cliffs, or on the side of statues, creating vantage points and defendable outposts. One could also go as far as building full settlements, especially once they begin dabbling into the thrall system, which allows you to have NPCs that fulfill certain roles, be they defensive, religious or crafting-related.
The whole experience feels like a survival game should. You’ll spend a lot of time gathering resources in order to craft. Certain items require lots of materials, at least on standard rate servers. As you trek through the land, you’ll see other player’s constructions. I believe I even saw one player being chased by a pack of hyenas, although, I couldn’t tell you for sure. You’ll encounter new types of enemies that will gang up on you, or throw poison that, should it hit you too many times, will render you unable to move, turning you into a clear victim. Nights absolutely require torches if you want to have even the slightest chance of survival. The people on the servers I joined were eager to provide help whenever someone asked.
Conan Exiles offers three main types of servers: PvP, PvE and Solo/Co-op. After choosing one, you can decide on a flavor. These include stuff like experimental, for the more creative people, or roleplaying, among other things. From setting up my single player server, I could tell that there is good potential for customizability. Harvest and XP rates can be changed as can the day/night cycle. You can even choose whether you want to allow others to loot your body or if loot gets dropped upon dying. Apart from being a genuine way to play Conan Exiles, this provides an alternative for players who want to learn the mechanics at their own pace before taking on harsher settings . The developer has made clear that they’re aiming to reach a middle point between a survival title and something like Skyrim, where the world isn’t just an open sandbox, but also a place with lore and story. I did not see a whole lot of that, although it’s to be expected, mainly because the Conan Exiles experience at this moment in time is far from problem-free.
While performance has become significantly smoother, a decent framerate only came with lowering the settings down to medium. Even then, hitches and framedrops do tend to happen at quite random times. Connection times tend to be long, especially when you’re joining a server for the first time. That being said, you may also end up with your character dead, despite the fact that you were safe inside your house which still happens to be intact. The greatest issue, and the one that stopped me from pushing into trying out the thrall system and what comes later, was the lag. While present in smaller quantities, it proved to be a faithful companion, regardless of the server I was playing on. Small lagspikes threw me around the environment a lot, which coupled with the very unintuitive dashing mechanic that doesn’t allow you to sprint sideways, made movement, especially in combat, a pain.
Fights, in general, are not something I wanted to engage in. Apart from being very run-of-the-mill, it also proved unreliable and unpredictable. I got killed countless times by wildlife that was nowhere close to me. At the same time, fighting something like a crocodile ends up becoming a frantic attempt at circling around the foe, as you pray that most of your hits will connect while hoping you won’t suddenly find yourself dead. The wildlife also has very erratic behavior. I’ve had hyenas chasing me over a quarter of the map only to simply forget about their chase and stand in place for the remainder of the time. Crocodiles clipping through walls provided unnecessary jumpscares. Items disappearing from wooden boxes, spawn points not working properly, all these are things I ran into. A brief encounter with another player on a PvP server ended up in me apparently connecting some 8-9 hits with an axe, only to die to her fists.
Early Access is made for games that are still in-development and Conan Exiles is just at the beginning of the road. If the developers remain as active with patching and adding content, we may end up, somewhere down the line, seeing the vision they present in the trailers coming to life. That being said, my Conan Exiles experience had its fun choked out by constant lag. I will return to it sometime further down the line, however, as I cannot account for “getting lucky” with performance, I’ll say that, unless you’re very dedicated to the genre and willing to persist through the issues I’ve mentioned, you may want to follow Conan Exiles from a distance, at least for the moment.