Conan Exiles jumped into the fray of an increasingly crowded open-world survival genre last week with a Steam Early Access PC release. The Conan franchise is clearly a labor of love for the developers at Funcom, and the early indications show great promise, but with the caveat of time spent laboring at the Wheel of Pain.
The Riddle of… Early Access
It’s important to first note that yes, Conan Exiles is an Early Access title and is essentially in an alpha or pre-alpha state at the moment. This means features and content are missing or incomplete. Those that do jump into the world of Hyboria will see plenty of frustrations along the way. I’ve spent the last week playing on official and unofficial servers, local servers, and my own unofficial server in an attempt to get a full feel for the game.
Those frustrations cropped up early in the first week as playing on official servers was interminable at best. Multiple issues cropped up with the worst being lag and “rubber-banding.” This resulted in Funcom dropping the player cap on official servers from 70 to 40 players and ultimately dropping their initial server hosting partner in favor of another who would meet their requirements.
Issues weren’t limited to just server performance, however. Conan Exiles players were naturally subjected to various exploits discovered by other players, and some of the gameplay turning out to not be all that balanced. Specifically, players discovered it was extremely easy to break into Tier 1 buildings.
These kinds of issues are to be expected at the launch of an Early Access title. What should be looked at is how developers respond in these situations, and Funcom has knocked it out of the park so far. The development team has been wonderfully open to the burgeoning community and responsive with sometimes multiple patches in a single day to address performance and gameplay issues.
Additionally, the decision to change official server providers demonstrates Funcom being keenly aware of the need to keep customer’s happy. The new official servers are finally starting to come online at the time of this article, per an official update, but it’s safe to say the development team has picked up lessons learned from similar titles and is trying their best to avoid them.
“Barbarianism is the natural state of mankind”
As for Conan Exiles itself, it’s surprisingly well put together for this early stage of the project. The user interface is sharp, clean, and easily understood. Funcom provides plenty of information at the player’s fingertips through tooltips, text information, and easily understood icons.
The clean UI makes crafting and building relatively simple to pick up. This even extends to the interface implemented for server admins, so those jumping into Conan Exiles won’t find themselves encumbered by a poor interface. Funcom clearly took the extra effort to make the interface near release quality, and it paid off.
Gameplay follows the major pillars of the open-world survival genre, but with a Conan twist plus the first inklings of Funcom’s MMORPG experience thrown in. Players are rescued from being crucified by Conan himself. A quick and enjoyable character creation screen later and the exploration of the Exiled Lands begins either naked or nearly so.
Players will immediately stumble upon the first MMORPG style story element with an ancient ruin that sets up a story for the game world. There is no linear narrative to Conan Exiles, but Funcom has scattered ruins and ghost-like story narration throughout to explain the background of the setting. This provides a more “lived-in” feeling to the world combined with the inclusion of human NPCs and not just strange creatures.
These NPCs can be fought for their loot or captured and turned into Thralls to defend your base or be put to work as craftsmen or entertainers. These NPCs spawn in the same spots with the same mix of character types currently, though, including the highly valued named NPCs. Hopefully, this is something Funcom can make more random and varied in future updates.
“Now is the feasting of swords.”
Combat is fairly straightforward hack and slash at the moment with options to either block attacks with a shield or dodge. The most disappointing aspect of combat currently involves archery. It feels underpowered at the moment, but perhaps will become more viable with future balance updates.
The use of religion and Hyborian Gods and religions is another hook for Conan Exiles that gives it a more RPG-ish feel than most. Worshiping the different deities will open new items and weapons to craft and eventually summon a giant Avatar. I’ve yet to see one of these in action, but that’s not surprising as the game is barely a week old, and the vast majority of the community has not reached this end-game.
Meanwhile, the Conan Exiles world is lovingly put together with some enticing set pieces viewable from the early zones that calling to be explored. There are caves to dive into and battle through along with ancient ruins. Just watch out for the stat draining corruption.
Worthy of Crom?
The debate over the value of Early Access games will rage on whether Funcom jumped into the fray or not. Conan Exiles provides a satisfying taste at this early stage, however, with enough differences to draw players into the world of Hyboria. Those interested in taking part in a game while it is being developed will also find plenty to enjoy as the developers deliver new updates and content. That is sometimes part of the fun.
Conan Exiles is currently available only for the PC via Steam Early Access. An Xbox One edition is planned to hit the Game Preview Program this spring. A PlayStation 4 version is also planned, but it does not currently have a release window. Creative Director Joel Bylos has stated Funcom plans to have the game in early access for approximately one year.
A Steam Early Access code was provided by Funcom for the purposes of this article. Server rental was paid for by the writer.
[Featured Image by Funcom]