I’ve journeyed to Conan Exiles‘ Frozen North and lived to share the experience. The first major expansion to the open-world survival game is due out Wednesday for Steam Early Access on the PC and with the launch of the Xbox One version.
Funcom provided a preview code to explore the wilds of the Frozen North, and it was a genuinely enthralling experience over the last few days. There were some bumps in the road, and it is also clear that the same road is still under construction. Still, the path appears to be true.
A New Land
The Frozen North brings some diversity to the landscape of Conan Exiles if nothing else. The harsh desert and hills make way for grassy fields, then to gloomy forests, and snowy mountains. It’s both a stark contrast and a welcome sight filled with stories told through the environment for those that bother to look.
The new land is made all the more interesting thanks to new creatures like the wolves, bears, warthogs, and wights. An even more dangerous foe awaits with the Frost Giants. Fighting them is only part of the problem as the deadly cold will turn the hardiest soul hungry.
Exiles will have more armor, weapons, and other toys to play with. Fur armor is a necessary addition that can be crafted starting at level 20. The quality of armor needed for the deepest parts of the snow-covered mountain will have to wait past level 30, though.
Other interesting new item additions include beehives to make honey that can be turned into alcoholic drinks and other concoctions to help Conan Exiles players stay warm. There are also fish traps to catch fish, plus insulated structures to protect against the cold.
New dungeons await as well. The Black Keep is full of the undead while the Frost Temple is guarded by Frost Giants. Both are worthy challenges for clans to tackle for loot. The Frost Giants, in particular, provide an incredibly fun addition thanks to their imposing stature and massive weapons.
All the new content in Conan Exiles is bolstered by new features added to the game. The one that will be immediately noticeable at the start of a new character is the temperature system. Three stages of heat and cold will send a player dying of thirst or hunger respectively, which puts a more difficult twist on surviving.
Meanwhile, Funcom has completely revamped the NPC Human AI in Conan Exiles for both enemies and Thrall alike. It’s a desirable upgrade that makes raiding NPC camps and the home bases of other Exiles more difficult.
The change to disallow combat while sprinting is also notable. Funcom intends melee combat to be a game of timing and managing stamina versus just hacking away at a foe. The one thing I did notice was the decision to flee needs to be done quickly while your character has enough stamina to get away.
Note on the Xbox One Version
It’s worth noting that I have not had a chance to test out the Xbox One version of Conan Exiles yet. I hope to receive a code by the time the game releases on Wednesday.
That said, I did play with the Xbox One controller extensively during my time with Conan Exiles. Like much of the game, it’s not perfect but Funcom is on the right path.
Replacing the hot bar with a radial wheel menu seemed odd at first, but grew on me slowly. The ability to craft and repair items from the radial menu is there, so no functionality is lost. The two biggest issues are not being able to readily see the durability status of a weapon or shield during combat and too many clicks required to replace an item on the wheel.
The inventory management could use some additional controller shortcuts to make moving items easier. Double-tapping the ‘A’ button to move single items over from a stack or holding the ‘A’ button to move the entire stack, for example.
Still Much Work
The impressive steps forward for Conan Exiles only serve to make those areas that still need work stand out that much more. The creature AI is a perfect example as the improvements to the human NPC AI makes tackling camps challenging and helps make Thralls a more formidable defense option.
Funcom hasn’t gotten to the creature AI yet, however. Everything from hyenas to gazelle to shalebacks to wolves will still spawn and find themselves stuck circling in one place.
There are, of course, still various bugs and other issues with Conan Exiles owing to its still being in Early Access. My single-player game lost all creature and NPC spawns at one point, turning the experience into an empty world.
I also experienced a couple of crashes and odd glitches as well, like parts of my character turning invisible until I re-equipped armor. There are other small quality of life updates that could be added as well, such as remembering how much the player zoomed in on the map for the next time they open it.
If there is anything Conan Exiles has going for it, it is a focused development effort from Funcom that hasn’t fallen victim to side projects or distraction. The team has made strong strides and the Frozen North expansion is but the latest.
The Frozen North provides a much-needed boost to the variety of content in Conan Exiles along with an expanded play space. If Funcom can keep the focused development effort going forward, it stands to become an Early Access success story and one of the open-world survival games to watch.
[Disclosure: Funcom provided a preview code for The Frozen North expansion.]
[Featured Image by Funcom]