We recently got our hands on Conan Exiles, as well as the recent update “The Frozen North” and so far, minus a few bugs here and there, this is a rival for the best survival game available.
Conan Exiles has been available since January, and over that time has seen some pretty massive updates since going into early access. None, however, quite as big as The Frozen North. In short, this completely free expansion made the game roughly twice the size it was before. As someone who didn’t play the game before these improvements, it will be difficult to appreciate them as much as someone else who did. On the other hand, it means I got to see the game it is today after some of the biggest issues plagued the game have been squashed.
This update brings a ton of new things to the table, and having put approximately 80+ hours into the game. I can say I’m loving it. I’ll begin with an overview of the changes, and then a breakdown of my experience playing it. So let’s get started.
Whats New in “The Frozen North”
There’s so much to talk about here it’s hard to decide where to start. Considering this is a survival game where players can build huge bases, villages, and even megastructures, I’ll start there. First, there are a host of new items added to the game. After everything from armor, weapons, and building materials being added over the course of the first 6 months, The Frozen North adds another 300+ to your repertoire.
There are new crenelated walls to help defend against attacking players from climbing your defenses. As well as siege cauldrons to dump hot oil on them for even further defense. Traps can be placed around your base as well, leading them into a false security as they sneak up on your base. On the attacking side of this, there are new siege trebuchets you can build to decimate enemy bases before ever stepping foot into their territory. It all significantly raises the immersion that opposing clans in a PVP server can get into.
To make this all easier to set up, Funcom has significantly reduced building costs across the board. So don’t be afraid to spend those materials to upgrade your base of operations. This is where most survival games live or die, as building costs can seriously hamper an experience if they’re too difficult to be worth building anything of importance. You can also get a “Dome of Protection” to ward off those pesky Avatars, be wary though, they aren’t easy to make.
Combat has also seen an overhaul. New light and heavy attacks allow for greater tactics against enemies. You can also dodge in the middle of attacks instead of being animation locked.
They’ve also added two new dungeons, which allow for a hand crafted and guided experiences for players to explore and conquer. Along with this, the loot system has also seen a reworking. You can now get useful and rare loot from NPC’s and even treasure chests scattered around the world.
In order to make the game feel even more like a “survival game” on top of the food, clothing, and general dangers department. Funcom has added a temperature system where what you wear, and how hot or cold you are matters. If you’re in the desert, and it’s high noon, you’ll begin to overheat and your pack will begin to feel heavier, and you’ll need water more often. The same, but opposite, can be said for winter. You will need warm clothing and a heat source.
Other things of note would be things like the new Armor Dyeing system, which lets you dye your armors for even greater customization. You can now place markers on the map, 5 to be precise which is sadly far too few. New ‘Journey’ and ‘Exploration’ systems have been implemented to encourage working towards goals and exploration. They’re optional, but give players who like to complete everything something to work towards. They have even added new server types for different types of players. Both PVP and PVE have normal and fast progression. Some people want to play the game as intended, while others would like to see faster progress to get to end game quicker.
Last but not least of the changes for Phase 2 is game stability. Both AMD and Nvidia cards got a huge boost in compatibility, making the game run far smoother across the board. Servers and client side performance has also seen a boost. So the game is more stable and playable than ever.
Building a Name in the Survival Genre
I have played a large number of different survival games ranging from Minecraft to Rust, and while some are more lighthearted than others, none have been quite as polished as Conan that I have experienced, especially with how young the game still is. It is important to note here though that no other has been made by a developer with as much experience as Funcom. Sure, they may have been going through some financial troubles a few years back, but they know how to make a fun game.
Conan Exiles is very much similar to games like Rust and Ark: Survival Evolved, except in the brutal Conan universe. It starts off with a cut scene where your character has been crucified in the desert, Conan himself decides to save you from your fate, and off you go. Like most survival games before it, there isn’t much direction from then on. However, unlike most survival games there is a good bit of lore, story, and even single player elements to the game.
This is likely due to the Funcom’s history with their MMO’s, and the rich lore the Conan universe already has. With this, the game has a lot going for it already that’s uncommon for the genre.
You have the obvious stuff; mining for materials, making gear, building your base, hunger etc. But where Exiles really stands out is its environments and world. There are so many little things the game pays attention to that really immerses its players into the experience. It’s a harsh world that holds no punches, yet set in a beautiful world inhabited by all manner of creatures. Hyenas, Giant Spiders, Panthers, Rhinos, along with plenty of fantasy creatures as well. Many, if not most of them are aggressive, so you need to be on your guard at all times.
Those are what just about every other survival game already has though, so what about what sets Conan apart? Well, first off, the game has major NPC cities. Sure, they’re all full of hostile NPCs, but at least they exist. I can see Funcom doing a lot of stuff with these. They could add NPC trading, add trade routes from city to city allowing for ambushes, and just another place to camp out and maybe earn some stuff you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.
The game does feature at least 1 friendly NPC, I haven’t seen any others since then, but it does give me hope for the above-mentioned cities.
Another big difference with Conan is its Lore. There is so much for the developers to draw from and in turn, add to the game to make it stand out from other survival games. Also, no firearms. That alone is a massive bonus above other games in the genre.
Building a base is very much like in other survival games, however, there are some unique items. Elevators, siege catapults, crenelated walls, traps, and siege cauldrons add another layer to the game and give players far more options when planning their base.
With that are the myriad of vanity items to “decorate” your base. From basics like chests and chairs, literally all the way down to pillows and bowls. This game has everything thought out for interior and exterior designers. If you’ve always wanted to make that master castle to live in AND populate it so it’s not some empty shell, Conan Exiles will let you.
Thralls and Avatars are also a big difference. Thralls are NPC’s you can basically turn into slaves to do your bidding. They even have their own specialties like combat, cooking, armor making etc. So you have to consider who you take, and where you place them to be effective. While Avatars are massive ‘Gods’ that you can summon to demolish those who stand in your way. They aren’t easy to get, but something this powerful shouldn’t be.
Lastly, you have hand crafted dungeons that require teamwork, skill, and a bit of luck to get through. There are currently 3 of them, and they feel a lot like those seen in MMO’s, but they’re a nice change of pace when you want to try and get some epic loot with a bit of sword swinging.
My Conan Exiles Experience
Conan Exiles has been a blast to play so far, and it’s been practically all I have played in the past couple of weeks. It is a survival game through and through, although that isn’t always to its advantage. Sure, it is implemented quite well, and for one that’s only 9 months old, it’s quite stable. It also mostly feels like other survival games. It feels a lot like Rust and Ark had a baby and called it Conan Exiles.
It has so much lore to build upon though, and I have seen the groundwork they have in place to call it their own and differentiate this game from the somewhat crowded genre.
It starts like most others, you’re literally naked and you must fend for yourself in a hard desert, hoping to make it to water before you die of dehydration. Assuming you realize just how fast your thirst meter falls and you keel over the first time. You pick up some basic items like sticks and stones to create some rudimentary items to begin your journey.
You will first have to contend against some small enemies like hostile crocodiles, hostile NPCs, and other real players. If you manage to find a safe spot, you will begin to build a name for yourself. Starting with the most basic of foundations and walls, you will slowly begin to move up the ladder building better tools, bases, and armor.
Conan is the first survival game I have experienced where better armor and weapons had me excited for the upgrade. They feel rewarding when you strap on that new set of medium armor and it looks far superior to your thatch rags. Your weapons too start to look better, pack a heftier punch, and break less often.
Of course, all of this comes with greater resource cost. You will need to explore into the more dangerous zones to find the better resources. The same thing goes for the building materials. If you decided to stay at noob river forever, be ready to start traveling great distances just to build a few walls.
On that note, the building in this game is pretty standard fair. They are large foundations and walls, so the look of your buildings won’t be too different from other games. With one notable difference. You can decorate the hell out of your creations. There are so many cosmetic items in this game for your buildings you’ll not know where to start. From shelves to cups and bowls and even trophy heads and carpets. If your house is empty save for your bed and crafting stations, you’re doing something wrong.
The terrain and locations you will see in the game are awe inspiring as well. This game has some gorgeous vistas for you to just stop and enjoy. My game isn’t even running at max settings, and it looks great. Each area is diverse and gives you new things to explore and discover. From NPC villages to dungeons which are hand crafted to provide a guided experience which is unique to the genre. I guess the MMO developer in them started to come out, and it’s something I greatly appreciate.
It is a little disappointing that everything in the game is out to kill you though. That 1 friendly NPC in the beginning gave me false hope that there would be more like it. Ones I could perhaps trade with for harder to find materials. Or set up trade routes with other players, while others decided to ambush for easy gain. It would provide an awesome set of experiences unseen in most games, let alone survival games.
The ability to take those hostile NPC’s and enslave them for your own personal benefit is nice touch too. It makes you consider who you cut down before doing so. Do you need a Cook, a Dancer, or maybe a Smithy to help you with a certain goal? Then be careful of what you do, your success depends on it.
At the same time, the game allows you to destroy, and even steal other peoples items. You can make friends and enemies, and siege their work. It does provide another level of role playing to the game that makes things interesting. You can build siege catapults and lay waste to someone’s tower, or sneak up in the dead of night and kill them while they sleep. Or, you can make it in unnoticed, take whatever you fancy from their chests and slip away without them ever batting an eye.
Of course, you can’t open other peoples doors, so if they are diligent when they go in and out of their structures you’ll have to find another way in, such as the aforementioned destruction.
The only thing I wish would be done here is that they would turn off global chat in PVP servers. Often times people will come up and attack someone else’s base, and as soon as it hits the global chat, the attacker becomes public enemy number 1. I know that’s more of a demographic issue rather than the devs fault, but taking peoples “phones” away, and forcing them to talk in close proximity would allow for greater alliances. It would even allow for some awesome medieval politics in the server. People would forge great alliances, or make great enemies depending on how they treat one another. The possibilities have me excited just thinking about it.
Where It Starts To Get Frustrating
As with any early access game, Conan Exiles has some issues. Many of them are entirely bearable, however, others are downright frustrating. While I go into its many problems, I will preface it by saying I understand it is an Early Access game. These bugs are expected, and it’s just as expected that they will be ironed out as time goes on. They actually recently released a new patch that fixed many issues, while at the same time causing new ones. Developing a game is sadly not as easy as telling it what to do.
As I said above, often times when developers fix a problem, new problems will arise with something seemingly unrelated as a result of that last fix. So it’s a long process and the main reason why many games stay in early access for so long.
Funcom has been making great strides though, and doesn’t plan on leaving the game in early access indefinitely. In fact, they are planning on fully releasing the game early next year on all platforms. I am playing the game on PC, so I can’t give any first-hand experiences on the Xbox One version, but if the Reddit sub is anything to go by, the game is almost unplayable in its current state. Many claiming they can’t play for more than 5-10 minutes at a time. This is an unfortunate reality of early access games, but it’s just how it goes. If you’re willing to stick with it, you will eventually see some massive improvement. Which is clear if you look at how much the PC client has improved over its first 8 months in early access. The console client will be improved in time.
As far as current issues, the game has some mostly minor issues at the moment. Thinks like your avatar not spawning correctly, lag spikes that end in death, some sound issues every now and again, resources not disappearing after you harvest them, or mobs spawning in the same spot in much greater than intended numbers. It’s mostly negligible stuff, but there are bigger issues as well.
Such as servers crashing. It’s a big issue right now, and on PVP servers, when it crashes you not only die, but your body despawns and you lose everything you had on you. Although on certain servers losing items on death is disabled, so servers crashing is more of an annoyance than a hindrance.
The game also doesn’t inform you of many things. Such as what different recipes require to build certain objects, or that when you place foundations you can not only rotate them, but actually raise and lower them as well for greater control on where your structure is placed. Although, it’s important to mention that this level of control is great to have because the ground is far from flat. It just requires you to consult with google for quite a few things, or ask others on the server if you’re online.
I have an issue with the triangle foundations being only a 35% (or so) half square. Sure, it adds for some extra creativity, but at the same time it forces you to think WAY outside the box, and I guess I’m just not that creative. With this, the roofs in my humble opinion need extra attention. There aren’t enough options to close in what you’ve built, so either you have to compromise, or build a really ugly monstrosity of a ceiling.
Another issue with building is getting portions of foundation or wall to snap to other ones. You will sometimes have to completely reposition yourself by climbing a nearby wall or jumping down to get below it. Also with this, you will sometimes place your object in the wrong location. Which will obviously require you to delete that whatever it is, and this can sometimes result in items behind or below it being deleted in its place. Which can end up in large chunks of your house crumbling if it’s a major wall or foundation.
As far as mining goes, they recently released a patch that has partially addressed this, but when you run, you auto unequip whatever items you are holding. They now pop back into your hands once you stop running, but almost all of them have an animation that you cannot skip before running again. It isn’t a big deal, but it is bothersome.
Other than that, as with most games, there are still some performance issues, especially on AMD cards. Or so my buddy tells me. He’s seen his game crash far more than mine, which can be detrimental when you’re trying to get stuff accomplished.
Final, Current Thoughts
At the time of finishing this writing, the game has thoroughly drawn me in. I have some grand plans for an epic sized castle that won’t be something to scoff at. In fact, I now plan to make it a sort of museum, allowing people to explore certain parts of it if they wish to see our awesome design… whenever it gets finished.
I have logged about 80 hours into the game, which is impressive for me in such a short period of time, and I find myself continuously wanting to come back to it. I have been following their Tweets and updates, eager for more information on their plans for the game. I have my own ideas of things I wish they would do, and I’d be willing to bet their plans are far more grand. The game has so much potential with its lore they could do whatever they wanted with it. It’s in a unique spot to take over the genre as the best game within it, and push it to new heights.
It still has a ways to go yet and it isn’t without its issues, but on PC at least, they have made some great progress. The combat is fun that allows for some nuance to it, the building allows for some grand designs and the server side seems to be able to handle some massive structures without struggling one bit.
The ability to really customize what you build is nice too. You can treat every building as something new and add all sorts of items to it to make it unique. Sure, the game has its bugs and problems, but they are mostly easy to overlook, and it does very little to hold back on the games potential.
Conan Exiles is still early yet, even if it’s relatively close to launching. It has made some great strides since launching, and its potential to be the best game in the genre shows. My hope is that it capitalizes on that potential, and delivers us something unlike anything else. Bigger worlds, more building options, more dungeons to explore, and events like I’ve heard whispers of. So while you read this, you can expect me to be playing the game. Which I’m about to do.
I’ll be sure to write a follow up on the game when it launches to contrast to how it is now.
Here’s hoping to see you guys in game.