I’ll admit right off that my interest in Conan Exiles was piqued by my friend Chris’s article about its dong physics. You can adjust dong size, you see; as Chris says, there should be a slide whistle sound effect for that. For women it’s breast size.
The idea is, you start out naked in the desert, and move up from there. I would not like to be put naked in the desert in real life, but it sounded like fun in a game, so I picked it up.
This is a different approach from (say) Empyrion, where you arrive on an alien planet in an escape pod that includes a buttload of metal ingots, seedlings, weapons, a fabricator, a chainsaw, and motorcycle parts. Exiles is made by a Norwegian company, presumably strung out on death metal, so you begin with zilch.
Back in the Hyborian Age everybody was built. My character is supposed to be an exiled criminal, but I guess the prison had an excellent food service and exercise program.
I have no interest in PvP, so I’m only doing single-player. This is also Early Access, so who knows what mechanics will be added in the next year. Still, the basic gameplay is there.
In any survival game, the question is how long is it till the mining and crafting loop becomes too tedious? I put in over 300 hours in Empyrion, which is about as good as it gets. I played Astroneer for about 6 hours: it’s charming but I didn’t feel like anything new was coming up. I’ve already played Exiles for 30 hours– it’s mostly fun, a little grindy, sometimes infuriating.
One big thing: it’s really beautiful. You get some lovely sandy vistas, with arcane ruins in the backgrounds, and lots of animals and NPCs to go hunt down.
The idea here is that back in the Hyborian Age, miscreants would be hung up on the cross on the edge of the desert. A helpful note details my character’s crimes: singing bawdy songs, piracy, and blackmail. Conan comes by and cuts you down. That’s about it for story and for any actual connection to the Conan franchise. Well, you do pick your race and gods from the Conan canon. Other than that the main thing is, you know, being primal. So there are elements like making slaves of NPCs and exploring sorcerous ruins. If you follow Mitra, as I do, when you kill an NPC you collect their soul, which you do by hitting them with an ankh.
In practice, you gather resources, craft things, and progress in a tech tree. My first hours were a bit precarious– there’s no tutorial, and on-line material is scanty. So, some news you can use if you want to try it out:
- Most interactable things don’t get any on-screen prompt or glow or anything. Eventually I realized that most plants, rocks, and sticks can be picked up by looking at them and hitting E.
- Water is not a problem when you find the river, and food is not a problem once you have a campfire.
- Hides seemed scarce at first, till I realized that you can’t loot a dead animal: you actually have to whack it with your pickaxe till it gives up the goods. You need hides to make a bow, which is key to attacking the meaner animals.
- You will die a lot at first. You can set your respawn point by making a leaf bed– you have to remake it each time. Respawning will go much easier if you create a wooden box and put some basic supplies in it (like a spare bow and stone sword).
- Eventually you will want a tannery, which is fueled by bark. You get bark from trees only if you use the pickaxe on them.
- While I’m giving advice: I found the game laggy till I turned down some inessential graphics things, like shadows.
You can make rather handsome sandstone structures, and then you start to accumulate workbenches and other advanced crafting tools. In general the map gets harder as you go north. I can’t tell you what’s up there yet, except that I’ve found where the iron and coal rocks live. (And regenerate! Rocks, plants, and monsters regrow after awhile.)
So far as I’m concerned, if I want a workout I’ll go to the gym. The game is extremely stingy in XP advancement; it takes forever to build all those workbenches, and then you have to wait for more levels to get to the good stuff, like iron weapons. But in single-player you can set your own rules, so I bumped up the XP allocation considerably. There’s only so much splitting rocks with a stone axe that I can take.
Combat… well, combat needs work. You can use a shield and sword, only the shield will break pretty much immediately. There’s not much variation otherwise. I spend a lot of time retreating to rocks; the monsters and NPCs can’t climb most rocks, so you can then shoot them with arrows. There’s some animals I haven’t figured out yet, like the spiders. The bows are too wimpy to hit them from far away, and they shoot poison at you.
Most infuriating thing yet: I explored an underground temple and found that I was accumulating “corruption”– expressed as a permanent reduction of my health and stamina. There is a cure for this: you have to get yourself a thrall who’s a dancer. This was so dumb that I restarted, avoiding nasty caves this time.
The map is terrible. There is no way to mark points. You can’t see where you’ve been; there are no landmarks. Your base is not marked, nor is your corpse (which you want to loot to get back the inventory you had when you died).
A minor quibble: you can’t loot enemy gear, which seems silly.
The basic draw of these games is to see what you can do next, as you learn new skills, or are able to take on enemies you couldn’t before. From that point of view, Exiles is still working for me, because I want to see what comes next. Also, I want to see what this pile of bones and lotus flowers I’ve been accumulating will eventually be good for.