If you’ve played 2008 MMO Age of Conan, you might have been expecting Funcom’s Conan Exiles, just released in May 2018, to be a sequel or even a spin-off. However, while there are similarities, the latter is essentially a game of survival. And it’s hardcore, too; one of the more non-user friendly games you’ll ever come across. You begin the game with no clothes and nailed to a cross. Once Conan has cut you down, you’re left with nothing, and your sole aim is to survive the wilderness. Unfortunately, there’s hardly any instruction on how to achieve this, and your first few hours will leave you with nothing but frustration. Beneath the surface lies an interesting game, but it’s often hidden underneath layers of confusion.
While the lack of tutorials is troublesome, your patience is rewarded with a number of in-game achievements to point you in the right direction. It starts with the little things, such as learning how to climb, before you move on to make your first kill and apply advanced combat fighting techniques. You’ll first need to get to grips with the crafting system, in no small part so you can find some clothes to cover your shame.
This is where the game falls down, because not only is a lack of explanation fully exposed, you’re forced to contend with a horrendous interface. Spending 30 minutes messing around with the crafting screen is arguably more tiresome than challenging.
Conan has been a popular figure in the world of fantasy since his days in pulp fiction magazines, making his first appearance in 1932. Since then, of course, he’s been portrayed in the movies, most notable by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984), and then again in the 2011 reboot, with Jason Momoa in the title role.
The fantasy genre is no stranger to gaming. Popular movies and TV shows from the genre are frequently being adapted to video games. Popular HBO series Game of Thrones, of course, has the 2014 video game of the same name. There’s even a Canadian Game of Thrones on gameofcanada, with Canadian actors reimagined as characters from the show.
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While there’s far more time spent picking up flowers in the woods than you’d want inside a game bearing Conan’s name, once you begin to pick up the basics, it does start to get your attention. It almost has a feel of Minecraft about it, in that you’re setting up camp and working out the various crafting recipes, before exploring the widely different options presented when you worship each of the different gods. Sandbox games have been hugely popular in recent years, after all.
The problem with the game lies more with the bugs and lack of resources than the level of difficulty, so there is every chance that it can fulfil its potential further down the line. Right now, however, it feels every bit as barbaric as its namesake.