Great ideas are squandered in an ultimately unsatisfying title not fit to claim the name of a legend.
My recent experience of open world games has been one of fatigue, other than the sublime Breath Of The Wild most AAA titles only repeat the process of gently leading people towards the next location or task whilst offering little in the way of actual exploration of the world. Not just invisible walls stopping true freedom to decide where you want to go, but also the ability to decide your fate, your next move or at the very least what it is you want to achieve. Conan Exiles tries so very hard to answer these needs, but coming so closely after it’s contemporaries it clearly doesn’t do enough to push the genre forward like God Of War or Zelda.
Thrust out into the barren desert for one of multiple generated reasons (exiled if you will) your character is freed by Conan after a lengthy and hilarious creation tool, which includes the ability to toggle genitalia size and the amount of nudity you display. From there you are released into the brutal and unrelenting scenery of the Hyborian Age with mythical creatures threatening your existence alongside warring races, mutants and the wildlife of the day on top.
The game offers a world of resources and expects you to understand that you should be collecting items and immediately crafting to create equipment and clothes, which I luckily understood from previews of the game but I feel other players may have a very hard first hour or two with the game because of it’s lack of even basic tutorials. But once you get over the initial hurdle, the game instantly becomes fun to play. Learning exactly what items you need is fairly easy from the inventory screen, and quickly gives you a list of tasks to find and prepare these items into the latest tools. Suddenly a passing hare is clearly where you need to find hide, you realise you’re going to need a weapon to truly tackle opponents and the world opens up into a multitude of possibilities and opportunities to create. This is where Conan flies, the feeling of freedom on offer is really up there with the best, with the game making it very easy to create, destroy and continue hunting for the next pieces of your own adventure.
Around this premise is where Conan begins to fall apart sadly, for a game based on the legendary warrior Conan combat fells honestly abysmal, being continuously slow and clunky and offering very little in the way of progression no matter how long you spend with the game. Enemies become simply a game of mashing the punch button and hoping their bar depletes before yours, meaning I more often than not would just avoid combat altogether unless I needed the parts an animal would provide. This doesn’t feel like a true exploration of this world, and coming straight after God Of War certainly doesn’t help.
Visually the game is a mixed bag, with character models being a strong point, especially in the plethora of mythical creatures you will bump into, which some seem to have beautiful and clearly painstakingly constructed animations. However, the wide array of wildlife means a lot of animals to bump into, and some of these come across as so wooden its comical. The walk cycle of an alligator had me laughing for minutes because it looked so out of place in this grandiose and threatening world. Also the muddy colour pallet is rarely pushed beyond it’s starting few shades, with very few new areas offering any visual variety. Also the punishing nature of the opening of the game means you are going to be seeing that particularly bland aspect of the game for quite some time before you finally get to grasp with the world.
When you start you can choose to play solo offline, or you can join the multiplayer arena as another survivor aiming to make their mark on the world. Whilst the online mode is a great idea, it rarely runs smoothly enough to warrant its existence. I found myself being thrown out of the online mode, slow down creating an unplayable mess or even sometimes just glitching into the surroundings, all of which is to say I had a much better time playing offline.
Whilst the struggle of the game can manly be felt in the online modes, it also often stumbles in any mode, with extreme pop in and bugs found consistently through my hours with the game. It is understandably a huge and graphically taxing world, but it would have felt more fun if the game had achieved its aim on a smaller scale.
Taking queues from the crafting mechanics of Minecraft & the climbing mechanics of Breath Of The Wild, Conan offers a AAA experience with the lessons learnt of recent innovation, and whilst this can create some truly interesting and hilarious scenarios, the game buckles under the weight of it’s own ambition. It’s not without fun and offers a truly unique blend of crafting and exploration, but it simply cannot provide a consistent enough game experience online to be recommended. Whilst even in single player, the use of the Conan legend and the wild stories that provides are betrayed by the monotonous combat and lack of variety in opponents and visuals, meaning the game becomes boring exactly where it shouldn’t.