Conan Exiles isn't exactly a new game, but recently we paid a visit to developer Funcom's offices to see what they've been doing while Conan Exiles has been in Early Access. The answer? A whole fricking lot.
The game that launches in full on May 8 is quite different from the one players have been messing around in for the past year or so, but that has been Funcom's plan from the get-go, explains Joel Bylos, Creative Director at Funcom. The goal was always to be in Early Access for a short period of time, and then launch a game that was noticeably different from the Early Access version, instead of dragging the test period out indefinitely and then releasing a game that's just an extension of the test version.
Free climbing, combat system and survival mechanics
Bylos started off with showing us a mechanic they're implementing in the final version of the game - which is clearly a result of the developers having played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - and this is free climbing. Like in BoTW most things can be climbed, and how far you can climb is determined by your stamina. Just like in BoTW too, it's a brilliant mechanic. Later, when we get to get toe-to-toe with Conan Exiles, our entire survival strategy is based on climbing. Run into a hostile tribe? Climb a sheer rock wall up and away to safety! Antagonised some hippo-like creatures by stealing their eggs? Climb a palm tree and stay there until they calm down and forget about the eggs. Maybe eat some eggs while we're up there to regain health too. We survive for quite some time like this until we, emboldened by our survival skills, challenge a giant croc to a duel.
We do this, naturally, to test the new combat system (we swear), which has received a massive overhaul during its time in Early Access, and is one of the things Bylos is most proud of in the game. The combat system has gone from a simple, Skyrim-esque hack and slash to a much more advanced combo-based system featuring light and heavy attacks, blocking, and dodging. It's about 80% as good as the combat in the God of War or Dark Souls games, Bylos says, without the developers having spent nearly as much time developing it. He's very impressed with what they've managed to achieve in such a short amount of time, and we feel inclined to agree.
It works well, and we slay one beast after another, and even a human at some point, but that might have been a friendly NPC who just wanted to talk. Even though the new combat system is responsive and makes things both fun and challenging to fight enemies, getting into a tussle with a giant croc, only armed with a home-made stone hatchet (us, not the croc) is still a pretty terrible idea...
After traipsing around for a while and being told we can actually harvest resources from the animals we kill, instead of just leaving them where they fall (we're obviously not survival experts, alright?), we manage to craft odds and ends. Every time we do something that increases the chances of our survival we get a little notification, a 'mission accomplished', and some tips on other stuff we can do to further our chance of survival even more. This is part of the Exiles Journey - a tutorial of sorts for those of us who aren't Bear Grylls - aiming to help us get started when the game launches. We manage to set up a cooking fire and cook some meat (eating it raw is bad for us. Who knew?), and feel pretty good about ourselves. That is until we sneak a peek at the screen beside us and see that they have already begun building a fortress. We suddenly die from dehydration and Funcom decides we are now ready for war.