Set in the universe of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, Conan Exiles is an often relentless survival RPG that has this month made its way out of Early Access and out into the wild. Developed by Norwegian indie studio Funcom, Exiles is the developer's most recent take on the source material following after the releases of Age of Conan: Unchained and Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer which launched in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
Playing as a captured criminal, you awaken nailed to a cross, left to spill your blood under the beating sun as punishment for your misdeeds. Things aren't looking great until Conan himself swoops in to save you, leaving you with the promise that the two of you will once more cross paths. With regards to story, this is all you are given before you're left to wander across the desert naked and confused, picking up every rock, branch, and plant along your way to aid you on your survival. The world from this point is your own and you're given the freedom to set up shop wherever you wish and explore the crippling and brutal world of the Exiled Lands to your heart's content.
Survival is, of course, the focus here and you'll want to keep close watch over your hunger and hydration levels, as well as seeking shelter from sandstorms and other harsh conditions. You'll also want to craft tools that increase your chances of survival, including weapons, tools for chopping trees and breaking stones, and a campfire to cook yourself more fulfilling meals. The journey of becoming a more resourceful and skilled survivor is what kept us coming back to Conan Exiles. Moving from starting clothless and searching for a feast of insects through to owning our own stone palace and slave army felt satisfying across every step of the way.
Your first few hours will likely be filled with confusion as little is offered in the way of a tutorial. How do I turn the fire on? How can I harvest meat? These will likely be two of the first questions that you ask yourself. We kept finding ourselves referring to YouTube videos and online wikis to find the questions to many of the basic questions, which pulled us right out of the experience. We get that this was perhaps intentional as it pushes the player to use their wits to survive their surroundings but we imagine this initial bout of confusion will deter some. Perhaps an optional tutorial for newcomers to the survival genre that can be toggled on and off would have helped ease this learning curve.
Progression in Exiles is managed through a checklist of small objectives within the menu's journey tab, which is split into 10 chapters. It starts off simple with tasks like finding shelter and crafting a weapon, and moves onto more specific tasks like visiting the region of the Unnamed City for the first time. Completing these tasks offers generous XP boosts allowing you to unlock new craftable resources and improve your character's attributes in categories such as aim, survival, and strength. While Conan does offer players freedom, these journey objectives offer direction for those who seek a touch more focus, and the ones included ensure that it always feels like you have something to work towards.