Conan Exiles, the newest offering from Funcom, finally left early access this week with a retail launch on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. The game immediately rocketed to the top of Steam’s best-seller list, where it’s lodged itself among other high-profile new releases such as BattleTech, Frostpunk and Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire.
The game’s success is surprising given the circumstances. When it was announced, Conan Exiles was very clearly an attempt by Funcom to carve off its own piece of the survival pie, which for years has been a booming segment on Steam. But early on, the early access version was plagued with technical issues. Haters joked that Funcom couldn’t even steal well.
So I jumped into Exiles yesterday not really knowing what to expect. To my surprise, I found a functional and enjoyable multiplayer survival experience. There’s just... let’s call them quirks.
For instance, it’s possible to be very nude in this game.
True to the fiction of Robert E. Howard, Conan Exiles is populated by only absurdly muscular men and the most preposterously proportioned women imaginable. Players begin the game with little more than a loin cloth. Of course, there’s an option to drop that as well, which leads to some unique character customization options, including a “breast size” slider for both male and female avatars, as well as the “endowment” slider for males that will allow you to customize the length of your avatar’s penis.
In case you were wondering, I can report back that the in-game genital physics are relatively accurate, although I question if the male sex organ is prone to simply blowing around like that in a stiff breeze.
Players enter the world in a desert and, after a short run, find themselves in a relatively tranquil oasis near a river. From there the early game plays out almost exactly like Ark: Survival Evolved. Players level up by doing simple tasks and levels grant you gain points that you can spend on new crafting recipes. Gathering rocks and sticks evolves into chopping down trees with an axe and breaking large rocks into smaller ones. After an hour or so, you’ve built up a small cottage industry in addition to said small cottage.
The melee combat is particularly rewarding. Attacks go off quickly, and blend naturally into combinations that send foes reeling. Stamina regenerates quickly, so it doesn’t feel like you’re stuck in the same fight for too long with nothing to do. Best of all, Funcom’s infrastructure — the servers that run the thing on the back end — appear capable of keeping up with the action. Fights are therefore fair, with very little lag and no rubber banding.
What’s really refreshing about the game is simply how stable it is. I say this as a veteran of every major survival game release of the last six years: The damn thing just works. I build a house and, even on player-versus-player servers, once I’m locked inside I’m safe. The things I put in my personal treasure chests are still there when I get back the next day. Not only do the official servers that I’ve tried remain online, but they seem to run the game extremely well.
If you’re looking for a single-player experience that won’t give you fits, or a small group experience that rewards active participation by a like-minded community of friends, then you need Conan Exiles in your life right now.
However, this game brings with it all of the baggage of the Conan brand. That includes slavery and the sexual exploitation of said slaves. Bondage? Torture? In-fiction racism? It’s all there in spades. If you’re not looking forward to the prospect of gathering hundreds and hundreds of stones in order to build the Pleasure Place of Darketo, a structure clearly built for tying down and having your way with the unwilling, then maybe this is not the game for you.
Many, if not most, of those kinds of elements appear to be entirely optional. You don’t have to take slaves. You don’t have to worship a god whose rites include orgiastic rituals or cannibalism. You can choose to worship Crom, an uncaring pseudo-deity who is effectively the agnostic option for those who can take care of themselves.
The only downside is that the game’s infrastructure can only support very small populations. The average maximum on servers right now is around 40 players, so if you want in on the social aspects of this game you had best get in now before the next high-profile online survival game pulls people away.