Survival games are having an identity crisis at the moment and thanks to games like Metal Gear Survive, the genre might run out of steam soon enough. However there are developers trying their best to reinvent survival games and one of these titles (next to We Happy Few) is the epic looking Conan Exiles.

I previewed Conan Exiles last year and found it a captivating exploration adventure, with engaging RPG elements and survival gameplay. While having a few issues that hindered on the overall experience, I was confident that the developers would fix these concerns upon release. To which they did to some degree.

Conan Exiles throws players into the Exile Lands as a condemned warrior who’s been left for dead in the harsh dessert. After selecting who your gender, Race, Religion you worship and the sizing of your genitals, players will be unleashed into a brutal yet fascinating world of fantasy and hardcore violence. What players will realise very soon into the game is that there’s virtually no hand holding, no guides or even a structured plot to follow. Everything in the world before you is free to explore and anything and everything you do is self-taught in many respects.

This is a survival game in its purist form, with notable mechanics from the genre being active here including resource management, eating/drinking, crafting and a very open story that doesn’t tie you down into a narrative. Players will have to manage their various stats including hydration, hunger and so forth in order to stay alive, while collecting resources in order to craft vital gear.

I will admit that in the early stages of Conan Exiles, this is a brutal game to say the least and one that’ll test your patience. As mentioned above there’s very little guidance in Conan, apart from a few strings of tasks that start off from walking, climbing, drinking water to more challenging feats such as building, fighting and defeating powerful foes. These are things you’d do anyway and even set as tasks, there’s very little information on how to accomplish them in the dialogues or menus. You’ll have to do a fair amount of work, experimentation or looking online to figure out the small details, even to light a camp fire proved a little tricky as it’s not clearly stated on how to do it.

While the game is very rewarding and offers a genuine sense of accomplishment when you overcome various obstacles, there’s plenty of trial and error to face along the away. What can be infuriating in early stages (as well as later ones) is a form of perma-death system which takes away any items you were holding on your person if you die. Now you have one chance to reclaim these items but in all fairness it’s properly worth starting over again. This only becomes manageable when you build a base camp, with storage, a bed and four walls to keep roaming beast and thugs away while you take a nap. Getting to this point of having a safe place feels like a tedious grind and the same goes for crafting intimal gear and weapons.

Gathering resources takes time, so a fair amount of play time must be dedicated to looting bodies, hunting animals, mining rocks and cutting down trees just to craft the starting gear and accessories. Conan Exile takes time to prepare compared to other survival games and while it’s challenging its understand that some people may be put off. Not to mention enemies can be relentless and sleeping/resting does nothing to restore health. I had to hunt and cook endlessly just to make some decent food and even so, many of the starting dishes are worth very little on your health. So managing your health among food and water can also take its toll.

My advice is to stick to one small area of the map and progress as much as you can, until you can craft some decent weapons and armour which should take no more than 10 hours. Yeah, that’s long but it’s worth it. Or just play with a friend.

Once you get past the grinding stages then what follows is truly epic. Exploring the wider Exile World is amazing and the developers have done a great job at creating a world that honours the Conan mythos. Everything from the terrains of the Frozen North to the Godly giants is all recreated with a high level of artistry and passion. Combat and building aren’t as highly dynamic as I was hoping for but they’re enjoyable and serviceable to the bigger picture. Fighting savages, beasts and giants attacking cities can be challenging and brutal but not due to any limitations but rather more to the nature of these encounters. Everything hinders on you, what you craft, what you build and how well you adapt to the actions and attacks of your opponents. I will say that building is a little awkward and not as smooth or flexible as Fallout 4.

Despite the fixes there are still numerous bugs present, but many of them are pretty minor and only resort to lighting issues or the odd corpse floating in the air. I feel the text is away too small for the HUDs and interfaces as it feels more accommodating to PCs. I hate having to squint my eyes 3ft from my TV screen to see what I need to do to craft leather armour.

What does make this Conan Exiles excel above many other survival games is the community and the depth of game play modes online. You can play alone, play with other people and form communities who hunt and explore or even fight other players in a bid to gain more resources. There’s plenty to dive right into, even if there’s a limit to only 40 players per server. It’s okay considering the size of the map, but if the developers decide to expand the world then there needs to be a higher player count.

Conan Exiles is a pretty cool survival game and one that definitely gives me faith the genre will continue to thrive for a while longer. There are still some technical issues, problems with the grind at the beginning and of course those design choices which suit PC gaming more than console. Despite these problems, I recommend Conan Exiles for any survivalist and one with a few buddies woth play. It’s definitely worth checking out.

++ Exciting Survival Gamplay
+ Challenging and rewarding
+ Great fun to play with other people
+ Cool Lore
-- The relentless grinding for early stages
-Some annoying buys still present
-Needs some optimising to make more console friendly

An Xbox One copy of Conan Exiles was provided by Funcom for the purpose of this review