Conan Exiles is an online survival game either played from the first-person or third-person perspective. While the title features numerous characters and mysteries to uncover, it still revolves around gathering resources, learning new schematics, and crafting better gear and shelter. Starting off with nothing more than a mysterious bracelet on your wrist, you'll eventually be able to build entire cities with dangerous siege weaponry. This progression — from a lowly exile to the most powerful being — is what makes Conan Exiles so rewarding to experience.

Related: ESRB bans some (but not all) adult content in Conan Exiles

Exploration and thralls

The most important, and somewhat controversial mechanic behind Conan Exiles is the "Thrall System". Thralls are effectively hostiles you enslave so that they become allies. In order to combat the countless otherworldly enemies which plague The Exiled Lands, this is necessary because you need a small army to take out certain strongholds. For example, The Unnamed City is filled with hordes of skeletons and other dragon-like creatures. There's even a massive World Serpent you have to fight among the ruins. Having thralls who can accompany you into battle is a necessity even though they are slaves.

The Unnamed City is filled with hordes of skeletons and other dragon-like creatures.

A large part of becoming stronger involves exploration. Finding new camps, cities, dungeons or ruins grants you a tremendous amount of experience. This allows you to increase attributes like strength and vitality, as well as unlock new blueprints. However, many places are shrouded by a miasma called Corruption. In other games, similar mists don't impact your health and stamina after you step out of them. In the case of Conan Exiles though, there are permanent reductions to both which can only be restored by watching an Entertainer.

It's unclear why Funcom decided to make curing Corruption this difficult because it hinders exploration. Finding a dancer at a camp is rare and even then you'll have to fight hordes of enemies just to covert that one character into a thrall. Usually, they just end up getting killed. Then, you have to watch the thrall for a while before the purple Corruption dissipates. This means that you won't be able to explore the important — and exciting — part of the open world until much later because it's filled with this Corruption.

Gameplay loop

Aside from exploration, day-to-day life focuses on hunting, chopping wood, collecting soft plants, and mining stone. These are the basic building blocks of a lot of items you see in the Crafting interface. Stone can be baked into bricks, wood can be shaped into various objects like tables or workbenches, and plants can be woven into clothes. While better gear requires items like iron and steel, you can still get far with these basic materials.

Day-to-day life focuses on hunting, chopping wood, collecting plants, and mining.

When you go exploring, even if it's to an adjacent enemy camp, there's the chance of coming across numerous chests. These can contain anything from wood to advanced weaponry. During my playthrough of the final build, I was able to find everything from steel pickaxes to rare swords. Equipping these items allows you to easily cut through enemies and venture even further because you can tackle even stronger beasts.

Learning curve

Conan Exiles is much more accessible than Ark: Survival Evolved. Getting into Ark: Survival Evolved can be a challenge because even procuring food presents a problem. This results in frequent deaths. For example, in the dinosaur-focused game, you can't eat any fruit you find on plants because it might poison or paralyze you. While Conan Exiles is simpler, it's also much more fun. You can find insects, turtles eggs, and cooked meat on enemies. If you want to grill, that's easy because making a campfire requires almost no resources and there are plenty of turtles roaming around which provide Savory Flesh. Unlike Ark: Survival Evolved, Conan Exiles has a low learning curve so even beginners to the survival genre can find their way around. This is by far the most important trait a game in the genre should possess. Friends who I've known for years — who also hate traditional survival games — were even able to jump right in.

New additions

You can venture into different zones like a desert, ruined city, springs, mountains, and grassy hills. Yesterday, volcano and swamp biomes were also added. These present new challenges because undiscovered ancient civilizations and cults reside there. There are plenty of new characters to meet which give you the history of why their great cities fell. Finding lore through enchanted tablets and the last survivors is a great way to keep gamers engaged.

There are plenty of new characters to meet.

Features like the Purge — a global event that sends frost giants and other creatures to attack your base — and Fast Travel were also recently to the game. Fast Travel requires you to build a Map Room and attune your bracelet to various fast travel points around the map. This allows you to instantly teleport there, but it's only a one-way trip.

The ultimate goal, or ability, is to vanquish your enemies by calling upon the gods. By either conducting human sacrifices or other rituals, players can summon massive deities which can destroy entire cities in one fell swoop. This requires a lot of grinding and if you want to do this, you have to play online with other gamers. Teams need to constantly gather resources, farm crops, capture thralls, send out exploration parties, and make sure they have enough. From my experience, this is the only way to reach a level where calling avatars is possible.

Visuals and performance

Ever since Conan Exiles launched on Xbox Game Preview all those months ago, the title has gone through numerous transformations. What was once a broken game is now mostly stable in terms of performance and visuals. The title looks gorgeous on Xbox One X as it runs at 1440p. Other consoles like the PlayStation 4 Pro render at 1080p.

The title looks gorgeous on Xbox One X at 1440p.

The frame rate is also mostly 30 FPS but there are a few stutters here and there. Given the massive leap Funcom has achieved with the recent patches, these small problems should be ironed out with further optimizations. Unfortunately, the stuttering is common enough that it's jarring to witness. The performance should've at last been rock solid at launch.

Major changes

One of the major ways the developer improved the title has to the upgraded combat system. Beforehand, swinging your sword around was an awful and laggy experience. Luckily, the new model takes cues from titles like Dark Souls where you have light attacks, heavy attacks, and the ability to block. This makes combat much smoother but it's still not perfect. There are a few animation issues which need to be ironed out.

The team removed automatic health regeneration.

One of the most drastic changes has to be the new health system. To make the game slightly more difficult, the team removed automatic health regeneration. This is more of an annoyance than a meaningful improvement because now you have to eat after every battle. Due to this, regenerating health is slow and detracts from exploration because you constantly have to worry about food reserves.

Conan Exiles Xbox One review conclusion

Overall, Conan Exiles is a good game which seems like a much more substantial experience than when it first appeared on Xbox One. If Funcom can perfect the console frame rate and eliminate the stuttering, then there's a chance that the title might be one of the most popular survival games on the system. However, even in its current state, Conan Exiles is addictive and will keep you coming back for more. The structured milestone system eases you in.

Pros:

  • Great visuals.
  • Easy to learn.
  • Great setting.
  • Great Xbox One X support.

Cons:

  • Slight performance issues.
  • Clunky animations.
  • Uneven voice acting.
  • Mechanics hinder exploration.

4 out of 5

Conan Exiles is currently available Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4. The Xbox One version recently received a priced increase to $49.99 because it left Xbox Game Preview.

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