The early access days of Conan Exiles are coming to a close. In less than a month, the survival sandbox will launch. At that time players will get to explore two new regions, experience the new combat, farm, dive into two new dungeons, worship a new god, and summon her avatar on the live servers. But luckily for me, I didn’t have to wait! I joined Creative Director Joel Bylos in the game for few hours of hands-on experience with the new features, then got to keep playing for the evening.
After a farming demonstration and a quick tour of the volcano, I got to witness a Purge, watch the brand-new starter cinematic, wander around the swamp and climb into treehouses, participate in a siege, look over the new attributes and perks, parade around in new armor, and test out the new combat with all the weapon types. My impressions in a nutshell? Most of the additions really up the fun factor and improve the game (the jury is still out on the eating-to-heal mechanic). I’m pretty excited for these features to go live, and not just because I want to build a treehouse base! While there I can’t offer an elaborate play-by-play of everything I experienced during this lengthy play session, I do have additional details for those who want more than one nutshell’s worth of impression.
Improving the starting experience
When the game launches, what the new players experience can make a huge difference on how well the game does. As such, I appreciated the chance to make a new exile before we moved on to the siege characters. I admit I was surprised that the opening cinematic changed; I didn’t see anything wrong with the first one. But as it played out, I appreciated how it was a much better lead in to why the exile might be in that particular predicament.
I also noted how The Exile’s Journey feature will offer a tutorial experience for those who want it without being obtrusive to those who don’t. The idea is that while folks who know survival games well will not necessarily need instruction, Funcom is expecting players unfamiliar with the genre but who want to play Conan. Bylos explained the feature as a cross between a tutorial and achievements. Working like a MMO quest tracker in the upper corner of your screen, it prompts the player to eat, drink, make a bedroll, climb, and so on. (Important change to note: When you place a bedroll, any previously placed bedroll is deleted. This was done because of server performance when tons of abandoned bedrolls littered the landscape.)
As the player accomplishes a task, more complex tasks are opened up. Players can get more details on the task by opening the journal with J. After a point, however, even veteran players may want to take note. Bylos explained,
“By the 10th chapter of the journey (there are 100 journey entries in the game), you’re sort of getting led to content that you would not see otherwise or that perhaps you would have passed by if you were just playing the game normally with your friends and you didn’t know about this thing hidden in the corner.”
Additionally, the commands for movement and such appear in the lower left of the screen to offer a hint to those who need it and can be turned off in settings by those who don’t.
On top of these changes I got to explore the new attribute system (where you spend your points) and get a peek at the perks you can earn by reaching certain milestones in each attribute. What kind of perks are there? You can learn to double jump, you can get bonuses to combat, and so much more. Each attribute has five perks that can be unlocked.
Better bases: Farming and foes
The next demonstration focused on players’ bases. First was farming. Finally the world will be more than just hunters and gatherers. I’ve always enjoyed the farming aspect of games, which there really is too little of out there. Conan Exiles is adding farming, allowing players to grow some grub in planter boxes. I’m already envisioning a massive greenhouse for myself! Farming will allow players to cultivate plant fiber as well as foodstuffs. The former is just a pain to get enough of, and the latter will be of great importance with the new eat-to-heal mechanic. Healing will no longer happen automatically; the only way to increase your health is through potions or eating food. Each food consumed will restore a certain amount of hit points over a certain amount of time. Better food will be better for you. Without farming, you’d be spending your adventure time prepping for your adventure time by hunting food. Now you can grab something and go.
Now about those foes: It’s time to talk purges. Bylos explained that the purge mechanic is basically a tower defense. It was an answer to giving players a reason to build better bases. He said, “It is a self balancing system in the sense that the idea is if you are playing solo on a server full of alpha clans and you just want to do your thing, you won’t get bothered by the purge nearly as often [as those alpha clans].” But if you play with friends, you will need to prepare for a purge.
Because we were trying to see so many features in a relatively small time, Bylos set off a purge on his little base. After watching the purge play out and hearing more details on it, I am liking the feature more than I thought I would. Here’s how it works: Clans (or individuals if no clan) have a purge meter, and it fills up by folks doing things. Bigger, active clans will fill it much quicker than smaller ones. Once the meter hits the first bar, the clan/individual is eligible for a purge, meaning one of the clan’s holdings will be attacked by region-appropriate mobs. This happens in both PvP and PvE servers, making strategic base defense more important even if there is no chance of other players attacking. The purge itself escalates in waves, starting with say attackers with weapons, then moves toattackers with explosive, and ultimately has bosses.
A purge is scaled to the base’s proximity to valuable resources in the world. Also, server admins have quite a bit of flexibility in purge settings. The days and times purges can happen, how many can happen per day, the difficulty, the length of warning time, the duration, the minimum number of players online to start, and more are all customizable. They can even be turned off completely on private servers. Bylos also offered a hint for anyone who doesn’t want her stuff attacked while offline: Log out right before the meter hits the first bar, then it will happen after you log back in.
Swamp (and volcano) thing
As an explorer, I was of course very interested in a peek at the new regions. I had a remote tour through only the volcano. Here, the residence of the last remnant of the serpent men is one of the two new dungeons. Bylos didn’t want to spoil the dungeons, but he did jump into the Well of Skelos and show off the great forge down in the heart of the volcano. This forge is where players will be able to craft obsidian weapons. He also noted that the volcano is one of the most prominent steps in the game’s story that the player uncovers. Bylos emphasized that story here is not to be confused with a system like in a story-driven game. However, players can discover the story behind their exile. “If players find the right combination of items and they find the right thing,” he said, “they’ll be able to solve the mystery of what they’re doing in the exiled lands in the first place.”
I may not have personally run through the volcano, but I enjoyed the environment art. Hey, what can I say? It’s all lava and fire! I look forward to exploring it on my own.
The swamp was another story: I did get to run around and explore this myself. Perhaps I am most interested in this area because of the massive trees that exiles can build in. Yes, I am totally building myself a giant treehouse. I also like the greenery. Besides being home to large gorillas and jungle cats, the swamp is where the Lemurian people of Conan universe dwell as well as the location of the second dungeon.
Checking out combat
Next up, combat. I’ll admit, I was never impressed with Conan Exiles’ combat. Thankfully, these changes really improve it. The combat is based around two attack types – light attacks and heavy attacks (right mouse button and left mouse button, respectively) – which can be combined in any order. All of the weapons have a number of different animations; this is so much better than the single one from before! There is also a special move/attack on the control key that differs for each offhand weapon: Shield is block, sword is kick, and dual daggers is a back dodge. I got to test out the animations of all the weapon types, and it really makes combat look more dynamic. Besides their new look, the attacks also have different results. I had fun watching the different combo chains as I tested.
During the final couple of hours of the hands-on I got to put that combat practice to the test in a small siege. (And test out fancy new armor and weapons!) Although it was small in scale, it was fun, especially since I had never experienced on in my own play. I also got to attack the castles as a god avatar. Sadly it was over much too soon (two-minute timer), leaving me wanting to experience that again.
Speaking of gods, I very much like the new god that will be introduced at launch. Her altar is really cool, with the goddess flanked by two giant cat statues. I have to build one! She is also pretty impressive when summoned, having the ability to harm foes with her breath weapon while it simultaneous heals allies. This dual ability is demonstrated in her body itself, with half decayed and skeletal and the other half healthy and voluptuous.
One thing I didn’t get to see at all was any of the world bosses that are dotting the landscape. These bosses will drop a key to their chest and can have legendary gear. Obviously, I will need to go on a hunting party to find a few once they are on live servers.