The Survivalist: The highs and lows of Conan Exiles, one year after launch

Our Conan Exiles launch anniversary retrospective


In an industry that never seems to see games move out of early access, it feels strange to get to celebrate the first launch anniversary of one. And yet, here we are! Conan Exiles left early access behind on May 8th, 2018. That alone sets this survival sandbox apart from so many other titles, but that’s not where the distinction ends. You see, in the preceding 12 months, Funcom has done what I dare say few (if any?) other launched early access survival titles have done: continue creating quality content.

Here we are one year later, and Conan Exiles is still setting the standard that other early access titles should aspire to. That’s not to say everything was perfect; Conan Exiles has had bumps and bruises and frustrated fans along the way. But there is enough that Funcom is doing right with this game that it has been the studio’s most successful title — both best-selling and fastest selling, even achieving the rare feat of bringing back its early access playerbase.

Following through

When Conan Exiles first launched, it was missing a number of things that devs had initially said would be in the game by then. However, they didn’t just delay launch over and over and over again (as we have seen before). Once the devs discovered it was more work than they could do in that time, the studio decided to double-down on getting the game to a launch state and then add in the missing features after. But contrary to other games’ tendencies, these features would all be added into the game for free. The big question in minds at that point was, would the studio keep to its promise of patching in all that content for free?

The answer is, yes.

While the purges, combat revamp, volcano and swamp biomes , and parts of the vaguely defined settlement system (namely farming and thrall improvements) made it in at launch, the team didn’t call it quits. The much-desired taming mechanics and pets were added in October, and more dungeons and religions have joined in over the year. More of the vaguely defined settlement system and the originally pitched sorcery system are still MIA, but there is no reason to believe they won’t make it into game if the systems can be made to work. (The sorcery system specifically is being reworked and appears to be starting to show up in game.)

More content

What makes me even happier is that the devs still didn’t stop once they made it through some of that pre-launch list either; content continued to be created for the game as free updates. Combat continued to be tweaked, like new animations, the reworking of the bows, and a big rework of the Unammed City. It took a long while, but voice was finally fixed with a switch to Vivox. And systems and areas got attention and revamps, such as areas like the Sunken City, bosses, and thralls . Conan Exiles even got a Halloween event in-game and a community pumpkin carving contest out of game with art and DLC prizes.

And then came even more content throughout the year in the form of DLC. And might I add, DLC done right!

Doing DLC right

We’ve seen examples of DLC and expansions done oh-so-wrong (yes, I am very much looking squarely at you, ARK), but Conan Exiles does them oh-so-right! These DLC are small batches of cosmetic content for a small price tag (under $10) that come fairly frequently. What is even better is that players can pick and choose which, if any, they want to purchase without affecting their gameplay.

The content of the DLC is not restricted just to those who have bought them! Instead of gating the building materials, armors, and such behind a paywall, Funcom has made it so that most everything from DLC can be crafted and then traded to others. That means even those who have not purchased the DLC can use the items — all they need is to know someone who has the DLC who is willing to make the stuff. I’ve personally run into the situation a few times when I can’t get the DLC right away, but thanks to friends on the server having it, I can get the new armor and weapons as well as show off the new building styles.

How many DLC have released in this past year? We’ve got six in total, which averages to a new DLC every two months. The Khitan-flavored Imperial East DLC came first, dropping in June 2018. Next came Jewel of the West in August; this pack was Aquilonian themed. Savage Frontier released in October, launching alongside pets. In December, Seekers of the Dawn brought the beauty of the Yamatai empire in the east. And then the Arabian-themed Treasures of Turan, which is the first of a new two-year season pass, joined the DLC family in April, introducing pack elephants and rhinoceroses. And finally, an anniversary release of Riddle of Steel (not included on the season pass) paying homage to the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie.

The big blunders 

If you are going to have some big blunders after launch, why not start with the launch itself? Why settle for a strong, successful launch when you can mar it with stupidity? That sure seems to be what some executives were thinking! One of Conan Exiles’ biggest blunders of the year was the ridiculous day-after-launch decision to switch PvE-Conflict servers to PvP. The rationale was that PvP was so popular and the company needed more PvP servers ASAP to try and meet demand. Then buy and set up more servers! Of course, erasing an entire mode very blatantly said “Screw you” to all the players who purposefully were on the PvE-Conflict servers, a ruleset that allowed PvP only during a small window and protected buildings, and reeked of a strong “only PvP players matter to us” message. Did Funcom think that would go over well?

Players who bought the game and settled and built on those specific servers were now subject to the ravages of full-PvP against their will. So as you can imagine, that bait-and-switch did not set well with players. Funcom turned around and brought new PvE-Conflict servers online after the outcry, but folks who already lost everything were out of luck – they would have to reroll on a new server or deal with the unwelcome full-time PvP. Yeah, that whole fiasco was definitely not OK; I don’t care if Funcom didn’t think they were popular enough, you don’t change modes on people like that!

As expected, bugs happened and patches ensued. Usually. Mostly. But there were some pretty notable times the ball was dropped. In July, the 500+ patch broke enough things that Funcom resorted to enticing players to go to the testing server to help with some fast feedback on fixes; the carrot dangled was a free copy of the upcoming Jewel of the West DLC for everyone who leveled to 25 in 24 hours. Then the patch to fix the patch had game-breaking issues of its own and needed a hotfix! Another time, one path was delayed so many times I think we lost count!

And sadly, consoles seemed to have a much harder go of things throughout the year with delayed parity patches and far more issues and bugs than PC players had to deal with. Customer satisfaction at how Funcom addresses bugs seems to be quite different between the PC and console.

Give it a try

No, Conan Exiles is not perfect. But it can be lots of fun. And in the realm of survival sandboxes, it is one of the best. If you’d like to give it a try before committing, you can. Another thing I feel this game does right is giving folks the chance to try it before they buy with free weekends. The first was back in March. Whether or not you took advantage of that one, you can get on in one right now, this weekend! So give it a try and see if you like it, and let us know what you think!

In the survival genre, there are at least 1001 ways to die, and MJ Guthrie is bound to experience them all — in the interests of sharing them with you! The Survivalist chronicles life and death struggles against all forms of apocalypse, outbreak, mutation, weather, and prehistoric wildlife. And let’s not forget the two-legged enemies! Tune in here and on OPTV to see who feeds better: MJ or the Death Counter.
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