A dungeon is a dungeon, right? And adding a single dungeon to a game is not really a big deal. In most cases, that would be right. Not with Conan Exiles. I am not sure what I was expecting, but the Sunken City — introduced last month for the one-year anniversary of launch — was not it. Instead of just your run-of-the-mill confined dungeon experience, Funcom gave us an open-feeling zone worthy of leisurely strolling (well, swimming) through. This has got to be the first dungeon I have visited just to hang out in and explore without caring about the bosses. Oh, and to relish the story.
Yes, the underwater depths of Sunken City definitely rose above expectations. And you don’t have to be high level to experience the best parts of this dungeon; you can soak up the setting and the story just by swimming in. However, be forewarned that if you catch the eye of any bosses, you will likely be pulverized instantaneously if you aren’t pretty powerful.
The Sunken City feels like a full new biome in itself, not just a dungeon. And it’s a biome I love! It is a gorgeous underwater environment of crumbling ancient ruins and luminescent flora. To get to it, you click on a little abandoned boat on the eastern shores of the Forgotten City of Xel-ha, which transports you to a lush island filled with cultists. Fight your way past those and you get the privilege of throwing yourself off a sacrificial pier on a cliff face into the beckoning water down below.
A bit surprisingly, you don’t actually do any fighting in the water itself like I’d initially presumed; instead, you swim up into the mouths of sunken rooms that just so happen to have a pocket of air inside. (And a boss: a nasty boss that hits really hard.) At first, I was wishing that there were a little more life to the wildlife under the surface. As it is, I discovered that all those fishes populating the water are just decorative. I kept waiting for one of them to come attack if I swam too close (I mean, everywhere else in Conan Exiles stuff will sneak up and chomp you in the water!); the disappointment when that never happened was real. Then I became quite grateful for this fact: It turns out that without breathing potions, you barely have enough time to get from one dungeon air pocket to another. The good news is this means you don’t need breathing potions to go in and check the place out. The bad news is that if you get distracted even a tiny bit… RIP.
If, however, you are planning to go in and explore a bit (and I recommend you do!) or you want to mosey without worry, you’d better bring a supply of breathing pots along. Or you could make it hard mode and go completely without; you’ll definitely experience some heart-pounding moments of trying to will your character to swim just a little faster as that last smidgen of breath meter evaporates. A nice leisurely swim to check all the nooks and crannies requires potions. Now, if only there were more things in all the nooks and crannies!
Even without aggression, the fish make it feel alive, even as you possibly drown. Still, I wish there were more to this setting. I wish there were more things you could do to bring you inside instead of just the boss fights. There are recipes in almost every room to nab — just be sure you’ve already learned to work with starmetal or you will be denied. There’s also one treasure room with chest galore, you just have to get the guard boss out of the way by killing it or having a party member distract it. But I want something a little more. I’d like more things to discover if you are exploring. Also, perhaps you could catch or harvest some of these fish, or maybe harvest different plants or moss from off the sea floor or the ruins’ walls. If you can manage that somehow, I must have missed it because I was trying. While I don’t really care about needing this in most dungeons, it feels like the waste of a beautiful biome environment to not have more recurring non-dungeony activities inside.
Bad to the fishbones
I’ve mentioned the bosses a few times so let’s discuss them a bit. Now you may consider this a spoiler, so if you haven’t been in yet, read this section at your own risk. Do know that the bosses really are no joke. Our party of four with assorted levels did ultimately kill most of the single foul creatures, but not without costing much in the ways of lives and ammo.
It’s nice — and darn helpful — that in most of the ruins you face only one foul fishman mini-boss at a time. And I really do like how the bosses follow a cadence such that you learn how to deal with one at a time before you face it again later – because trust me, there is a later, and you face them all again, only more of them, all together. And then there was the end boss! I did not expect that! Yeah, none of us survived long… but we did get some great screenshots before a glorious death! I don’t want to ruin the experience of running into him/it/that for the first time, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, definitely don’t watch the stream below!
If the header here didn’t clue you in, the next bit is a also bit spoilery, so don’t read ahead if you are hoping to experience the whole thing fresh yourself. One of the coolest parts of the dungeon was how it filtered story to you as you swam toward each little mini-boss in its ruinous air pocket. It is this story dissemination that I really found most appealing. Even if you can’t take on the bosses, do continue through the dungeon as far as you can just to hear the lore that is shared as you approach each new spot. You can safely swim up to the air-filled beginning of every ruin except the final one.
What’s the story? Well, go in and listen for yourself. In a nutshell, Dagon, the Deep One, whispers in your mind, sharing the story of this underwater city, its people, and what befell them. That promise of more info beckons you further, deeper into the depths. You find the strange creatures, and an even stranger Secret World-level plot twist, before you finally journey down to release Dagon himself.
At this point, do you even want to be his redeemer? Only you can answer that. I wouldn’t tell you how it all ends even if I did know.