The Survivalist: First impressions of Conan Exiles’ Isle of Siptah expansion

    
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The Survivalist: First impressions of Conan Exiles’ Isle of Siptah expansion

Framed. Convicted. Exiled. Now, shipwrecked? What do the fates have in store for me next? Perhaps this Isle of Siptah will be my redress. Wait, what was that sound…

Say what you will of Funcom, but after my first taste of the shipwrecked survival life, I think it got something right with Isle of Siptah. The Conan Exiles expansion is by no means perfect, but it checks some notable boxes for me regarding gameplay, fun, and studio integrity. For me, that’s a win. And no one can deny that Funcom needs all the wins it can get.

What is Isle of Siptah? How is Isle of Siptah? If you can’t jump in to experience it for yourself right now, perhaps you can get a feel for this new map with my thoughts and first impressions. (And you can add some live footage to the mix with our launch-day OPTV stream!)

Definitely not a DLC

If you are like me, you gave a big side-eye — and maybe muttered a what the…? or two — to Funcom when it first announced the upcoming paid DLC for our Conan survival game. Was the studio breaking the promise of free DLCs? With just the hint of just “new map” to hang hope on, I felt there was only one way Funcom could redeem itself for what would be a mega blunder: I argued that new paid content needed to be an actual expansion. Falling short would have been disastrous for player trust. No one needs to lose more trust, especially Funcom.

Fortunately to everyone, the studio pulled it off. Isle of Siptah really is an expansion, and it’s not, as some have argued, just a matter of semantics. If it looks like an expansion, acts like an expansion, and quacks like an expansion, it’s an expansion. (Wait, yours didn’t quack?!) With all-new content including dungeons, mechanics like the maelstrom, and a brand-new good-sized map, Isle of Siptah has all the hallmarks of an expansion. Compare it to Conan Exiles DLCs that only have cosmetics and a building set. Remember, not a single DLC added any playable land or dungeons or mechanics (like pets): All of that was just game update that happened to fall at/near the same time.

What is lacking, though, is the ability to move between maps, an expansion feature that most MMO players would be accustomed to. So with that in mind, I can see where the term sequel (prequel?) could apply; however, that has its own issues because sequels are usually standalone games to buy separately, and this is not.

I feel that the nomenclature problem is a Steam issue: Because the game is on Steam, all additions to a base game there are called DLCs, regardless if they are large or small. That’s just how it is. For Isle of Siptah, you need to own Conan Exiles. ARK: Survival Evolved is in the same boat: Each new map expansion is called a DLC. The difference is ARK didn’t have smaller cosmetic DLCs to muddy the terminological waters.

The price is right

Once you clear that nomenclature hurdle, you realize that the price for Isle of Siptah is a pretty good deal. On top of the expansion content, you get additional goodies found in regular DLCs, specifically two building sets and additional armors. For $19.99, players get an expansion and at least a DLC and a half’s worth of content. As DLCs are $9.99, that breaks down to just five bucks for the expansion. Sounds like a pretty great deal to me! Of course, the real value is in the experience of playing.

Commencing the three-hour tour

Enough with the what of Isle of Siptah, let’s dive into the how! Or, more accurately, crash into it. How is it? So far: pretty fun.

I personally really appreciated the way Funcom tied the exiled lands of Conan Exiles to Isle of Siptah in the very first moments after loading in. Making that connection made it all more meaningful to me: You are on your way to the exiled lands when your ship gets attacked, burned, and sinks. You wash up on this island instead of your intended destination. Is this a blessing or a curse? That’s the next question.

It took me some time before I could begin to answer that question; I spent a while in character creation as Isle of Siptah added some new customization, including additional races. Additionally, players get to choose where they start on this island. There are four possible beginning areas, including one beginner area, one forested area with a little more risk, and two difficult areas. The variety is nice, both for skill level and for spreading folks out. Where did I go? You saw me mention forest, right? Obviously I picked there. And so my journey of island life began.

Island living

It was a bit different for me starting a character with the journey steps enabled from the get-go. Levels were not hard to come by in the beginning just by moving around and checking things out. Because you wash up on a beach, you are surrounded by plentiful resources of broken boat planks (logs), branches, and rocks. And water! You don’t have to die of thirst straight off on an island. You can also collect oysters for some food until you are ready to skin some island fauna for meat (just don’t eat them raw right after a fight).

You can also pillage the bodies of those who didn’t survive the wreck, so you can collect enough to get started on basic things very quickly. Additionally, you’ll find a few chests from the ships among the wreckage, just waiting to be plundered. I am not sure why, but salvaging the shipwreck and picking the pockets of the guards was much more satisfying than just regular harvesting — and I like harvesting! Maybe it was the whole feeling of I crushed my enemies and saw them driven before me, now I use them to build my own life.

While I purposefully did not try to get as far as possible during my preview (I hate completely spoiling a game before I get to play for keeps), I did get to see enough to know I was really looking forward to diving into live with my friends. I absolutely love the pirate-y nautical look and feel of building your home from flotsam. Running into new animals was also enjoyable. (Oooh look at that adorable turtle. Awwww. Oh, and there’s a fluffy pup. Hello doggy! Aren’t you a good… ahhh! Nooo, not with teeth!!)

Of course, there is all-new exploration to entice me to get to places I probably shouldn’t go yet. Places like inside a large carcass of a massive ship (oh, hello magically appearing undead pirates!) or atop a cliff to investigate the swirly blue storm portal (oh hello thralls-to-be… with your massively better weapons and armor!). Exploration also leads to amazing moments like surviving the mad rush of said thralls-to-be and the additional attacks of a very angry moose/elk (I couldn’t see it well as I ran for my life) only to die by slipping down a short cliff face. Ahh, island life!

There are downsides (the change to healing with food for one), but so far I am pleased with this addition to the Conan Exiles universe. It’s a good-sized map, and you can get pets and mounts much earlier on than before. There is plenty of fun gameplay to keep me occupied for a while — even longer once I start building in earnest. And I am really excited to have the heart-stopping what’s-around-the-next-corner and what-in-Mitra-did-I-just-hear moments back. It’s new but familiar, and that just lends to the undercurrent of tension that makes playing more fun. I won’t deny that I like island aesthetic better than desert, too. Not to mention, I get to build a treehouse!

I do have ideas of ways to bolster the experience, including ideas to incorporate the exiled lands even more into the island, but we’ll save that for another time. For now, a new storm is brewing and I need some better shelter.

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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Kawaii Five-O

Unfortunately, I disagree with just about the entire gist of your impressions, MJ. Even about the healing changes being a bad thing!

First off, I definitely do not think the Isle of Siptah is worthy of being called an expansion. The new features are inextricably tied to the new map, which I think many people will abandon and return to the Exiled Lands once the new shiny-ness of the Isle wears off. The map aside, the additional content included is roughly the same amount as a typical $10 DLC for Conan Exiles. So to break it down, you are paying $10 for a regular DLC that’s bundled with a map for an additional $10. Once it leaves EA, you’ll probably be paying $20 for that map and $10 for the bundled DLC; a $30 total.

Siptah gives us roughly the same amount of content as a normal $10 DLC excluding the map. Sure it has one extra building set, but no placeables or war paints (rhinos can take the place of pet skins/horse saddles). Not even a level cap increase, new feats, new tiers, or even new hairstyles–something players having been begging for years now and gets asked about in every single dev stream. It just doesn’t really feel like an expansion to the game at all. Rather, it simply offers an alternative place to play with a revised game loop.

We actually can compare Siptah to a previous content update–one that was billed as a “free expansion.” The Frozen North expansion. Not only did that increase the size of the existing map by at least 50%, it also added new building sets, multiple armor sets for all types, tons of new weapons, a new religion, brewing, emotes, etc. So not only does Siptah pale in comparison to recent Ark expansions, it can’t even compete with CE’s own previous expansion–and that was free!

That said, I will say that Siptah is absolutely gorgeous in places. My favorite place in Conan Exiles by far is the Red Woods area on Siptah. How I wish I could tear that area out and plop it down in the Exiled Lands! However, that comes with a price–that price being the overall symmetry of the map and lack of variety. Ruins and other landmarks are copy-pasted across the map and smatterings of similar looking undead locations replace human camps and settlements (with one exception). You’ll soon realize there’s really not many interesting or unique places to explore on the Isle of Siptah.

Then there’s the vaults. If you were expecting anything on the level of the Wine Cellar, The Sunken City, or even The Dregs, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The 14 vaults are divided into pairs of seven different themes, but they’re fairly small and formulaic in design. That’s intentional of course, because they contain two important resources, so you’re going to be grinding those vaults a lot.

The Storm is essentially a marriage of the Purge and sandstorm back in the Exiled Lands, but with a Lovecraftian twist. I actually like the storm, and it functions better than the Purge ever did. It provides another important resource for summoning thralls, which leads us to the last feature of the map–and unfortunately, that’s where things take a turn for the worse.

The Surge is the new way to obtain thralls, and it requires lots of resources from the Storm and the Vaults. This is also the only to get thralls now as there are no human settlements or camps, save the neutral NPC city in the north.

I understand the intentions behind this, and from a balance perspective, it makes sense. Thralls, and especially legendary thralls, are much more scarce. It actually adds value to lesser thralls as well as pets, which have always been trumped by easy-to-obtain named fighters. However, that comes at a cost. The world simply feels kind of empty without the human camps and settlements. Furthermore, the actual implementation just doesn’t feel that good.

The thralls drop in all clumped together in groups, which becomes a clusterf***, and it just doesn’t feel anymore rewarding than farming a settlement on the Exiled Lands. You’ll have to do at least as much grinding just for the resources to spawn and break good ones, and you’re at the mercy of an additional layer of RNG.

In the Exiled Lands, certain types of thralls spawn at fixed spots, and so you only need to worry about spawning a high tier one. With the surge, the type of thralls are far more random in addition to their tiers.

If you’re into PvP and more PvP, you might really like the Isle of Siptah as it constantly pulls players into the same areas to create conflict. However, I think PvE players are going to get bored with the map pretty quick unless Funcom makes a lot of changes, but that’ll require some fundamental changes to the map’s core design.

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Solaris

I love Exiles, but only 2020 would give you a paid expansion for an Early Access game.

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EmberStar

First, Ark did have an expansion while in the main game was still in early access, years ago. People freaked out and still haven’t gotten over it. (But it’s perfectly okay for Star Citizen to sell imaginary spaceships that cost more than my car for a game that I think is *still* only a tech demo.)

Second, the *expansion* is in Early Access. The main game of Conan Exiles had a full release quite some time ago. So they aren’t even doing the same thing as Ark did with Scorched Earth anyway. If you don’t want to buy the Early Access expansion you lose out on the new map and two cosmetic building styles. (One is an alternative to Sandstone, the other seems to be the same tier as the other cosmetic DLC building sets.)

The “incentive” to buy now is that they have said that the full release will probably cost more than it does now. So early adopters get early access to the map… and the bugs. Or you could wait and pay more for the (hopefully) polished final release. Or you could skip it entirely and save 100% of the price no matter how much it costs.

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Solaris

My bad. I saw Conan Exiled tagged as Early Access on another site and didn’t realize it was out of Early Access.

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Arktouros

If you’re going to criticize something you should probably at least take a few seconds to educate yourself on the topic.

Conan Exiles launched as a game on May 8th, 2018 and has been out for multiple years now.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

On top of that, there’s a long list of other games that are still in early access and pump out paid DLC. And that began long before 2020, too.

Godnaz
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Godnaz

Looking forward to polish and a Steam sale. See you next year!

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2Ton Gamer

This is the Steam sale, the price will be going up as stated when it launched in the spring. I doubt you will see it lower when it does goes live for a while.

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Hikari Kenzaki

Picture thread begins. :)

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Shadex De'Marr

I was a little worried when I first started reading the reviews where people were just tearing apart the new healing system. My gaming group, who were all veterans of the original Exiles almost didn’t buy it. But we finally said let’s give it a shot and after playing for an entire night last night we all agreed. What in the world was everyone complaining about?

Now I suppose it may come from a play style difference. We all had played the first Exiles pretty extensively and were very good at blocking and dodging attacks so we rarely got hit in the first place. I imagine a player that came into Isle of Siptah with a Diablo mentality of rawr me wade into blob of enemy crush smash and guzzle potions yeah I could see this version being difficult.

This is more of an RPG style where planning, skill, and gear will play a major role over the old style which was much more you all are Conan the Destroyer from day one and could run from fight to fight with little down time. I personally like it but could see some people chaffing against the more mindful direction.

I think it was a smart move. The next steps of any game should make the players push their skills and learn new things otherwise all developers are doing is mass producing more of the same for players to gobble up like baby birds only to start cheeping at the top of their lungs a week later when they are done and want more.

We like the game and are enjoying the challenge and looking forward to the tactics that we are hoping will also be required to master the dungeons. Exiles was SO lacking there. We will see.

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Kickstarter Donor
Bionicall

I think that when “… reading the reviews where people were just tearing apart the new healing system.” you have to consider the standpoint of the people writing the reviews. This is not from people that “…were all veterans of the original Exiles…”, these are new players. Players that don’t necessarily know what an Aloe plant looks like, and why they should harvest it quick-smart.
Personally I think all that needs to be done to alleviate the review-bombing that is happening on the Isle of Siptah would be to change the recipe of the rough wraps to not require Aloe.

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McGuffn

I… don’t think it’s an expansion. It honestly looks like more of the same. And unlike a sequel I think it looks more like a standalone expansion except its not standalone, and of course not an expansion.

What it is though is a new map and some cosmetics, along with some rejiggered gameplay.

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Dug From The Earth

dating all the way back to the 90s, expansions were addons to games that added more of the same, for about half the price of the original game.

Take Diablo 2… a game from the 90s. The expansion for that game added a new act (basically a new area to play in), additional story, 2 new classes, but the gameplay remained the same.

I think DLC has warped peoples impression of what an expansion is, especially considering how over priced a lot of DLC is.

DLC is also kinda misleading, as it stands for “Downloadable Content”…. EVERYTHING these days from the base game, to extra content, to expansions, are “Downloadable content”….. What most have come to consider “DLC” to be however, is content that is mostly short, limited, and often heavily focused on cosmetics.

I think a qualifying aspect that would help separate DLC from Expansion is this: “How much more playtime does the content give you?”…. A new mount skin doesnt give you any additional playtime… hence… DLC…. a new dungeon might give you 2-3 hours of NEW gametime… hence DLC… An entire new Zone/continent to explore with dungeons, biomes and quest elements could likely give you much more than 2-3 hours of NEW gametime… hence… more likely to be an expansion.

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McGuffn

I’m not warped and I know what DLC is. Honestly the free content updates (not even dlc!) that added mounts and pets were in some ways more obviously expansions than this.

Like I said above its a new map, where it looks like you do basically everything you did in the old map. Shadex above adds some useful context which could change my opinion depending on how it shakes out.

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Arktouros

I don’t really see expansions as big game shift directions. At the heart of them the core game play that made up the original should also make up the expansion. There can be slight differences, but you’re buying “more” of the same.

A new map adds different flavor in how you play the game because it’s all new and has to be explored. I can tell you exactly how to go and where to go multiple routes on the Exiles map but have no idea here. There’s also new mechanics because there’s no static thrall camps meaning before you get thralls you have to do the tower thing apparently. That’s a big change from blunt arrow knocking a whole area unconscious then leaving just the spawns you don’t want knocked out. Thralls in the base game also make combat effortless because you can just let them do all the work and a decent thrall will make short work of everything (and it’s disgustingly easy to get a named thrall fight equivalent from the Nameless City outskirts). Without that in Isles it puts more pressure on you do the fighting/encounters which combined with the healing overhaul adds a sense of challenge to solo/small groups compared to the base game.

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McGuffn

I can see now that people are getting hung up on more of the same. Was Diablo 2 more of the same? yes, and it also added all the stuff Dug said, along with gear (was there a level increase too?) and whatnot.

Perhaps Funcom is selling this short but they haven’t pointed to a single new thing other than a new map and cosmetics. And MJ didn’t highlight anything either.

Perhaps it is actually different but the tower where you get thralls thing sounds simply like a reverse purge that you have to go to instead of it coming to you. They even call it a “surge” (apparently to emphasize the similarity?) lol.

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Arktouros

Sorta.

Purges were mostly animals/monsters in many cases as the common encounter. Like every purge I had in a month of playing (about one a day with settings I had) were all scorpions/locusts or things like rock noses. Never got a thrall purge even though that’s where many of the best thralls came from.

I can’t speak to new mechanics because I haven’t bought the game but the surge seems to bring a variety of new mechanics to it beyond just thralls. Like apparently there’s some monsters that spawn in the storms as well which again without Thralls presents all sorts of issues top to bottom in how you will handle things.

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McGuffn

That’s entirely dependent on where you settle. My purges were almost always humans with dragon support.