Conan Exiles Review - A Hollow World

Conan Exiles entices players with an excellent sense of adventure, but it continuously disappoints with its hollow areas, frustrating combat system, and handful of bugs.

Conan Exiles starts in the middle of a barren desert when the player is freed from captivity by Conan the Barbarian. Conan tells us to keep fighting until our last breath and that no one should die in chains. After being thrown into a savage and brutal land, the player must “survive, build, and dominate.” Unfortunately, Conan Exiles’ potential is squandered by many disheartening issues.

Empty Adventure

Exiles’ biggest problem has to do with its sense of adventure. In the first ten or so hours, the game fascinates players with the promise of a journey into the unknown. Opening the map and seeing all the vibrant areas that can be explored would excite anyone. However, these areas reveal themselves to be empty. Whenever the player ventures to explore something intriguing, the payoff is almost always disappointing.

There are a few exceptions, like how a seemingly generic grassland possesses a gigantic crocodile, or when a cave filled with cobweb boasts a horrifying spider queen. Unfortunately, these few moments don’t compare to the times Exiles lets the player down. Exiles has dozens of giant buildings with no entrances, long aqueducts with no incentive to explore, and repetitive caves full of carbon-copied creatures.

Screenshot of me climbing one the highest structures in the game and finding nothing on top of it.

Leveling System

Leveling up in Exiles mostly relies on completing missions in the Journey tab. The developers created the Journey tab as a guide for what players should do next. This system makes it easy to understand what could be done in the game’s gigantic world. This isn’t necessarily mandatory, as the player can do whatever they want, but it’s by far the most efficient way to level up. In this sense, Exiles possesses a linear structure.

These leveling mechanics grant the player knowledge and attribute points. Knowledge points are spent on a large number of crafting recipes, allowing for a plethora of different weapons, armors, aesthetics, and structures. In the recipe menu, there are six categories: Construction, Decoration, Survival, Weapons, Armor, and Religion. Each of these sections has many recipes which can be used to make anything from a sacrificial altar to a fancy rug.

Attribute points are spent on Exiles’ seven stats: Strength, Agility, Vitality, Accuracy, Grit, Encumbrance, and Survival. These stats increase things like health, damage, and stamina. However, perks are also earned along the way. If the player increases enough of a specific stat, they will be given a special bonus. For example, increasing Vitality 10 times will grant the player Deep Breath, a perk that doubles your breath timer.

These two leveling systems never feel out of place, and it’s always fun to figure out which bizarre recipe to learn or which attribute to upgrade.

Combat System

Nearly every combat mechanic in Exiles is severely underwhelming. Rolling is the only fun ability, as it works even when encumbered and actually does what it’s meant to do. On the other hand, even though each weapon in Exiles holds a different moveset, they all seem painfully unbalanced and sluggish. The basic movesets for certain weapons don’t work well, and attacking then rolling feels awkward.

For example, continuously right-clicking with the two-handed sword will cause a chain attack. The first strike in this set is a long-range swing downwards, but the next attack is a short-range whirlwind which nearly always misses, and as you try to go closer to hit that whirlwind, the next move is a jump attack, which usually overshoots the enemy. In this moveset, only the first strike is useful. It quickly got to the point where it was more effective to just use the first attack, wait, and then use it again. If this moveset is used against a large enemy, it probably won’t miss. However, against humanoids, it’s frustrating and inaccurate.

There’s also an issue with a lack of proper depth perception, as the player will occasionally see their weapon strike an enemy, but the enemy will take no damage. Additionally, some of the weapons are clearly less powerful than other ones. A regular iron broadsword is significantly worse than an iron two-handed sword. The only benefit to a broadsword is that you can also hold a shield, but that doesn’t mean much when switching from a two-handed sword to a shield is as easy as two-handing a sword and shield.

Scaling

Exiles has confusing scaling, as a cave full of spiders that take two hits to kill leads the player to one of the strongest bosses in the game. Not only that, but wandering a little off-course from the starting point leads to a mid-game boss. It’s strange that the enemies around a boss aren’t a sign of the strength of those bosses. Most games have their areas be a consistent indicator of the difficulty of that area. Having early-game enemies right next to a late-game boss is confusing.

Thralls

Exiles has a system where you can knock out enemies and essentially make them your slaves, or as the game calls it, “thralls.” Unfortunately, this system is so painfully broken that it’s not worth investing in. Once you get your thrall, giving them a sword and shield to equip simply doesn’t work. If they’re already holding any type of weapon, they will not enter combat, and it must be in their inventory for them to start using it.

However, if the player places a sword and shield in a thrall’s inventory, they will only equip the sword without even acknowledging the shield. As thralls fight poorly and don’t even follow the player properly, it would be very relieving to have them wear a shield. Additionally, I once equipped my thrall with a torch to provide light while I explore, and as I tried to take it out of their inventory, the torch bugged, turning into an item with code in the title. As I tried to move it out of their inventory, my game crashed.

Bugs

To make matters worse, Exiles is plagued by a number of annoying bugs. There are some simple ones, like how rocks just stop producing stone, iron, or coal. However, there’s one bug where if the player completely runs out of stamina, it won’t recharge for quite a while. There is a mechanic where using up all your stamina causes a gray bar to pop up, but this bug doesn’t even cause that to happen. This is incredibly problematic, as death in Exiles can be difficult to come back from.

Another issue is that sometimes the climbing mechanics won’t work properly. In Exiles, the player should be able to climb pretty much anything, but certain parts of the world just don’t work. Getting to the top of one of the largest structures in the game was nearly impossible.

Additionally, while sitting in my home, my thrall just seemed to fall and crack her head for no reason. I heard a death noise while I was upstairs and when I went to go check what it was, I found her dead on my first floor. I’m not even sure what happened there, but it certainly baffled me. There’s also a huge problem where the player’s attacks won’t register on enemies. This seems to happen most when I’m playing co-op with a friend.

Multiplayer

Exiles is supposed to be a game where a large number of players can explore the world at once, but the “Singleplayer/Co-Op” mode limits everyone from staying within 100 feet of the host player. Going on a public server fixes this problem, but some people want to exclusively play with their friends. If Exiles were a free game, this would certainly make sense, but to charge $39.99 and limit co-op so heavily is questionable.

Stamina

Exiles claims that being more encumbered greatly reduces your stamina efficiency, but this barely applies to climbing. After comparing how far I could climb at 99% encumbrance versus 40% encumbrance, little to no difference was visible.

Soundtrack

The music in Exiles feels adventurous, as music cues greatly prepare the player for each upcoming situation. A haunting track will play when something dangerous is close, and a soothing track will play when it’s safe. Additionally, the music that starts up in the main loading screen is quite nice.

Verdict

Conan Exiles has a lot of potential, but any good thing that it offers is quickly undermined by many issues. Its hollow world and frustrating combat system make it difficult to have any fun with crafting or building. Additionally, not being able to go more than 100 feet away from another player in co-op is ridiculous. Exiles would’ve worked better if it were $19.99, as $39.99 doesn’t fit the game’s content.

Score

Good Bad
Sense of Adventure Poor Combat System
Extensive Building Hollow World
Crafting System Repetitive Enemies
Leveling Mechanics Confusing Scaling
Awful Thrall Mechanics
Tons of Bugs
Co-Op Mechanics

- 5/10 -