Conan: Exiles (hereafter Conan) is basically ARK where the dinosaurs are people.
Not really… but kinda.
The first thing I want to say about Conan is that this is perhaps the first survival game I have played that has completely nailed the setting and tone. In a lot of these games, you are a faceless protagonist, or a random nobody who just suddenly is completely fine with butchering cannibals within minutes of regaining consciousness. In this game, you are a barbarian, in a barbarian land, doing some very barbaric things. And it fits.
In ARK, you tame dinosaurs by beating them unconscious with clubs, rocks, or narcotics. Then you… put food and more narcotics into their inventories. In Conan, you beat warriors/cooks/etc unconscious with a club. Then you… tie a rope to their legs and drag them along the ground back to your camp, and lash them to your Wheel of Pain, feeding them gruel or even human flesh, until their will to resist finally breaks and they join you. Crom would be pleased.
Like I said, it fits the theme and tone of the game. All of that is further reinforced by the demonic mobs, corruption of mad gods, and other sort of weirdness that permeates the land. It feels right.
Having said all that, there is a lot of jankiness all over the place. I’m not just talking about the typical survival game tropes like carrying 500+ stones in your loincloth inventory, or how your Thralls will sometimes unequip themselves of their weapons. I mean the very consistent outright bugs, like how attacks don’t register if you are fighting under a tent. Or the overall jarring inconsistencies in progression, like the ridiculous hoops you have to go through to complete the early-game Journal task of “skinning a creature with a knife” (literally a dozen+ steps). Or the general incongruent nature of a more “realistic” game in which you cannot simply loot the items that NPCs are wearing, or interact with any of the set pieces that dot the land.
I think that, more than anything, there is one thought that is draining most of my enthusiasm away from playing Conan: “Elder Scrolls Online did it better.” Can you slaughter a camp of people and drain the Unfulfilled Desires from their corpses to fuel your ritual offerings to Derketo in TESO? No. You can, however, interact with the world in a meaningful way, like… you know, sitting in a chair, opening a crate, stealing a bowl. Certainly the whole dungeon thing works a hell of a lot better when death does not send you back across the map, naked and alone.
For the record, my experiences in Conan have been from the viewpoint of someone playing it single-player on a local server. I ended up cranking up the resource gain to x4 rate, which is probably too high, but farming iron ore for days and days is just dumb. It was dumb in ARK too, but that was on purpose: you were meant to tame dinosaurs to make collecting resources more efficient. In Conan, it’s just mindless labor meant to create PvP opportunities in which someone jacks all your stuff.
We’ll see how long interest lasts. I tried my first dungeon the other day, and was slaughtered by the boss all the way at the end. Despite having admin powers and the ability to spawn all my equipment back on my body and teleport back to the area, there was a very tangible part of me that felt like that was an interest-terminating loss. I never felt deprived in ARK for not seeing the bosses there while playing single-player, but dungeons in Conan are more of a thing. Probably because there are less “things” in the world otherwise.
As mentioned, I buckled down and bought State of Decay 2 (SoD2) recently.
It is difficult for me to directly compare this game to the original, because I last played it in 2014. Based on that review, a lot of things have stayed the same. You are still selecting base locations at predetermined places, you are still looting all the places for supplies, you are still recruiting survivors, and are still faced with Ironman mode – auto-saving checkpoints and permadeath.
Let’s assume you haven’t played this series at all before. What’s it like?
After the (extended) tutorial, you are basically given a base and four survivors. Your survivors are going to consume certain resources every in-game day, such as 1 Food/person, 2 Medicine when healing from injuries, etc. Missing those resources will lead to negative morale, which leads to in-fighting, which leads to survivors leaving and/or dying. Thus, you need to keep supplies high.
To keep supplies high, you can scavenge for them. Each building will typically have 1-5 spots where you can look for stuff. Some of those things will be individual items/upgrade materials, and others will be the duffel bags of base supplies that you are really looking for. Your character can only carry one duffel bag at a time, so extended scavenging is best done with a vehicle that has decent trunk space. Of course, that vehicle will need to be gassed up from time to time, which requires you to scavenge for Fuel too.
Another way to get supplies is leveraging base upgrades. Building a Garden, for example, will grant you +1 Food/day. That Garden can be upgraded if you have a survivor with the Gardening skill, and it can also be modded (say with a Compost Bin or Fertilizer) and temporarily boosted at the cost of Seeds. Doing all of those things, including providing your base with water somehow, can boost the Garden into providing 9+ Food/day. You can also turn the Garden into a Medicine factory by switching the yields to herbs.
Bases also allow you to claim Outposts. You start off with two possible slots (up to 5, I think), and you can essentially claim almost any building anywhere as an Outpost. All Outposts will create a zone where zombies won’t spawn, and will allow access to to your storage area and the ability to swap out characters. Additionally, certain Outposts can passively give you resources – Ammo Stores give Ammo, fast food joints give Food, etc. Some just give you more bed slots, and others actually give you base-wide power or water, at the cost of daily Fuel.
I mentioned all of the above rather than getting into the meat of the actual gameplay because the above essentially creates the gameplay. You need to scavenge for materials to make your base more self-sufficient, or scavenge to make up for the deficiency. You recruit more survivors because the one you are currently controlling has gotten injured, or is exhausted. There are quite a few guns and explosives and different melee weapons in the game, but zombies don’t drop loot and are best avoided in general. Technically, killing them will periodically grant you Influence, which is a catch-all currency in the game, but eventually weapons wear out and you’ll likely be spending that Influence on spare parts to repair said weapons.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is a lot of fun for me. But if you don’t like the base management and/or resource management side of things, SoD2 is definitely not for you. This is not Dying Light or even Dead Island. There are quests to follow, but since any member can permanently die at any time, there isn’t really a strict narrative going on. The overaching “point” of the game is to destroy all the Plague Hearts, which involves tossing a bunch of molatovs inside a building while waves of red zombies attack you. That’s… basically it.
Like I said: fun. For me, for now. For you? Maybe, maybe not.