I decided to try out Conan: Exiles for the first time as a single-player game. I don't have a lot of survival game chops, and I figured it'd be easier to get by if I didn't have other players romping around.
I built a character, and I ended up tied to a cross in the middle of the desert to die, for charges that included tampering with a human corpse. I was naked, unarmed, and only still alive because of the largesse of Conan himself, who cut me down and walked away.
I figured out how to make myself a pair of pants, but then noticed I was getting thirsty and tried to find the closest river. In so doing, I had to dodge two angry, equally naked bandits; a couple of short, hostile mutant things; and something that might have been a giant bat. Then a crocodile bit off my legs, and that was that. I hadn't built a bed yet, so I was back at square one.
Once I respawned, naked and empty-handed, I ended up doing a mad run to the river again, but this time, I was marginally more prepared. The game, in the last act of mercy you're likely to receive, leaves you a waterskin near your starting point, which lengthened my lifespan a bit and gave me time to gather materials for a stone sword and wooden shield. That, in turn, let me survive my first encounter with the little mutants, which turned out to be disturbingly edible. When I got down to the water, I ended up running for my life from bandits.
When I finally did slow down long enough to weave myself a bedroll and set up a base of operations, I discovered that my quiet corner of the wilderness had me sandwiched between hostile giant turtles on one side and a group of five bandits on the other. All safety was (is) an illusion.
Exiles is a barbarian-flavored run at the survival/crafting experience. In the Hyborean Age, the setting of the classic short stories starring Conan the Barbarian, players are left with nothing in the middle of an unsettled wilderness. As you gather materials for crude weapons and clothing, you gradually level up, unlocking more and more useful patterns and schematics. Soon, you can erect temples to your chosen gods, which lets you turn the corpses of fallen enemies into healing items; figure out how to smelt iron and make actual weapons; build yourself a simple house, or eventually a city, if other players don't come along to wreck it for chuckles.
In practice, however, you (like me) will get merked by crocodiles. If it's not them, it's giant rampaging turtle-monsters, bandits, mutants, or whatever the hell the giant winged desert monsters are. It's hard out here for a naked barbarian. Conan makes it look easy.
Right now, Exiles is in what I found to be a surprisingly stable alpha. As you progress through the levels, you unlock a variety of crafting materials, and the final game will reportedly have features that include enslaving and ritually sacrificing other humans, including other player characters. Conversely, you can build a smelting furnace, a campfire, and other essentials, and eschew civilization entirely to live in some isolated corner of the surprisingly large map. There's a city, supposedly, which all roads lead to in the end, but I haven't gotten there yet. I keep getting distracted by building cottages and running for my life from turtle monsters.
If you die, and you probably will, your possessions remain on your corpse. You can reclaim them by finding your body again and looting it. You can also "harvest" enemy corpses by beating on them, which creates meat, hides, bones, and spiritual essence, which can be turned into an item that heals you over time. That, in turn, creates the disturbing ability to specifically hunt and skin other humans for usable leather, or to have an inventory full of meat you cut from your own corpse. I have no idea if this is intended behavior. It probably is.
It has to be said that right now, the combat's fairly rough. I had a hard time surviving even a simple fight until I crafted a shield and learned how to use it, by right-clicking to raise it in time to intercept an incoming attack. Even so, fighting more than one opponent at once is a virtual death sentence unless you get lucky or use the terrain to your advantage. It's part of why I've shied away from the PvP-enabled servers, as reports indicate many of them are home to roving multi-person gank squads, there to kick over your sandcastle and turn your body into raw materials.
Right now, Conan: Exiles is mostly promise. It's a surprisingly absorbing survival sim, and at its baseline settings, it's shockingly difficult. Things even up once you hit level 10, when you can start smelting iron and making better weapons, but that initial run out of the desert is one of the tenser experiences I've had in a game in a while. I don't usually go in for this kind of undirected experience, but I've built a little sandstone hut by the river's edge, I'm making clay bricks in my new furnace, and I'm hoping I can start to explore once I've made something more protective than rags. It's kept my attention for longer than I thought it would.
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