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July 2019

Conan Unconquered

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Funcom
Developer: Petroglyph
Release Date: May 29, 2019


PC Preview - 'Conan Unconquered'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 7, 2019 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Conan Unconquered is the first-ever strategy game set in the savage world of Conan the Barbarian.

From giant swords and mighty warriors to dastardly wizards and necromancers, Conan the Barbarian is a franchise that has influenced adventure titles for decades. It's no surprise that it has inspired tons of games, from adventure to MMORPG. The latest, Conan Unconquered, is based on the 1933 short story, "The Black Colossus," where Conan is force to defend against the vile forces of the evil wizard, Thugra Kohtan. The premise of the story makes it ripe for giant battles of armies, and that is where Conan Unconquered opens up.

Conan Unconquered is framed as a "survival RTS," which means that it has a lot of familiar RTS mechanics. You start with a simple base and have to gradually improve it by upgrading buildings, researching new tech, and gradually building up your own force of soldiers. If you've ever played an RTS, then you probably have a pretty good idea of how this functions. There's a well-documented tech tree that shows you exactly what to build to get to your desired upgrades. There are also incredibly user-friendly map markers, so you know where you can build specific farms or lumber mills to harvest resources.

Soldiers can come in one of three types, and they have a rock-paper-scissors system: Ranged, Melee and Mounted. Ranged beats mounted, which beats melee, which beats ranged. Within those groups, you can find soldiers with lots of different abilities. There are soldiers with flaming weapons, bow-wielding horsemen who are both ranged and mounted, sorcerers who use the souls of their enemies to fuel their dark magic, and so on. Soldiers are largely disposable, but not entirely. If a soldier survives combat, he can level up to become stronger. This encourages you to try to keep your troops alive because it means you'll have a significantly more powerful fighting force for the tougher rounds.

Most important to the army is its leader. At launch, players can select from one of three heroes: Conan himself; Valeria the swordsman; and Kalanthes, the priest of Ibis. Your hero is not unlike a hero character in Warcraft III or similar titles. They are a single incredibly powerful force; a single hero can often handle dozens of foes on their own without trouble. Conan has a huge sword swing, which means that even his basic attack hits multiple enemies, while his special move damages everything around him. Heroes level up through combat and can't be permanently killed, only disabled for a few minutes. As such, they are by far your most important resource and the centerpiece of your armies.

Conan Unconquered is focused on defense instead of offense, similar to They Are Billions. Your goal is merely to survive an increasingly large number of enemy waves, which in turn have increasingly deadly enemies, up to and including deadly Elite units, which serve as the game's boss battles. This means you need to balance growing your base with prioritizing its defense. If the base is too small, you risk running out of precious resources or leaving yourself vulnerable to a single unchecked flame taking out a good chunk of your defenses. If the base is too large, you'll leave your forces stretched very thin when it comes time to defend against the enemies.

The defense in Conan Unconquered is extremely fluid by nature. You can't just create one chokepoint and hope to overwhelm everything. Enemies throw different obstacles at you that counter potential defenses. A wooden wall may keep out horsemen, but flaming javelins can easily set it ablaze, forcing you to devote precious soldiers to fight the flames instead of killing enemies. Even if you do create an effective chokepoint, it can actually be a weakness. Enemy bodies can stack up, and the area will eventually become infested and disease-filled. This means a particularly good defense may soon have to deal with rotting corpses that make it tough to send your troops to defend the area without also getting infected and weakened.

Don't mistake that for meaning the game is entirely defensive. Outside of your base, you'll find monsters and bandits that can be killed for rare materials and experience points for your hero unit. There are also special guardian enemies who protect artifacts, which can provide your hero unit with additional powers and abilities. Since hero units can turn the tide of battle, it's more important to strengthen them rather than a dozen regular troops. However, this means that sending soldiers into uncharted territory has a risk of ending badly if you can't make it back before an enemy wave arrives.

Conan Unconquered is designed around playing many, many, many times. It's not a plot-heavy game, but your goal is survival. The story mode is designed to serve as a gradual tutorial to the mechanics before you go at the true game, either in single-player or co-op with an online friend. Two friends together share a base but have their own soldiers, and it's sort of half-cooperative, half-competitive because you want to get your strongest soldiers powered up before your ally — but not at a cost to yourself. It's a fun challenge, especially when you need to rush to your ally's side during a hectic wave.

As you'd expect from a game design to be replayed multiple times, there are also a lot of optional power-ups and optional challenges. By completing feats, you unlock permanent bonuses, including greater starting gold, stronger soldiers, faster build speed, and more. There are dozens of these feats, and many have multiple levels, so you're encouraged to vary your strategies to unlock more bonuses for future runs. If you like challenges, you can activate special modifiers that disable feats, prevent you from upgrading artifacts, or disable the ability to pause the game, forcing you to deal with foes in real time without a break. Doing this increases your points at the end, allowing you a better chance at high scores.

All in all, what we played of Conan Unconquered was a ton of fun. It's obviously designed as a pick-up-and-play game, and it seems well geared for that. With tons of feats to unlock and extra challenges, it should keep players busy for a long time, especially with co-op in the mix. Players will get a chance to experience it for themselves when Conan Unconquered is released exclusively on the PC on May 30.

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