Republished on Wednesday 27th March 2019: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of April's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Conan Exiles is surprisingly good. When we first learned about an open world survival game themed on the Conan universe, we were tempted to write it off as a cash grab. And that might have been the initial idea, but the result is not only a labour of love for the genre, but also the barbarian himself.
Picture the scene: you're a completely naked, ripped, and very well-endowed male or female tied to a cross in some desert, left to die for an unknown crime. That is, until our favourite misogynist Conan arrives to free you because he's actually a pretty decent guy. He then leaves you naked, alone, and scared in the desert to fend for yourself.
That's where the game starts, and it's incredibly compelling stuff. Your first priority will be on clothing yourself (after spending a lot of time speechless at the remarkably accurate genital physics), finding something to use as a weapon, and quenching your thirst and hunger.
All of the above is trickier than it sounds – particularly if you're new to survival games. There's no tutorial, crafting is hidden inside a menu, and you probably won't even be able to differentiate between what you can and can't pick up. The only clue you get is "press square to interact" and you'll do that on everything until it works.
That pretty much sums up the opening hour or so – you, fumbling about in a harsh desert, dying of thirst, starvation, and weird goblin creatures that explode. Slowly but surely, though, you'll figure stuff out. You'll learn that you can make clothes out of leaves, that your crudely-crafted pickaxe is a very poor weapon, and that you have to cook meat or you very well might die of food poisoning when you eat it.
And before you know it, eight hours have passed and you've built a lovely house, crafted a sword, and started working on your first leather armour set. You might even have a proper bed, basic furniture, and a fence around your property to protect it.
We could criticise Conan Exiles for a lack of tutorial or explanation of any kind, but that would sort of miss the point of a survival game. It's meant to feel harsh, and boy does this feel harsh. Ultimately, though, it does lead to some nice eureka moments, and overcoming an obstacle – be it enemy, cliff, or thirst – feels very rewarding indeed.
And that sense of reward doesn't let up anytime soon. There's always a goal to work towards in Conan Exiles, and not knowing how to even go about achieving it makes it even more compelling. You'll hit a dead enemy with a pickaxe and get hides, then you'll venture a little too far out of your comfort zone and stumble across an iron ore deposit. The rewards are constant, and each time you return to your crude base you'll do so with a wealth of fresh knowledge about the world, as well as a ton of plans on how to conquer it.
That you can do all of that with a friend or group in multiplayer is the cream on top, though. You can even choose a server with or without player killing depending on your preference. The servers are all dedicated too, and run the game super smoothly from our experience so far. You can save your progress and return at any point as well, and going inside your house keeps you safe from the dangers of the outside world.
The only real thing letting Conan Exiles down is its general jankiness. It freezes at random (often inopportune) moments, has a less than stable frame rate even on a PS4 Pro, and some of the animations are, frankly, just a little bit rubbish.
We also can't decide whether it's good looking or not. It varies wildly from environment to environment, with some reminiscent of the PS3 days while others are Monster Hunter World levels of gorgeous. The character models are terrific (maybe a bit too much so in some areas) while the hair is jarringly unrealistic.
If you love open world survival games, you'll overlook that, though, because it's just so damn fun. That probably says more about the genre than Conan Exiles, however, because it doesn't do anything particularly different. In fact, unless you really like the aesthetics you probably won't stick around for very long if you're invested in the likes of Minecraft or Ark: Survival Evolved.
But we still commend Conan Exiles for being more than the sum of its parts, and blending excellent survival mechanics with the harsh world of Conan. If you're a fan of either, this is well worth a shot.
Conan Exiles is a surprisingly good open world survival game that does a good job of blending genre mechanics with the harsh world of Conan the Barbarian. It's seriously addictive stuff despite general jankiness and a strange obsession with nudity, but the multiplayer is the real highlight. If you're looking for something new to play with your friends for a bit, look no further.