Funcom has heard the lamentations of the fans regarding their game Conan Exiles, and while the community won’t see everything people have requested (Conan Exiles isn’t getting an army of mounts or the like), at a digital press event I was able to get hands-on and see some impressive changes addressing many concerns people have expressed for this next adventure in the Hyborian Age.
Conan’s New SoulPerhaps the change that will impact the game most on a moment to moment basis is the complete combat overhaul that Funcom has pulled off. Originally, Conan Exiles had a simplistic combat system that they based off of Skyrim. Many players had issues with it, and as combat is a core component to basically anything with the name Conan, Funcom listened. Instead of messing around with small tweaks, they opted to make a new combat system for Conan Exiles to do justice to the barbarian, taking more inspiration from recent Action RPGs.
While hesitant to name it, the Souls series is the clear inspiration, with each of the different weapons having heavy and light attacks that chain together into combos. Beyond that, there are also special finisher effects on heavy attack finishers (like bleed for daggers), dodge rolling around, and the secondary weapon/block button varies based on what you have equipped. Shields block and quickly break, two-handed attacks kick, and double daggers get a quicker, special backward dodge roll.
These attacks all have a real weight to them that are key to the style of combat, and while it doesn’t reach the heights of its inspirations, it does an admirable job, tying in nicely with several other systems. The stamina system becomes even more important with this, as attacks eat up the stamina and force you to engage tactically. It also ties into the encumbrance system, because as you are further encumbered, your actions eat up progressively more stamina.
Drawing further from RPGs, stats have been given an increase in their impact on the game overall. While already an element in the game, the 7 stats (strength, agility, vitality, accuracy, grit, encumbrance, and survival) were given a whole new aspect to encourage players to specialize and enhance gameplay. Perks are unlocked for every 10 points in a stat and give bonuses or all new abilities like double jumping, dealing increased damage, or passive healing.
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That brings us to another change, this case in how Conan Exiles handles healing. Previously, Conan Exiles featured regenerating health, similar to the way many modern action and shooter games do. Now, healing can only be started by eating or using items particularly made to heal. This puts further pressure on deciding what to carry as you may need more food than before but want to keep a lower encumbrance total, which in turn encourages you to increase how much you can carry. Whether all the numbers are at the right place is more than I can say at this time, but the interlocking system design here is quite well-done.
Conan’s New PvE EndgameAnother key element that players have lamented is the lack of an end-game for the PvE side of play. A new system that they demonstrated (though we didn’t get to play with it) reveals a robust idea called The Purge (no relation to the film series). When you or your clanmates build things in a region, the purge bar goes up for you, and when it reaches a certain point, it invokes a purge – a retaliation from the nearest enemy faction.
How quickly the Purge meter fills up depends on what you are doing and where you are doing it. Building more things and doing things in the world like that on your own or with your clan (who share a single Purge meter) raises it up until a certain point where a purge becomes possible. Where you are in the world determines which group attacks you—like Frost Giants in the North, Relic Hunters in another area, or Gorillas in the new Swamp—and with how much strength. If you are in an area near valuable resources, the attack will be much stronger than if you settle in a quiet place with few resources.
When a purge occurs, you and your friends must defend your base from waves of enemies who engage with the first thing they see typically. These enemies come in several varieties in their area, up to and potentially including bosses, with the setup of waves and the differences based on size and location should make for an interesting experience. Oh, and if you were thinking of building your base in a place enemies can’t reach, don’t count on it — you’ll have to deal with the living dead rising from the ground underneath your base.
Purges can also happen on PvP servers, with official servers going to have the option turned on. This will serve as a sort of check on alpha clans as they’ll get purged more often, and opposing clans can take advantage of the attack to add in their own contribution to the chaos.
I mentioned official servers, and one element that is important to remember with Conan Exiles is that it has both official and unofficial servers. The latter are highly customizable, and the purge is no exception to that at all. With those options you can choose not just whether or not purge’s happen, but also configure how quickly the bar fills, what time purges happen at if they are going to happen, or restricting them even to only when people are online. This is key in part of letting the experience be one you or your friends want; if you want to build giant bases without being concerned about the neighboring gorillas attacking, you can set that up.
Exploring And New AreasSpeaking of the giant gorillas, they are an enemy in one of two new regions that the full release will have. When combined with the Frozen North, the Volcano Region and the Swamp will have doubled the size of the map of Conan Exiles since it was first released. The Swamp region has several defining traits and biomes that help distinguish it from other areas in style and play. The most visible is the large trees in the area that you can traverse and even build upon, lending added verticality to that section of the Swamp.
Beyond that, there is an old ruins area (the Forgotten City of Xell-Ha) with its own dungeon and plays differently with the different buildings and enemies. The final distinct section I visited in the swamp was the pirate area of Buccaneer Bay. While the past two parts were dedicated to nature and history (and nature’s overtaking of it), Buccaneer Bay provides a solidly human foe who you can go and crush your enemies. Drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of their women if you so choose!
The other area, which I only saw but didn’t play, is the Volcano region, which uniquely features lava. It is a smaller region than the Swamp, but has a more prominent dungeon, which possesses a unique boss battle in addition to crafting with the Great Forge. Like other regions, it is made up of several parts and features different enemies throughout those. It was explicitly mentioned as a late game area by the developers, with the story (and there is one, albeit not too much of one) heading there near the end.
Throughout Conan Exiles' development, the team at Funcom worked hard to manage scope and avoid some of the biggest flaws of Early Access when development changes priorities and games become something other than what interested folks, or stay in Early Access for years. That being said, based on feedback they added one additional pillar to their core design, which can be seen in the regions added and some new mechanics – a focus on exploration.
Funcom cheerfully admits that they stole the idea of freeform climbing straight from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You can climb most anything, but it uses up stamina to do so. The only exceptions to what you can climb are a few things in dungeons to keep things a bit under control. Beyond that, they’ve added discoveries that happen as you come across things like in Skyrim and have expanded the Exile’s Journal, which doubles as a tutorial system prompting people to try things and an achievement system at the higher end, leading people to new areas.
Listening to Funcom talk, it sounded like they tried to meld the idea of the survival game and use their experience in MMOs like The Secret World and Age of Conan to add to it. Area designs drew upon how they worked to make MMO regions look distinct, the Exile’s Journey was compared to an MMO quest tracker, and dungeons are of course an MMO staple. In each case, they tried to take their experience as a team and ask what survival players would want from it, thus we get giant trees in swamps that you can build castles on, or dungeons with a special forging area as the reward.
In the end – is there anything else that creators can do then to learn from the past and apply it well?
Conan Exiles is coming out May 8th and the release version promises to be very different then what you may have seen in the past so stay tuned.