Conan Exiles Brings Storytelling to Survival Games

If games like Rust and DayZ are any indication, players love trying to survive in harsh digital worlds. The only problem is that many survival games don’t give you larger goals beyond staying alive and stockpiling resources. Conan Exiles, a Steam game currently in Early Access, aims to change that by placing players in the Hyborian Age of the classic Conan the Barbarian stories, and challenging them both to survive and to explore the world’s mysteries.

I met with Funcom, the company behind Conan Exiles, at GDC 2017. Funcom has experience with massively multiplayer games, but its last two efforts were not quite as successful as it had hoped. Lego Minifigures Online performed poorly, despite the popular brand, and The Secret World (still active) was incredibly clever, but has had trouble retaining players. Conan Exiles, on the other hand, recouped its dev costs in less than a week. Players are excited about this one, and Funcom wants to reward their patience.

MORE: Best of GDC

Funcom pitched the game as “Minecraft for adults,” in which players will have to survive in a harsh world, fending off everything from thirst to insanity. The tradeoff is that they can harvest almost any resource in-game, from wood to minerals to flesh. A lot of the survival elements are already in place in the Early Access game, but Funcom plans to add some major updates between now and its full launch on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in the first quarter of 2018.

Siege warfare will be the first major addition to the game. Players can already build structures — even elaborate cities, carved into mountainsides or freestanding. Naturally, players shouldn’t feel too safe in a survival game, and the developers will subject them to trebuchets, siege towers and even Avatar Defense, which will summon giant servants of the gods to repel invaders.

Players can also experience something akin to a single-player campaign that leverages the full lore of Robert E. Howard’s stories. Funcom wants to avoid giving players an “empty sandbox,” which is full of content but bereft of meaning. Dungeons will have puzzles and special bosses, and items you find will help flesh out the world — including sorcery, which will have dark repercussions, just like in the original stories.

Players who make it to the endgame will also have to grapple with the Purge: a force of warriors from foreign lands who assault cities in their nihilistic quest. Fighting the Purge isn’t just a nuisance, though, as they carry recipes from foreign lands that aren’t acquirable any other way.

Conan Exiles aims to strike a balance between survival games and more directed MMOs. As for whether it’s succeeded so far, fans are mixed. Reviews for the Early Access title on Steam are split right down the middle. Still, there should be some substantial updates happening between now and the game’s full release, so if survival/fantasy games are your thing, keep this one on your radar. The core game costs $30, with additional upgrades available at extra cost.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.