Yahtzee reviews Conan Exiles.
You may remember the last time we here at Zero Punctuation shoved our critical periscope right up Conan the Barbarian's loincloth, it was for Age of Conan, quite a few years ago now, one of Funcom's many attempts at muhmorpuhguhs that went the way of all the others 'cos running a muhmorpuhguh is like having to share your house with an incontinent giraffe that's constantly injuring itself on the staircase and incessantly complaining to you about how the PvP is unbalanced. But massive online role-playing was a natural fit for the Conan universe, because where else could the gameplay capture the feeling of being strapped to a grinding wheel for twenty fucking years? L, O, and furthermore, L!
Age of Conan was a perfectly faithful adaptation in that there were a lot of deserts in it and player characters had the option of running around with their giggle zones hanging out like they were role-playing as a Boris Vallejo painting. This was a privilege, you may recall, I immediately set out to abuse by creating the character of Thinderella, the Necromantic Naturist, and vowing never to constrain my giggle zones with earthly fabrics. Imagine my joy, then, to discover that Conan Exiles is bringing the wonder of the giggle zone to a new generation, and the opportunity rose for Thinderella to ride again! Although, after turning all the body sliders down to minimum, Thinderella was still rocking a monster booty, which was slightly disappointing, but then I suppose this is the nature of body types in the Conan universe: if your thigh muscles are only as big as medium-sized pool floats, you officially qualify for humanitarian aid.
So with Conan Sex-iles, Funcom are having another spin of the severely-unbalanced roulette table that is muhmorpuhguh development, so let's hope-- "Excuse me, Yahtzee Croshaw of the Internet, but Conan Exiles isn't a muhmorpuhguh; it's a survival game!" Oh, forgive me; I got confused, 'cos it's a role-playing game, it's massively multiplayer, and online. Oh yes, and the gameplay is largely concerned with grinding up specific numbers of items all bloody day. "Yes, granted, smartarse, but the difference is, you have to come up with the grindy fetch quests yourself; it's like self-flagellation, but with boredom. Oh yes, and you can play in single-player." Well, that sounds to me like the perfect excuse to see if it holds up as a single-player game! You know what I'm like with other people: I'm fine with them on principle, manufacturing things and driving buses and shit; I just can't stand when they try to relate to you or ask you to stop making lampshades out of their flesh. Besides, there's a chance, if I join a multiplayer server, then they might have turned nudity off, and that would have been completely offensive to Thinderella's lifestyle choices.
So the game starts promising, with your character already in their skivvies and nailed to a cross in the middle of the desert, although the process has done fuck-all to make you less beach-body-ready. So Conan the Barbarian, in his obligatory contractual appearance, shows up, cuts you down, and leaves you to figure out the rest yourself. Fortunately, there's a source of fresh water about five minutes' walk away, since the authorities were probably busy and couldn't be bothered looking for a really big desert to abandon you in. So Thinderella started heading over there, picking up enough plant fibers on the way to craft a complete set of clothing for herself, by which I mean one pair of hand wraps and some flipflops, although it wasn't quite as intuitive as that.
Surprisingly for a modern game, there aren't any contextual button prompts; you just have to figure out that you're supposed to stand in front of a bush and keep mashing X until all the useful parts of the bush are extracted, meaning the bits that were stopping the rest of the bush from disintegrating and mysteriously fading from existence. Also, you drink water by standing in some water and mashing X until you have sucked enough moisture in through your kneecaps. Here's my advanced-level tip: if your giggle zone starts to bloodily disappear, that's an alligator; you should probably move.
But it did make me realize that naturism has really caught on in the Conan universe since our last visit, as every time you die, the game strips you naked again and deposits you on the spawn point with no stuff; par for the course, really, but after you streak into the cave of enemies you died in last time and desperately mash the "Take All" button over your corpse as several nonplussed giant spiders gather to nibble your bum, the game also doesn't re-equip everything, so you have to then streak back out, climb a tree, and patiently glue your tools and weapons back to your Quick Select Wheel before you can fight back. And some of these monsters really don't know how to take a fucking hint! I ran across two entire fucking biomes once, and the giant spiders were still nipping at me flipflops; damn this extremely attractive bottom of mine!
But I found a nice, quiet spot to set up base camp that was convenient for the river, the local spider cave, and the Rock, Tree, and Bush Emporium and started progressing my way up the tech tree. "Make a stone pickaxe: one bit of wood, five rocks." Gotcha. "Make a bedroll: one bit of wood, five leaves." That's done. "Now make a wooden storage box: 100 bits of wood--" Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! That was a fucking jump! I only wanted a foot locker, not a fucking Regency wardrobe with complimentary portal to Narnia! "Now let's build a tannery; that'll be 240 rocks--" WHAT?! It's, like, three bits of wood with skin stretched over it! What are the rocks for?! You going to put it on a gravel driveway?! "Well, we're just making sure you get the full intended experience; that is to say, wasting hours of your life banging a rock with another, smaller, pointier bit of rock."
My progress up the tech tree then hit a bit of a beehive when I suddenly needed 100 bits of iron to make a blacksmith's bench, and I hadn't seen any iron up to then. Well, I tell a lie; I found one ingot in a dead bandit's loincloth which, I can only assume, he was hoping would impress all the naked women on corpse runs. But I resolved to look this up before I set up a bandit concentration camp, mindful as I am of the perverse glee with which survival games refuse to tell you shit; one trip to the wiki later, it turned out there were some iron deposits that spawned in select locations around the mountains half an hour's trudge away like nature's pubic thatches, and I just have to mine them all, let them respawn, then repeat. Blimey! Lucky this wasn't multiplayer; you'd probably have to sign up for a waiting list!
But now that I had iron, I could finally explore the game's most enticing feature: building a fuck-off torture wheel to turn NPCs into my slaves. Weirdly, the wheel came with a dude already on it, despite being ostensibly empty; maybe he was the model they use for shop-floor demonstrations. I clouted a bandit from the nearby camp around the skull, dragged him over - incidentally, this is where we discover that you can't drag and climb, so I hope you didn't build your base somewhere you can only access by climbing, like some kind of sensible person who understands base defense - and shoved them up the demonstration model dude's butt. Thirty boring minutes on Gas Mark 4 later, my brand-new slave popped out, where Thinderella promptly stored him away on her person... somehow; let's not speculate. I equipped him, planted him on the floor, and he proceeded to fucking stand there. Would you like to come and mine some iron with me, slave? "No, I'm a fighter; I'll just stay here and guard your base from fuck-all. My sword's kind of shitty, though; better grind me up a nicer one!"
And that was when I decided I'd had enough of Colon Textiles. When I end every play session by declaring "Bollocks to this shit!", that's probably all you need for review purposes; it's hard to come back from a "Bollocks to this shit!" situation, and your bollocks won't appreciate it much, either.
- Snitches get britches: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
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- I wish a burly man would cut me down from a cross