Connect with us

Review

Conan Exiles Review — Eat, Slay, Die, Repeat

Published

 on

Conan Exiles

With its rugged environments, epic adventures, voluptuous women, and larger-than-life heroes, Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age is the archetypal predecessor of many video games, from Golden Axe to God of War. However, the mythic, pseudo-historical world and its prevailing protagonist, Conan the Cimmerian, have been underserved by the interactive realm. The legendary barbarian has starred in a handful of middling titles across the years, but the latest custodian of the property, Funcom, has taken a different approach. Beginning with 2008’s Age of Conan, the developer has endeavoured to let players populate the world of Hyboria, and its latest project, Conan Exiles, continues that trend. As such, deviations from the expectations of the IP are understandable, but the weaknesses of exploration and combat in this survival adventure, nonetheless, feel incongruous.

Players enter the world of Hyboria as naked, unarmed revenants saved from crucifixion by Conan. This serendipitous beginning offers scope for a vast tale of revenge or homecoming, but the premise is squandered as the story is anaemic to the point of non-existence. Barred from their homelands by a cursed bracelet, the character is cast into the wilds of Hyboria with minimal guidance or explanation of their quest. In the co-op and multiplayer settings that the title is so clearly designed for, this structure is sensible, but the drip-feed of narrative means that solo players must be pulled forward by the drive to explore, build, and survive.

To that end, Conan Exiles is made up of phases with each gameplay epoch characterised, to a greater or lesser degree, by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Freshly freed from the corpse tree, the player’s immediate concerns are those of the body: food, water, and clothing. The opening hour is therefore a mad scramble against both the elements and the low-level enemies that populate the desert and oases surrounding the beginning locale. Once these fundamental needs are sated, the game shifts, demanding players build shelter, seek purpose through religion, and find companionship (in the form of thralls), each of which requires resources harvested from the environment. This slow build and the unfolding of new goals and mechanics are well-balanced, and the processes involved therein are among the most engaging gameplay structures that Conan Exiles contains. However, amassing the sometimes eye-watering amounts of wood and stone required for buildings and other key items can send players far from their home base, putting the disappointments of exploration and battle on clear display.

Howard’s original stories are characterised by a propensity to send their eponymous barbarian to majestic, far-flung locales where he engages in brutal combat against all sorts of men and beasts, but Conan Exiles fails to capture the same spirit. To be sure, the biomes of desert, swamp, tundra, and volcano can be breathtaking under the right circumstances. However, Funcom’s Hyboria is a chore to wander. The issues lie not in the visual make-up of the land, but in its fundamental design. A core problem is that, once the player has travelled for a handful of hours, any sense of surprise dwindles as the world proves to be almost universally populated with animals and barbarian encampments that attack on sight. Rather than taking cues from the likes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and making the world an attraction through environmental storytelling or diversified structures, Conan Exiles offers only a vast, deadly sandbox. By allowing players to work together or against each other, multiplayer enlivens the experience, though solo users are offered no reprieve from or reward for the seemingly endless march of death. With no one to talk to or trade with and nothing else to break up the cycles of slaughter and rebirth, the game struggles to maintain the player’s attention.

frozen_north_5_blog

This feeling of drudgery is enhanced by the uninspiring combat systems. Taking cues from Dark Souls’s ilk, each weapon archetype has a distinct weight and heft, demanding that players experiment to find an arsenal that suits them. Power is typically balanced well against speed and accessibility, while the controls are usually responsive enough to ensure that deaths result from a lack of skill rather than luck. While the core components of battle are thus finely tuned, a sense of ennui emerges from the absence of progression. Sharper and hardier weapons can make the player more dangerous as time wears on, but new abilities and attacks are not forthcoming, meaning the first hour of combat fundamentally mirrors the fortieth. The lack of care in this area feels like a glaring oversight, particularly given Conan’s reputation as a fearsome warrior before all else and the attention paid to new skills in the crafting and RPG mechanics built into the game.

As with most open-world projects, Conan Exiles includes a leveling system, which is one of the areas lending a sense of longevity to the title. Almost every action taken contributes experience points to the tally, ensuring constant improvement, and each new level gives players access to new skills. Called Feats, most of these unlockables grant the ability to create an ever-expanding selection of weapons, structures, armour, and other miscellaneous goods. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of these options, and the way that many open up no more than a handful of new items, leaves the process with a sense tantamount to busywork. Reams of skills are gated by the leveling system, creating a vast amount of content that would take a solo players dozens—if not hundreds—of hours to gain access to.

This trait makes Conan Exiles the kind of release that the biggest publishers dream of, providing a platform that, in theory, can last the solo player years. The title is plump with content, combining a sprawling continent with enough progression mechanics to provide endless engagement. However, the game does not feel deserving of its namesake. Between bland combat and an uninspired world, Funcom’s Hyboria bears little resemblance to Robert E. Howard’s glorious battles and fantastic locales, even failing to live up to its digital forebears. That crafting and community building saves the title from the bin of also-rans similarly seems like a betrayal of the tenets of those time-worn tales. Pedantic literary enthusiasts aside, players will find much to keep them engaged in Conan Exiles, particularly as the developers continue to work on the title in the coming months, ironing out the shortcomings evident in this initial release.

Reviewed on PC.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

Review

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Symphony for the Fans

Published

 on

Bloodstained Ritual of the Night

For a long while, the industry had yet to see a return to a true-to-form Castlevania title, leading many fans to speculate if Konami had abandoned the formula all together. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is ArtPlay’s response to this absence, with the legendary Castlevania-veteran Koji Igarashi at its helm. Although Bloodstained may not have certainty that it will continue the legacy of Castlevania, the title delivers on its promise as a game for fans, by the fans, and exceeds most expectations. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true Castlevania experience in every way except the title. 

In Ritual of the Night, players take control of a Sharbinder named Miriam, an individual who can harness the power of magical shards crystallized by the souls of the enemies she kills. As the core mechanic, the ability to absorb shards and utilize their new skills is required for player progression and success. The fact that Miriam is a Shardbinder further reinforces the narrative of Bloodstained, since their existence often lead to negative events. The story contained within Ritual of the Night is similar to most Castlevania titles, except this time, Dracula is replaced in favor of Gebel, a more skilled Sharbinder and Miriam’s old friend and mentor. 

Bloodstained Castle

Most of the game takes place inside a castle, but long-time Castlevania veterans will expect that the castle is only an external facade, with caverns and caves hiding beneath. Remaining true to its Metroidvania roots, Bloodstained contains a sprawling map full of hidden rooms and secrets. Exploration is encouraged by the ever-present possibility of better items and power-ups in the following rooms. Bloodstained finds a perfect difficulty balance by spacing out save rooms to encourage caution. Every time death was close, the curiosity of what could be behind the next door drove the desire for further exploration.

The map present in Bloodstained is truly expansive and worthy of a Metroidvania title. Each new area provides an extension onto the already dense castle setting, never requiring players to travel to a new location to progress. All additional areas remain connected to the central castle, providing an experience that is continuous and believable. Similarly to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, players can unlock an “Inverse” ability that will flip the playable map upside down and allow for new experiences in an already explored area. Just as he did with Symphony of the Night, Igarashi-san crafted a beautiful setting that retains its appeal even when explored upside down.  

The desire to progress deeper into the castle is fueled in part by the Shard system and the potential of discovering new ones along the way. In Bloodstained: RotN, enemies have the potential to drop shards that provide enhanced abilities and passive stats. Players can equip multiple shards at once, each enhancing different areas of play. For instance, one shard can provide Miriam with an ability drawn from the creature that dropped it, while another can summon a familiar to accompany Miriam throughout her journey. 

Bloodstained Shard

As the game progresses, players are required to backtrack and utilize newly gathered shards to enter areas that were not accessible early on. In this regard, the title maintains its genuine Metroidvania, or Igavania, genre as some fans are hailing it. Killing a random sea creature might net Miriam the ability to create a directional aquatic blast, but use that ability near deep waters and players might be surprised by what they can do. 

Since every enemy in Ritual of the Night is capable of rewarding Miriam with a shard ability, players will quickly find themselves host to multiple of the same kind. To counter this, players are encouraged to sell unwanted shards for coins at the local merchant, where they can also purchase crafting items. The crafting system allows players to utilize recipes found throughout their journey and create food that provides a temporary boost to Miriam’s stats. Additionally, players can use materials gathered to enhance the shards they have amassed to alter its capabilities and damage output. 

Although Bloodstained deserves to be showered with praise, the game is not immune to technical issues that can hinder the experience. During the preparation of this review, the game was subject to continuous frame issues, where too much action would result in stuttering. Additionally, optimization issues plague the console port, with registration lag featured every time Miriam would absorb a shard or with the occasional room entry. ArtPlay has responded to these issues ensuring fans that optimization is a high priority for the company, and it will be addressing these problems within the next few patches.  

Despite a few technical setbacks, Bloodstained is truly an experience for first-timers and longtime Castlevania fans alike. Igarashi-san and ArtPlay built this game out of their love for the genre and that is evident in every aspect of the game. The preservation of a traditional Castlevania game along with the advancements made towards propelling the genre further help Bloodstained stand out amongst other Metroidvania titles of recent years. Although an argument could be made that the title leans too much on its Symphony of the Night influences, Ritual of the Night succeeds in providing fans of the genre with an experience that has been absent for years. 

Given that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a crowdfunded game, the amount of love and attention evident in its production comes as no surprise. The level of quality that is present in this package is truly astounding, and the appreciation grows even more when considering the free content promised for the coming months. Perfection should not be expected from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. However, the result is exactly what was promised by the developers, and fans could not ask for more. Throughout its development, Igarashi-san provided continual assurance that he desired to make the game a product of its fans. By listening to criticism and acting on it, he fulfilled his promise with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One.

Continue Reading