ByAlan Bradley, writer at Creators.co
Alan Bradley is a freelance games journalist, vagabond, and collector of oddities. Find him @chapelzero on Twitter.
Alan Bradley

To paraphrase the famous quotation, no video game is an island.

All games build upon the history of this medium, and smart developers take the lessons learned (from success but more importantly from failures) by their forebearers to heart.

For some games this legacy is more opaque than others, emerging in the form of common design best practices and some of the helpful development dos and don’ts that matriculate through the community of game creators.

But some games proudly wear their lineage, particularly sequels and spiritual successors, and this is the case for recent Early Access phenom Conan Exiles.

While it’s not a direct sequel to , the venerable MMO that relaunched under the Unchained banner in 2013, there is a vast network of connective tissue that binds the two games beyond the fact that they were both developed by the creators at .

Gameplay first

One of the first and most obvious ways Age of Conan resembles its predecessor is in how it prioritizes gameplay (and, by extension, fun). While both games have narrative threads that bind activities together and give them context, it’s clear that the focus is an enjoyable game experience. Care has gone into every gameplay element in Conan Exiles, and it’s evident that gameplay remains the focus when you see the progression of patches and updates and how they build on and improve gameplay elements first.

From the harvesting of resources (how fluid and intuitive it is to strip the environment of the basics you need) to the combat which is instantly familiar and comfortable, to details like how swiftly you move underwater or enemy behavior, every system in Conan Exiles feels like its been the beneficiary of long development hours.

This is an area where Age of Conan has always shone, standing apart from other contemporary MMOs with its skill based combat and a focus on being an entertaining game first and an MMO second.

The setting and lore

It would be easy to gloss over the way that Conan Exiles embodies its settings and the best parts of Robert E. Howard’s fiction, since it offers such a rich foundation on which to build.

But if you step back for a moment and consider how many games based on properties with abundant lore manage to mangle the source material, Conan Exiles deserves recognition for capturing the essence of its dark fantasy world.

It learns from and expands on the thoughtful treatment of Age of Conan’s approach, and doesn’t shy away from some of the darker elements of the Conan universe. It’s gritty, sexy and often gory, and both games nail its unique, savage atmosphere in laudable ways.

Exiles is especially deft at this in the way that it highlights how incredibly dangerous this world can be, how even the environment is hostile and seems designed to destroy the weak or unwary. It’s a deadly, desert world, and if its nasty denizens don’t chew you to bits its killing sandstorms or withering heat will. From the opening cinematic forward, Conan Exiles immerses us in a world of savagery and bloody honor in which only the strong survive and prosper.

The brutal combat

Which builds on the final way Conan Exiles has borrowed from and evolved the Age of Conan blueprint: it’s relentless, unforgiving combat.

Just as in Howard’s stories, the unprepared will quickly find themselves food for Exile’s ravenous crocodiles or barbarous cannibals. The combat is quick and incredibly bloody, and especially in the game’s early hours, incredibly difficult to survive.

This hearkens back to Age of Conan’s challenging action-based combat; wander out the gates of the first city and you might well find yourself immediately at the mercy of powerful foes.

Even before some of Exile’s promised features, like finishing executions, have been implemented, the combat feels appropriately savage. Limbs are hacked from bodies, heads severed, torsos sliced. And meat can be scavenged from all of your slain foes — including your fellow man.

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