Let me begin by stating I have always had a love-and-hate relationship with Conan Exiles. It’s one of the only games I’ve played where I’ve had this feeling. Don’t get me wrong - I love this game to death. I love the tools the game gives us to explore, build and fight with. I love the freedom it gives, to be able to place structures (almost) anywhere, even though it’s kind of an illusion. I love how we can interact with other players. A swords-and-shields survival game has always struck me as a very interesting concept in the genre.
What I don’t love, what I absolutely loathe, is the lack of decent server options. And this is partly the fault of the developers and the community, but moreso the developers for enabling the community. Allow me to explain with a little preface for those who weren’t around for the early days:
Conan was originally designed to be a PvP-intensive game. We saw evidence of that philosophy early on with avatars being present in day one of EA. Funcom wanted to make a brutal survival experience in which players had to fight it out for wealth, territory and strategic resources. This was a great selling point for me. They messed up, however, by limiting players’ options to counter cliff-top bases. And with this gaff began the rift in the community: raiders vs. builders.
So players deleted their stairs and raiders didn’t find it fair that builders were camping out on top of cliffs with impenetrable bases, due to the fact that they couldn’t be reached. Fighting on the Steam forums became incredibly intense and polarized as players gravitated to one side of the fence or the other. This was where Funcom had to make a decision: to cater to the PvP community, or to cater to the creative community. As a result, they tried to walk a tightrope and appeal to both sides with climbing and siege weaponry; improved thrall AI and traps, but this created a critical imbalance. Raiding became too easy, defensive options were still limited, and this imbalance soured the entire concept for many players.
I haven’t played Conan in about a year due to life constraints and other things going on. But I decided to sit down the other day and take a look at the game to see how it’s shaped out since the time of my absence. I looked at the server browser and saw that under the community servers, ALL of the top servers were role-playing servers.
Every server with more than 15 players has extremely strict rules regarding PvP. Some require that you have “role-playing related reasons” for hostile engagement with other players. Others have extremely limited raid schedules and I’ve read of many instances where admins cater to long-time players on their servers by gifting them loot and rollbacks when they get raided in an effort to keep them around so the population doesn’t dwindle.
When I inquired in-game about the lack of raiding within the community, players generally responded very harshly, claiming that PvP was usually a negative experience and that they would rather build and role-play instead of fight other players and risk losing their loot. This is a part of the game Funcom should be looking into deeply. Most other survival games that have a healthy population have an even more unforgiving PvP concept (losing tames on Ark that can literally take days to tame/breed, having an entire base wiped from a lost Tool Cupboard on Rust, etc.), and despite that, players stick around. I would like to say it’s partly due to the fact that these other games don’t encourage you to build skyscrapers and mega-pyramids without consequence. They say build a base and go fight.
While I would like to say that the community for Conan Exiles is filled with soft-hearted players that can’t handle loss, it would be a rather peculiar outlier that they all just happened to congregate on this game. There is a reason that the community prefers a PvE/RP-oriented experience and that is because of how the game is designed.
Some would argue that the attitude of gamers has changed over time, which leads to communities evolving within games, but World of Warcraft: Classic vs World of Warcraft: Retail is a shining example of how game design can meld a certain kind of community. Retail is more solo-player oriented. People don’t socialize very much because of inconveniences removed and quality-of-life features that negate the need to interact. When you look at Classic, you’ll immediately notice that the community is vibrant and just as full of life as it was back in 2005. Human nature doesn’t change, but the confines in which humans operate will influence how they behave. Stick humans in an aircraft and they’ll sit together with civility and smiles. Stick those humans on a deserted island with limited resources and they’ll fight for dominance.
This points to the idea that Conan Exiles has been designed in a way that nurtures creativity rather than destruction. And I really can’t blame the players for this. Funcom shifted their design philosophy from a PvP-oriented game to one that wants you to build sprawling castles with cosmetic items hanging from the walls and fully-decorated rooms, which serve no purpose other than to look pretty and foster a role-playing environment. DLCs haven’t really added any groundbreaking new items other than skins for buildings to change the atmosphere and other custom-colored items, etc.
We haven’t seen any critical balancing of weapons to make as many viable in PvP as possible. People have been complaining about spears and their supreme power/potential exploits since day 1 of EA. We haven’t seen any additional items introduced to raid with, or to counter raids with. There are more thralls now than there were before, but those thralls serve more of a utility function than strictly base defense. On top of that, thralls are still stupid. They’re buggy. Funcom is still having trouble getting them to work right to this day.
While I can appreciate that the community is trying to make the most of the game by harboring a role-playing environment, we can’t ignore the fact that the game has severe balancing issues and uses the role-playing concept as a band-aid for a broken concept.
I’m writing this because not only am I annoyed that I couldn’t find any healthy PvP servers, but because I love this game and I want to see it succeed ever more. A swords-and-shields survival game is such an awesome idea and I feel that if Funcom did some balance-passes to the weapons, the way splash damage works with explosives and defender thrall AI, the game could have some excellent opportunities to grow.
The fact that I can run past a line of 50 archer thralls and none of them can hit me with their shots gives testament to how lopsided the raider vs. defender concept is. And I feel Funcom should have the expertise by now to really get this down. I can handle spinning AI, or mobs that get caught on rocks, but to have a defender’s only real auto-turret option work like a dud for three years, it seems they just kind of gave up on trying to get it to behave properly.
And it is because of this imbalance I always want to play the game, but wind up logging back out shortly after starting. I want to get into Conan like I was when I started. I want all of my friends to join in and have fun with me. But because of ridiculous role-playing rules that the majority of the community has adopted (either that or all-out griefing on official servers), I am finding it impossible to strike the middle ground and find a corner of the game I can enjoy, which is where the gem within this game lies.
To those of you who actively play and enjoy RP/PvE, I’m happy for you and very glad you’re having fun. What I want to strike home with is the fact that this game can be so much more if Funcom took the time to iron it out, polish the AI, perform balance passes, and nurture a community that is willing to embrace the savage side of human nature, rather than constantly pandering to the creative aspect and playing nice with others.
If you made it this far, thanks for hearing me out.
TL;DR: Conan is great, but Funcom caters too much to the RP aspect, causing the community to become too passive for a large portion of potential survival players to enjoy.