?Mandatory thralls ruins a bit of the survival RPG elements of the game

It does not seem very fair to make thralls mandatory in order to craft certain items. It takes away the role playing elements and makes unlocking skills seem redundant. Such as alchemy. What is the point of unlocking the skill tree if the player cannot create their own orb?
I personally prefer to play these sort of games alone and take care of my own things without any other characters other than farm animals and mounts. I have never planned to use any NPCs in conan. This pretty much makes the game unplayable for me at this point because I cannot have a secluded place without the need of baby sitting. It is forced overlord play.

It is understandable if thralls give crafting bonuses like more items perk make or decreased crafting time or cost. It would even make sense to just allow players to craft anything they want without the skill unlocked as long as they have a thrall, that should be a primary purpose. It seems a bit unnecessary to make them mandatory since there is a skill for crafting. It would be like the elderscrolls forcing players to find high tier blacksmith and alchemist to make certain weapons and potions when they are putting perk points into these skills.

You can still create explosive jars on your own. Don’t let the inability to make orbs stop you from playing or raiding.

I don’t think thralls are mandatory for many more items at all. It’s just for special cultural crafts, like certain special kinds of armor.

A big part of the game is actually arising from bare survival to create your own settlement. You’ll start to create a home base, and need people to help you defend that base. That’s where thralls come in.

It sounds to me like you’re right at the edge of the ‘Survival RPG’ part of the game and transitioning into some of the settlement perks, like being able to build advanced items like orbs. I’d encourage you to dabble into some of the settlement aspects if you want to reap their rewards.

Otherwise, if you are looking for raiding items, you can use trebuchets or explosives jars without needing any thralls.

That would be part of the issue, being forced into a play style makes some parts of the game seem redundant.
I do not want siege equipment and I do not raid bases, that is something I am not interested in.

Building a large base with a group or small army of NPCs should be a choice, not something that the player has to do to make progress. in a game where you choose skills sets and what to build and where should not have elements that pigeonhole the player into doing everything a certain way. Conan exiles seems to restrict parts of player choice with this thrall system. Again it seems the developers want to make everyone an overlord and build castles. The conan universe had much more than that, there were intelligent thieves, nomads, mercenaries, and even sorcerers. The game should reflect this and allow the player to choose the role they wanted to play with the crafting system.

Large bases with workers should just be a choice for those who want to do it if that is what they want to do to survive, and at the same time they should be able to make smaller and less obvious bases and do everything solo.
Something like a gas orb sound reasonable for a dedicated alchemist to create on their own especially if they already have knowledge to crate volatile mixes and poisons in the cauldron, this makes the design choice questionable due to inconsistency. If anything there should be tiers for the players to unlock just like how there are tiers of structures to upgrade.

You do have the choices you’re asking for. There is nothing ‘mandatory’ about the thrall, and I am unclear on what you mean by ‘progress.’ Are you talking about the Journey system? Or just the inability to make any item?

Players are kind of relegated to a generalist role. You as an Exile know enough to mine workable iron, hold your own in combat, and even act as architect. The thralls captured are specialists who may know how to get the right mixture of poison gas, but couldn’t tell iron from wood. Or lack the strength and balance to carry any significant amount of material.

If you want to be a nomad, that’s your choice. It has consequences. A smaller base is easier to raid if found. If you want to be a thief, probe defenses to find the flaw and then loot away. Sorcery may not be an option, but real world limits prevented that from reaching our Exiled Lands. The devs certainly built the ‘build castles and warlord away’ route as the main course, but the other options are there.

Doesn’t mean they are all equal, or should be.

If you’re talking about the Journey, that’s more of a guideline for ‘wtf am I supposed to do?’ Entirely optional, though there is a reward of experience for following it.

Yes I am talking about the ability to craft items. I meant progress by unlocking a skill or specialty as you level upward, as in Not be forced to take in another person just to have the option to build certain things.
If the player chooses a crafting skill such as alchemy then they should be able to use the alchemy tools such as a cauldron with no barriers as long they have the crafting materials and the thralls should just be optional with incentives like some of the bonuses. Having the skill to use the cauldron just to have a barrier in the crafting menu defeats the purpose of choosing the skill in the first place.
I do not know funcoms intentions but if they wanted to make certain things epic or specialized then it would make more sense to do what Ark did with the special cosmetics and have recipes sheets for the player to find to add to the crafting library.
Again the main issues is no one should be forced to have more people just to craft in a survival game, it is unnecessary and frustrates lone play.