Whenever I finish with a game, I sometimes like to take stock of what I wanted and didn’t like about the said game. It helps at times unpack the balance between negative and positive criticism, especially when others ask “how is that game anyway?”
The Siptah and Exile land landscape designs are quite stunning; nobody I think really can say with a straight face that this games art direction when it comes to design isn’t appealing. There is a lot of repetition in the use of rock Blueprint/Prefabs, but to the untrained eye, you’d not notice.
The mobs themselves artistically have a lot of detailed design thrown into them; clearly, someone spent some time crafting these to fit a specific theme and even down to the colour balance throughout the game. Every mob you encounter is unique in design, and the only negative is there isn’t more to enjoy / experience.
The humanoid design(s) male and female are great, but not exceptional. Each person is the same cookie-cut result of a shallow customisation process, so in turn, every person you see in-game is very one dimensional in terms of customisation (outside hair and armour). The body shape is limited, but overall, the base template you use to build from is ok.
Weapons . You can break this down into two parts, the first being the icons and the second being the mesh associated with the said icon. The two don’t match that well, to be honest, the icons themselves seem overly re-used and same with the mesh, given this is the one area of the game you’d hope to see unique design - especially given how cheap they would be from a GPU budget standpoint as well.
Fine, aside from the constant growling of animals as you go within aggro range non-stop, the actual sound quality isn’t something you stand back and say openly “ergh, I hate this so much”. Sound is background not foreground in the standout features, which means being overlooked isn’t a bad thing.
However, the fact I can’t hear the sounds my character makes compared to the sounds others hear is broken. My grunts and breathing, thuds etc. all should be synced as it sadly removes the whole “Ninja” gameplay abilities.
The DLC’s have done a great job of giving players the ability to create 3D prefabs/blueprints to generate their in-game monuments. However, the level of attention put into textures drives anyone with any hint of creative symmetry nuts (i.e. textures not lining up correctly, individual DLC building objects decals protruding through walls in weird ways etc.).
Aside from weapons, the iconography in the game isn’t recycled too much, as each icon has a weight attached to them. However, the Thrall Icon system is a little janky and phoned in as there is little to no effort put into making these match their usage (i.e. even colouring the levels of thralls would be a good addition visually). The icons rely heavily on intrinsic cognitive load instead of extraneous cognitive load.
Particles / Dynamic Lighting .
I feel like the game is still stuck on early versions of Unreal Engine 4, specifically the early rounds of art direction back then. There is a lot of power under the hood that IMHO isn’t being even close to being used. Especially when it comes to going in out and out of lighting, bleeding of lights and particles are very clumsy. The maelstrom, for example, comes off as a bunch of large textures from a distance animating in 3d space, vs maybe using a lot of the dynamic particle engine capabilities more. Colour treatment for the camera going in and out of the storm is also very one dimensional in design.
The lighting, however, is done ok, but very repetitiously annoying. It’s the same lighting bubble/mob recipe repeated. Even the purple haze you get for corruption/acid/gas is a bit one dimensional. You can also see this when you shoot Gas arrows next to one another and notice how there is this limited sphere of spacing between the two (i.e. overlapping or density isn’t anywhere to be seen).
HUD / UI.
Messy is the only word I can come up with. There is little to no focus put into understanding or empathy for the players here. The UI relies heavily on mouse/controller to adjust, and that’s it, little to no effort given to Keyboard players (e.g. attributes, the ability for a player to enter the number into the textbox). When you search and use the give-all and take-all based on that search doesn’t occur, regardless of your filters applied, the modal will ignore its existence.
Damage bars are pretty simplistic in design; there’s not a lot of creative effort put behind these, they stack poorly with the more AOE you throw into the game; while finally, the damage of player or mob is just unknown too much. There is a mod that handles this way better than the game itself, which compare the two and anyone playing on unmodded servers only wishes they had this enabled by default.
Stations & Animations .
The 3d modelling per station is excellent up to the point the animations kick in. Standalone 3d models and the attention to design, especially in new crafting stations is great; however, when you look at what the thralls are doing, you wonder what that creative team discussion was like. Why is a thrall picking up nothing and examining absolutely no object?
What is the Blacksmith continually hammering away at? The point is, you have a lot of ambience gains for such a small labour cost. It is the details beyond just static design that matter.
Final Thoughts on Creative.
To be blunt, for 2014, this would have been an extraordinary artistic, creative vision of a game. Still, for 2020 it’s dated and recycling a lot of execution here where it becomes quite noticeable. A game such as this relies heavily on the artistic vision given the shallow game mechanics, so with that, the creative focus needs to be more on unique factors and less on recycling. Simply put, there is too much recycling going on, and it becomes very obvious to the point that when there is a unique entity or element put into the game, its sacrificed quickly due to its then repetitious use.
Players are in this world for hours on end, and they take the time to notice the small things much more than the art team maybe realise.
If you compare say Assassins Creed climbing to Conan, I’ll be honest there are a lot of specifics here that I feel Conan has Assasins Creed beat on. In fact, after playing their latest title, I find myself thinking “meh, Conan is way easier to climb down then up with”.
The only critic I’d give the climbing system is that its still buggy when you get to sure cliff lips/edges, and there could be more added to animation styling, especially when you have to leap between rock faces.
I feel jumping off a cliff at full pace, then clinging to a rockface with your fingernails is a bit of a goof.
We use continually climbing in the game, and as weird as this sounds, I feel its way overpowered. The fact you can strip naked to make climbing last longer or that players learn quickly that particular mesh overlaps means instant stamina gains, well it gets to a point where you have to be honest and ask “what is the point of climbing gear” (especially given the Light Armour + Adv Flex Kit = Crazy Stamina gain).
The weapon system is quite linear, animations are recycled, and lastly, there are attribute decisions which make no sense like take survival the only real reason you’d want it in a weapon is to get to the 4th perk; which is still not worth the build setup.
Putting aside the constant recycled usage of weapon models and animation patterns, the overall balance of a sword and mace doesn’t stand out. We found at one point that using a mace produces faster turn arounds on grinding mobs, not because of the weapon attributes themselves. Still, simply the mace animations have shorter play-through times for thralls (ajas bane with master damage kit is good enough).
Each weapon should be a lottery win, and no two weapons should ever be the same as if we’re going to throw ourselves entirely at the mercy of the RNG gods for Conan, then let us commit. If I get a Legendary then my damage should have a 1-5% RNG attributed to it so if I genuinely manage to get the maximum RNG surprise, I’ll worship that weapon and cry openly when I lose it.
Point is the weapon system with more dynamic(s) associated with them would throw a lot of spanners into the meta of how players react and grind for. The linear step system works for games like World of Warcraft and its tier approach, but that also is why that game bores you to tiers once you hit those top tiers.
Conan Exiles can be a mathematical chaos storm (in a good way).
Animals & Mobs.
Putting aside in Siptah its just a lazy spray of animals around the landscape with little to no actual creative thought, the mobs themselves at times do not make sense at all.
The placement of animals in this game matters. The type behaviour and damage applied to their victims also matter equally. A Rhino is causing bleed damage; Feline breeds not sharing the same attack effects and placement in the wild is often baffling as well (lets put a Sabretooth tiger next to a bear and cubs?).
Putting aside at times some animals have the HP and Damage of a three skull boss, the end loot table associated to them makes you avoid them anyway. As a player, you see them and ride past as if they were a minor inconvenience to the landscape always.
Guarding placements seem lazy and odd. Why are skeletons guarding a gateway. In fact, why are skeletons guarding anything? Especially when you have this beautiful Unreal Engine AI & Behaviour Trees at your fingertips.
Utilising such an engine having animals go through grazing/herd pathways to give a more dynamic feel to their placement(s) (graze to a waterhole, waterhole to graze etc).
Rarity is non-factor, in Siptah the Sabretooth kittens spawn every 15mins in the one spot (assuming some clan hasn’t land claimed/blocked it). In contrast, Rhino calves require farming a specific area to generate the RNG lottery to spawn one. Baby animals used to tame could be a rare thing, something you hunt for and rewards for the time put in vs RNG wins.
In Conan, its ride around until you see one or head up to NPC island and buy them.
There’s an opportunity here for a breeding system as well, the ability to manipulate the bloodlines more to give better outcomes. Rather than just RNG “Greater” vs “non-greater” instead of using the attribute system breed them.
Nothing more to be said other than, its the laziest implemented system in any game I’ve ever played period. There is no thought put into which mob gives what and why progression in zones or biomes is non-existent or memorable, and its just grind and wait for outcomes.
There is so much to be said here that a dedicated post alone wouldn’t cover it enough. Suffice to say, the gauntlet of getting the gear, tiers of gear and wanting to slay a 10,000’s mobs to get a chance at something doesn’t happen. Game theory 101, end-gamers need a reward something that early to mid gamers can’t obtain; thus, they invest more time and energy into setting goals.
None of that exists. None.
Building Engine .
Rust, Ark and Conan have this nailed to a certain extent well, in that my ability to use a triangle or square to create stuff, makes sense. There are plenty of youtube videos demonstrating the creativity you can go for that would rival even the game art teams work.
However, there is no real penalty to spam or excessive land claim. In turn, you see landscapes scarred with outrageous land claims and little to no creative thought put into the builds. You see this play out more extensively on PVE/PVE-C servers where land-claim wars kick-off.
The stability system boils down to collapse when the anchor pieces connected are killed, whereas stability and weight could be better optimised. Placing a large furnace on a lower stability ceiling, IMHO should cause an adverse effect (i.e. say a collapse)
Ability to have stations snap to grids within the Building pieces (optional) would help as well, as it gives you a sense of both symmetry and reduction of assumed mesh bleeding (e.g. improved furnace doesn’t fit on a 1x1 square at all).
Stacking Foundations (arguably your anchor piece) on top of one another is an example of how the overall mechanics needs rework.
Walls bleed too much of the damage whereas vaulted ceilings absorb all of the damage; basically, the raid mechanics do not make sense.
The ability for players to blindly spam from a distance wall also favours the defender instead of a raider when it comes to online raiding, as it is effortless to wait for a ceiling to be blown in, then from a distance repair it instantly with fresh T3 materials.
Splash damage on stacked walls and fences also means that if you have a wall stacked vertically with three rows of fences, all a raider has to do is shoot the middle fence and kill all three for the price of one.
The fact you can use a spear or similar tricks like this to force your camera to see through a wall makes walls virtually useless for hiding behind.
The fact only real penalty you get for making potions without an alchemist thrall is time isn’t well thought out. Having a t1 to t3 thralls only benefit at the moment is time whereas the healing system potions, for example, could have progression built into them. Unlocking tier 3 potions require tier3 thralls and so on.
Stations are a step in the direction of progression, but the thralls are becoming an afterthought in terms of contribution back to recipes.
Weapon Crafting .
The eldarium is much in the way of stepping towards the ultra-rare crafting theory, meaning the end-game players should be able to craft weapons with concrete attribute gains when you combine the stations, the materials and thrall combined. At the moment it is still quite a linear process, in that get one of three T4 thralls and they have fixed attributes associated with the said weapon.
Every T4 named thrall should have a bit of RNG associated with its gain. An agreed baseline of x% attribute that a weapon will get but having a spectrum of RNG % applied means, that if as a clan I get T4 thrall with maximum RNG win here, then losing it will cause a sense of remorse and anger beyond normal (heh).
As stated several times, they are recycled, and their levelling overall is broken RNG. Broken in the sense, you often find that dreaded “Survival” perk even when you have high % of chance for other attributes but at the same time players figure out quickly which ones to discard and go after.
We learn quickly via Youtube which thralls to ignore and which ones to farm for, resulting in the same meta being played out over and over.
Thralls don’t really have weapon specialisation either, hand them any weapon, and off they go with equal damage multipliers. A dancer holding a two-handed sword and applying her damage multiplier is a very odd thing to just witness.
Multi switching weapons isn’t associated with their behaviours, meaning if you gave a thrall a bow and daggers, it will just randomly switch between the two even with “attack at a distance” applied.
Tethering rates are crazy annoying, not being able to set the distance on how close they stack near you is beyond frustrating. I like many other players keep a katana blade for those moments where you are stuck inside a room because door-ways seem to be the “let’s stop here and wait” go to all the time.
Guarding is useless outside Raid times. If a pet is put on guard, there is no reason why 24/7 that pet shouldn’t attempt to kill whoever is nearby it regardless of raid times - regardless of game mode (PVE, PVE-C and PVP). If the pet aggro first then its also killable, if you don’t want a pet to be killed offline set it to different behaviour.
Finally, the thralls have in many ways turned Conan into pokemon style gameplay, whereby you let them do all the work while you stand back and watch. I feel they should be a supportive role but not a primary DPS/Tank in one.
The perk system associated with the horses baffles most players continually. There are no stamina or speed gains with attributes and so really comes back to “how much HP I get for my horse” and “how much damage can I give if I hit someone.” Beyond that, its very odd mechanic to put into the game especially given how much we rely on them.
Saddles are an additional buff system, but they do hijack the meta quickly - spoiler, using scout makes the horse feel like a MTX bike.
Getting knocked off isn’t easy, in that hitting someone full pace with a lance should knock you off but the only thing that does is stamina depletion. You don’t need to do top speed you can canter and deal the same damage.
Shooting someone with a stun arrow or bow in the head should also knock players off, but it does little to no effect.
What works? Throwdown some palisades as they approach you and that’s how you counter a horse vs unhorsed fight.
Horses could be so much more interesting, ability to crouch and jump off a horse with Agility perk for example, or your grit determines your ability to stay on after a hit etc. Lots of potential here you can use the existing perk system alone to give added meta to this mechanic.
Instead, we use horses/rhinos at the moment to kill mobs given there is no stamina penalty, and at times height hitboxes issues work in your favour.
I’ve touched on a lot of potentials here for the game itself, that’s the common trait I see amongst many players who love or even hate the game.
The game has it in spades; there is so much more the development team can do with the game by way of small wins not huge big wins. Instead of going for the big bang DLC shock and awe, they do need to take time out to bring stability back in the game mechanics and creative vision. The tech debt in the game is stacking high, cheating, balance and shallow features are likely the core reasons why abandonment is high - along with reputation loss.
Excuses are often given about budget, resources and size. A Company made up of 320+ employees isn’t a small company, alone you’re looking at around 20million+ in salaries being paid yearly to keep it afloat. This isn’t a game that generates a large amount of income, so good excuses can easily stack in towards this narrative.
However, the game charges the same amount all up as the AAA games with hundreds of millions in budget. Right now to buy Conan Exiles with all DLC’s for a new player it is approx $170 (AUD), or for the base game, it is about $20 cheaper than games like the latest Assassins Creed.
Growth for the games potential isn’t going to measured by how many more DLC’s it provides but how they factor in feedback much like this one in terms of balancing the core game itself.
Balance is the constant issue, not one stand out feature but why the existing features even exist, what they are doing in terms of advancing their lifecycles and lastly how do they help progression for early, mid and end-game players.
If RNG is the escape hatch for Conan Exiles balance issues, fine, let’s just commit then. Making rare items honestly a mixture between rare and common, meaning the more hours you put in, the higher the chance of rewards - ergo, the more you care about protecting such rewards.
Raiding is cannibalising its audience, and I put it to all that the likely reason players leave Conan is also to do with the imbalance of power. Having a server with Alpha clans who overfeed is no fun, especially if you’re having beers with a couple of your friends on a Friday night while a 10 person clan dunks you. There is no casual gaming ecosystem; its either be intense and scale or live on borrowed time.
The game itself recycles too much I’d argue the investment from Funcom into the title seems to feel less more of a primary focus but only a tertiary one. It feels as if the team are more occupied with “shiny object” syndrome and less preoccupied with finishing what they started.
Feature development isn’t about how you can win hearts & minds with something new each release; it often comes back to how you, over time, add maturity to existing features to keep the ecosystem stable. The ratio of investment in Conan seems to always be the focus on the new, and triage as best you can the old.
However, the old is what players acquire and build up their needs around. A customer base isn’t saying out loud “This is a sustainable” game, they are simply saying “It is not value for investment” whether that be their time or price paid.
The data continues to show this and while it may slowly subside to around a 9,000+ player base again and that maybe still good enough.
Potential is still the lingering thought, and the game has it in spades. If only the mechanics, creative and community support could balance itself to accommodate.
Folks can make all the excuses in the world for Funcom on “why”, however, if the game is ever to reach its potential, the reasons need to subside, and full accountability mixed with transparency is better suited.
Uninstalling the game this week was the first time in a year I’ve done so with Conan. I’ve gotten my $170 AUD worth out of the game, but I’d have paid $50 a month if it reached the above in potential.
So when folks pander to the “resources, time and cost” circular debates, understand that the market potential for this title could very well exceed games like Assassins Creed, ARK, RUST, Witcher3, Skyrim and so on.
It indeed could be a powerhouse title. You need to convince the Funcom executive team that.
I won’t respond to cherry-picked comments. I’ll come back to the game one day if I see improvements but for now, uninstall is the best response.