Early Access survival games are undoubtedly a dime a dozen these days. From DayZ, to Ark: Survival Evolved, Rust, and The Forest, there's a plethora of options to choose from, depending on your personal tastes regarding environment, era, and world. One of these survival games making waves as of late is Conan Exiles, in development by FunCom, in which you're an exile, sentenced to traverse a wasteland filled with monsters, barbarians, and even worse: other exiles. Pretty much everything, bar a few rabbits and deer, is out to kill you.
It's best to go into Conan Exiles knowing as little as possible about the game, as that's how you'll get the most out of it. You start off being pulled from a crucifixion cross, then wander down a beaten path in the vast, sparse desert, before coming across a menacing harpy-like creature that shrieks and flees as you approach - a sign of things to come. But before all that, the first thing that will happen is you'll die of thirst, which is inevitable, as it's nigh on impossible to level your character up enough to craft a water source on your first life. The same goes for a bed, providing a permanent spawn point, and a chest to store your belongings. Simply put, you're going to have to go through a lot of trial and error before you make any real, stable progress.
After you die from thirst or hunger a couple of times, and make it to a lake where you can replenish your thirst by swimming, you'll need to consider where the best food source is. The answer is in the form of the various creatures patrolling the wasteland, but until you level up a few times you won't be able to craft a weapon, and the best option available to you will be the pickaxe or hatchet you've made to harvest rocks and wood respectively, which isn't exactly ideal. After you work out which creatures will attack you on sight and which will leave you be, as well as which you can take on and which will kill you, you'll have finally got a decent grip on the game to set up camp.
This is where Conan Exiles becomes a bit of a slog. Each piece of building work for your base will have a relatively high resource cost, like 50 rock just for one piece of stone foundation, for instance, and so you therefore need to prioritise whether you want to level up your survival skills and explore as a nomad, finding food as you go and becoming stronger, or stick closer to the spawn area where the enemies are weaker, the water is plentiful, and harvesting materials for a decent structure is your best option.
In games like this where establishing a base of operations is one key method for surviving, the actual building mechanics can be the main aspect that separates a survival game from all the others on the market, and thankfully Conan Exiles executes this well. Creations look good, whether they're built as free standing structures or placed around a cliff face, with the rocky and wooden materials looking as if they were put together from scavenged materials, yet still aesthetically pleasing. The way the pieces link to each other, almost like a slightly more complex version of Lego, allows for some vastly different and unique creations.
Conan Exiles truly makes you feel like an exile; someone unwanted in society, left to fend for yourself in a prehistoric time where it was every man/woman for themselves. When you eventually establish base, then, it's worth leaving a fair amount of empty space for the AI exiles you find at camps across the wasteland, as you can knock them unconscious and then bring them back to your base to serve you with various tasks and jobs. The problem arises when you try to tackle the game on your lonesome, as you won't be able to survive for long on many PvP servers, so if you don't have friends to accompany you, be prepared to be in it for the long haul. Reaching the point where you're well enough equipped and experienced to capture AI exiles takes well over 10 hours playing solo, after all, if not more.
There's a lot of options gameplay-wise too, so if you're playing solo consider sticking to PvE servers, as it means at the very least that you won't fall prey to other players and set yourself back to the start. PvE servers also have the benefit of protecting your doors, chests, windows etc. so thievery isn't a worry either. Just like most survival games, the more people you have working toward a build and gathering resources, the quicker it is to progress as well.
Conan Exiles doesn't impress when you get started, but it's worth persevering. Once you learn how the somewhat unique levelling and recipe systems work, it becomes less of a slog and a more enjoyable experience, especially when you implement your own rules to stick by. There's a lot of work still to be done on the game, but it's one of the better ones out there, so watch some gameplay on YouTube and see if it takes your fancy if nothing else is scratching your survival itch.