Conan Exiles' server issues and uninspired crafting make it hard to have fun

After six hours of the Early Access survival game, there's a bit of promise but plenty of problems.

I'm not too deep into Funcom's Early Access open world survival game Conan Exiles—even after six hours of play, I'm still half-naked and swinging primitive, ramshackle weapons, partly because it's not easy to make much progress with the current server situation. In its first week in the wild, Conan's servers are pretty laggy, and I've had to contend with a frustrating amount of rubberbanding (though in one case when I was being chased by a crocodile and it wound up yards ahead of me when I boinged about 30 feet backwards, it did come in useful).

I've also experienced a few crashes and blank screens when trying to join servers, and the server browser currently doesn't work that well. I've had to start a new character a few times because I was unable to find the server I'd been playing on earlier: it simply didn't show up in the list.

And, even when I'm on a stable server, I just haven't found Conan Exiles particularly enjoyable, at least not yet.

You begin Exiles naked in the desert (or nearly naked, depending on how you set your preferences), tied to a cross and left for dead. Conan, the titular barbarian, arrives to cut you free before disappearing again, and then you make your way to a more hospitable area of the map, gathering rocks, branches, plant fiber, and occasionally bits of voice-over story as you go. (By the way, if you haven't yet heard, you can adjust the size of your character's genitals, and your package is fully physics enabled.)

The crafting system is similar to that found in other survival games, such as Ark. As you gain XP you can unlock new crafting recipes so the stick-and-stone collecting leads to useful items like picks and axes. Lumber can be chopped and stones picked out of boulders. You can set up crafting benches, build a bed to act as a respawn point, put together walls and doors and windows for a fort, and gradually rise from a naked, unarmed savage to an armor-clad warrior.

It takes a while, though. The default crafting requirements are a bit extreme: building a simple campfire, that most basic of items that will let you cook meat and warm yourself, requires collecting 50 branches and 30 stones. I know the early hours of a survival game are meant to be difficult, but even still I'd advise you to look for a server, or create one, where the gathering multiplier has been goosed up a few notches. The world of Conan should be harsh and unforgiving, but it doesn't need to be boring.

Combat with creatures, NPCs, or other players currently feels extremely sloppy, a hack-and-slash affair with little nuance and enemy hits that land even when it seems like you've dodged out of the way. Weapon degradation is extreme by default: a single skirmish wears down my crude sword to almost nothing, and one or two hits smashes my starter shield into dust. It then takes more gathering and crafting to repair everything. I'm itching to explore more of the world, but so much of my time has been spent scrabbling around in the dirt and bushes trying to gather resources after battles (the ones I survive, anyway) that I never seem to get very far.

I haven't had the opportunity to add minions yet, though it sounds similar to you how you tame Ark's dinosaurs. At level ten you can add a thrall ability, and learn new crafting recipes that will allow you to recruit followers. You knock your target out with a truncheon, tie them to a wheel of pain (it's how Conan himself began his career), and feed them until their will is broken and they'll do your bidding. The idea is, your specialized minions (like archers, fighters, and smiths) will defend your base and manage your crafting stations for you. I can see this being fun: any chance to delegate crafting responsibilities would be welcome, and building (er, enslaving, I guess) a loyal army sounds like a fun feature.

At least it sounds more fun than anything I've undertaken thus far. Exiles is in Early Access, of course, and if the server situation improves in the days ahead I'll spend more time with it. Hopefully with some minions (or actual friends) to assist me I'll be able to focus more on progress and exploration, and discover what the world of Conan has to offer beyond hunting for sticks and repairing broken shields.