Conan Exiles prepares to leave Early Access with two new regions and massive NPC invasions

Ahead of its launch from Early Access on May 8, I recently got to check out some of the new features coming to Conan Exiles, Funcom's multiplayer survival sandbox. Conan Exiles has changed a lot since I played it last: the map is much bigger, the combat has been overhauled, and it includes free-form climbing (inspired by Zelda: Breath of the Wild, according to game director Joel Bylos), with everything from cliffs to trees to castle walls now completely scalable. 

I also witnessed a castle siege, complete with angry god avatars smashing and stomping down walls, and got see the long-awaited Purge event—masses of NPC enemies storming player bases—in action. There's even a bit of farming coming to Conan Exiles, though it's really more like gardening, as players can build planters and grow small crops from seeds and compost.

Playing a build of Exiles described as 'near-final', I started from scratch with a new character and immediately appreciated the 'Exiles Journey' system—a series of on-screen tips as to what to do next, walking you through everything from eating and drinking to crafting basic items. Bylos explained that about half the players of Exiles have never played a survival game before, but were drawn in because they were fans of the Conan universe. This step-by-step suggestion system is helpful both for new players and for people like me who have played before but might need a refresher on how to begin.

Once I'd crafted some clothing, had my first meal (a handful of bugs), and constructed a few weapons, I waded into combat with some NPCs. The combat system has been noticeably overhauled—it feels more fluid now as players can choose between light and heavy attacks, mixing them dynamically as they fight and essentially creating their own combos on the fly.

We were also given a look at two new regions coming to Exiles, the swamp and volcano regions, which each contain a dungeon. We weren't shown the swamp region's dungeon for fear of spoiling it, but we got a good look at the extensive volcano dungeon, which contains a massive forge at its heart—the only place in the game where players can forge durable obsidian weapons. This makes it an important area to conquer, and control of the region will surely be fought over by player clans.

We also got to see a Purge. Every player has a Purge meter that fills while they play, and if you're in a clan you'll share a collective meter with your partners. The more active you or your clan is, the faster the meter will fill, and once filled you'll be eligible for a Purge: NPC enemies in the region, deciding you are a big enough threat that you need to be wiped out, will invade. Waves of enemies will assault your base, representing a sort of tower defense event. Purges also represent a good opportunity for other clans to attack while you've got your hands full dealing with NPC mobs.

Where you establish your base will determine what sort of NPC enemies arrive during the Purge: above, you can see frost giants lumbering out of the snowy mountains to attack a player base, and if you build in the lowland swamps you may find yourself being swarmed by angry gorillas.

The difficulty of the Purge also depends on how close you build to the most valuable resources on the map. So, building close to a valuable resource may give you an advantage over other player clans on the server, but the Purges you experience will be more challenging. Purges will happen both on PvP and PvE servers, and their frequency can be determined by the server admins. They can also be entirely disabled by the server owner, or scheduled to take place at certain times or days, such as on the weekends when the most players will be available to deal with them.

We were also treated to a castle siege, complete with trebuchet attacks, which need to be carefully calibrated and adjusted for range. It was pretty exciting seeing the projectiles being lofted in, first falling short, and then after a few adjustments striking walls and creating breaches as the walls collapsed under the strain. A few avatars were summoned during the siege (avatars being short-term yet incredibly powerful gods that appear and begin stomping and smashing the fortifications).

The build of Conan Exiles I played this week felt like a big improvement over the first Early Access version I played last year. So much has been added and adjusted based on player feedback, and the combat especially feels stronger and more fluid. Funcom has already said the price will go up to $40 at launch, which is currently planned for May 8. The server cap of 40 players, we were told, may rise sometimes after launch as well.