Can Conan Exiles Make It in an 'Open World' of Already Great Survival Games?

I explore the history of Conan and take a look at why that could set Conan Exiles apart from other open world survival games.

Funcom's already successful new entry in the Conan universe, Conan Exiles has been available as a part of Early Access on Steam since January 31 2017, with a planned full release in 2018.

There are a lot of open world games on the market and to stand out you need to have an interesting universe which is capable of capturing the gamer early on. The world that Conan The Barbarian inhabits definitely qualifies with its long and storied history.

Funcom have a lot riding on their new Early Access game Conan Exiles, with news that they had laid off over half of their staff in 2012 due to the poor performance of Lego Minifigures Online, The Secret World, and Age Of Conan -- which needed to go the free-to-play route in order gain back its slowly declining user base.

It shouldn't be too surprising that we are getting another Conan game from Funcom, as in 2015 they entered into a lucrative partnership deal with Conan Properties International LLC. This in turn makes them the preferred developer of any games in the Conan franchise, on all gaming platforms. Clearly Funcom are determined to not only make a game that lives up to the Conan name but has a good return on investment for themselves and their partners in Conan Properties.

This time they've opted for an open world survival game not dissimilar to the likes of Ark: Survival Evolved which at the time of writing is the highest selling game on PSN. The survival sub-genre is becoming hugely popular with fans especially when they implement a player vs player raid and clan mechanics in the game. Being forced to survive against the savage land of Hyboria, fight off invaders, raiding and pillaging whilst building your own fortress are a perfect marriage to the lore of the Conan universe.

Naturally the already installed fanbase of Conan will be looking at this game with great interest, as many gamers who are fans of the franchise (like myself) have been waiting for a quality Conan title for a very long time. And Conan Exiles has the potential and a great opportunity to take advantage of the massive world and lore that surrounds the Cimmerian and bring in a new generation of fans.

Adapting The Savage Lands of Hyboria 

Looking at another open world game adapted from a successful book and literature series, The Witcher 3, it is clear to see that the developers CD Projekt Red had an unrivalled deep love and passion for the source material. This was reflected in the attention to detail from the different cultures and the vast bestiary of creatures. The same level of diversity and depth of the Witcher book series can be said about the Conan series too, and with Funcom's obvious passion for the Conan franchise and the experience that they had already gained through crafting a critically acclaimed open world MMO. Their decision to put Conan Exiles in Early Access shows a willingness to improve the game before its full release and listen to fan feedback in order to create the best Conan game they can.

In the books Conans motives are survival, enrichment and rising to power, and Funcom have discussed that the game is not just about surviving the savage lands but it's about dominance and brutality -- he is an anti-hero. In this case the developers have already realised what it takes to make a Conan game work and adapting the survival game mechanics portrays Conans own goal of taking his own kingdom and building an army.

Funcom have promised that the world map will expand and get even bigger by the time of the full release. The lands of Hyboria are ripe for exploring and battling with other players/NPC's and a variety of powerful -- in some cases gigantic -- monsters. The prewritten world history and it's map sets Conan Exiles apart from other survival titles. There is also no randomisation or procedurally generated maps as is common in most other survival games.

The Influence of Conan

On the surface gamers who aren't already fans of Conan may think it's just another game in a sword and sorcery setting, but if done right Conan Exiles can be so much more. The world that Conan inhabits is unique, dark and is absolutely a place where survival is absolutely key. The Conan and Kull stories predate even Tolkien, and have such a rich and deep lore to offer. If adapted correctly, it would fit perfectly in a game like Exiles.

Fans of the series have long hoped for a good Conan game. His character and world have often been imitated successfully in other franchises in gaming and pop culture.

Here are some examples of where Conans influence has been successfully implemented in modern popular culture:

  • The Chronicles Of Riddick trilogy is definitely based on Conan and Vin Diesel's character even pulls a Conan pose at the end of the second film whilst sitting on the throne.
  • The character Guts from the Berserk series has been quoted by Kentaro Miura as being directly influenced by Conan The Barbarian.
  • Wolfhound A Russian fantasy epic from 2006 has many similarities to the original Conan film.
  • Kratos from the God Of War series is another very similar character to Conan in terms of physicality and violence rather than looks.
  • The Golden Axe series was heavily influenced by the Conan universe especially the barbarian Tarik - The image of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan was used for the ending of the Master System version of the game.

A Brief History Of Conan

Like many I was introduced to the sword and sorcery film Conan The Barbarian in the 1982 film of the same name -- starring Arnold Schwarzenegger -- and then it's more toned down PG rated Conan The Destroyer -- it would be a PG-13 today. The Conan character dates much further back than that and had originated pre-Tolkien in 1932 and was written by Robert E Howard. He is based in the same universe as King Kull which was first published in 1929. The Kull character was based before Conan during the days of Atlantis in 100,000 BC and bares a lot of the same war smarts and physical traits as Conan but is far more chivalrous and a lot less brutal and savage. One reason for the many similarities between the Kull and Conan characters were because of a rejected Kull story known as By This Axe I Rule that was rewritten as a Conan story -- and was later renamed The Phoenix On The Sword.

The complete timeline, between Kull and Conan, is explained in depth in an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's own words by Marvel comics.

Howard created a whole new mythology with a world full of it's own history and distinct geographical locations, it carried a level of depth not seen again until Tolkien. The stories of Conan were printed in a pulp magazine known as "Weird Tales." The same publication that printed a lot of H.P Lovecraft's stories -- also friend and correspondent of Howard's. It became known that they often referenced each other's work in their stories. Many of Howard's unedited works are a part of the Cthulhu mythos -- which shows just how diverse and layered its universe is.

Conan was a Cimmerian from the Northern Wilds of Hyboria and in his introduction in The Phoenix On The Sword we learn that Conan has become the King of Aquilonia. So every story written after would be a prequel tale in the events the lead to his journey from a thief, pirate, mercenary, warrior, conqueror and eventually a king that spanned 29 stories by Robert E Howard.

The Conan series was later adapted into comic book form in 1952, by a Mexican publication Corporacion Editorial Mexicana, SA, up until 1966. But it wasn't until Marvel started publishing its own Conan The Barbarian comics in 1970 that he began to see success in mainstream comic form until 1996.

In 2003 Dark Horse purchased the rights to publish Conan comic books and rebooted the series with no connection to the Marvel line. They Dark Horse based the new Conan series on the original works of Robert E Howard and won awards for for best single issue, and favorite new comic book in 2004 -- Dark Horse have now digitally published the Marvel line of comics in a graphic novel format.

Conclusion

The Conan universe was created by Robert E Howard as a living entity that Conan resided in, and Conan is very much a product of his own environment. This is why Hyboria is tailor made for a successful video game adaptation -- in the open world survival genre -- and it's only a matter of time before fans get the game they deserve based on the Conan lore.

All the right pieces seem to be falling into place for Conan Exiles, and with Funcom being so open to fan feedback and almost daily updates and patches they are definitely taking steps in the right direction -- as expanded upon here -- in making this game stand out amongst the crowd.

Published Feb. 20th 2017

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