Being the latest crafty combat builder to enter Steam early access, Conan Exiles is a terrible beauty. This guide will walk you through the basics of the game, walking you through levels 1 to 10, or about the time that iron becomes a necessity.
Before You Buy (My First Impressions)
Conan Exiles is a multiplayer builder in the vein of games like Minecraft or Ark: Survival Evolved, but with plenty of MA twists that occasionally go well beyond the Schwarzenegger movies. Some of these twists (full or partial nudity) can be toggled at the server level; others (like cannibalism, slavery, crucifixion, and human sacrifice) cannot. Implementation of these themes ranges from the ridiculous (oversized, flacid male genitalia that flutters strangely in the breeze) to the thematically disturbing- as in clubbing an exile on the head, dragging them to your home, fastening them to the wheel of pain, and breaking their will.
For me, it's all in keeping with the fictional context and never really becomes visceral or, functionally, anything more than a thin veneer of licensed tropes and promotional hijinx, but your mileage may vary. Apart from wrinkling a brow at the adult themes and the early access server problems (see below), the experience is deep, fun, and engaging; the environments and atmosphere feel right. You could look at Conan Exiles in Early Access as a $30 stress test, but take the multiplayer layer out of it - play it as a single player or co-op game on an accelerated server - and see if you don't get your money's worth just from that experience alone.
Most of the painful aspects of the game (like slow progression and harvesting) can be adjusted at the server level if you like, and combat mechanics (like putting the arch in archery) mostly just take some getting used to. If you enjoy Robert E. Howard's version of prehistory and enjoy these types of games, Conan Exiles has a lot of promise.
Choosing a Server
Whichever server you choose (excluding single player), remember to make a note of the server name so you can find it again. Note that only hosted and official servers will remain online 24/7 - the rest will be live only when their admin comes online.
Single Player / Co-op
Essentially a local server and an excellent starting point. Assign a password if you prefer to keep the game to yourself and invited friends, but keep the population low. I set mine to 10 population and experience only very occasional (and tolerable) sync issues. Note that you should step through the technical manual (listed simply as the "Manual" on the Steam game page) if you wish to invite anyone else to your server.
I enjoyed learning the progression and gathering side of the game on this kind of server, with the added bonus that you dodge the full / laggy server drama going on at Early Access launch. Give yourself a hefty boost to experience and crafting with no penalties for resetting your attributes and recipes (you can adjust this at any time via Settings -> Server Settings) and use this to get a handle on what you'll need when, what hazards you'll encounter where, and the progression path you enjoy. The server is only live when you're logged in, so you can treat this as an ongoing sandbox that saves your progress from session to session.
Note that you can only have one of these at a time, however. Starting a second will overwrite the first.
A sort of public co-op version of the game that won't be wiped. On the plus side, builders become much more creative on these servers since their creations are in no danger from player attack. On the downside, it can be hard to find a plot of land to call your own, as the landscape tends to be full of half-built passing fancies, and the few remaining spots tend to have packs of roaming hyenas and other fel beasties. If building is your jam - maybe you want to build the first Hyborean aircraft carrier out of stone and show it off to the few remaining resource-starved folks on your server - this is the way to go. It's a builder's paradise - just be aware that many of the endgame objectives - forming clans, summoning avatars, hearing the lamentations of your enemies' women and children - have no real place on a PvE server.
PvP and PvP Blitz
As the name implies, these servers have no holds barred PvP. It can be hard to get a foothold on such servers once they're established and stocked with griefers with time to spare, so Funcom created PvP Blitz servers which offer accelerated progression and reset monthly. The game is wholly made for these modes, but there's a lot to be said for keeping your PvP server hosted and possibly invite-only.
Your First Five Minutes
Now that you've chosen your server and watched the intro, be sure to grab the waterskin - it's on a rock near your starting point. Indulge in as much of the glyphs and story as you like, but do as the creepy voice says - follow the broken rock road towards the city. Gather plant fiber, loose rocks, and branches on the way by hitting the E key (by default) near these objects (small plants can't be harvested - look for plants at least waist high). Don't be afraid to gather as much as you can - you can schlep several 100 stacks of stones before encumbrance becomes a problem. Don't worry about the noisome flying creatures you begin to encounter - they won't attack you.
Once you have a couple 10 stacks of each material, hit I and click the icons on the right side of the screen to fashion yourself a stone pick and, assuming you've had enough time to oggle your jiggly rude parts, a set of rough garments (you'll need the armor - besides, no one should mine naked). Use the stone pick on bigger boulders to gather materials for a stone hatchet too. Continue hitting E like a madman to gather as many resources (particularly branches and plant fiber, but stone too) as you can, but keep moving forward toward the city.
Keep an eye on your needs bar on the top of the screen- munch on the insects you got as a byproduct of plant fiber, and take a swig (hit I, click the water skin, and use it) from your water bottle. A river runs along the southern portion of the city, and that's a good place to start your first camp. Search for a good spot, but avoid the north bank (and its roving bands of hyenas) for now. You're looking for a spot close to the bank (for water, wood, bark, and plant fiber) but somewhat elevated (for easy access to stone above and at the bank). Make a fiber bedroll once you find a spot, then hit E to interact with it to save it as your spawn point. Don't venture too far from this point as you begin gathering - you'll likely die soon and won't want to walk far to retrieve your stuff.
By now you should be level 3 or so. Everything in the game gives you experience (even the passing of time, under some server rules), so starting gathering the stone and wood you need to build your first shelter. You should also craft a torch in case nightfall catches you out. When you have enough material to create a campfire, put down a foundation FIRST and assemble the campfire on top of it. You'll build your house around it, so you won't lose materials from having to dismantle the campfire and move it inside (where it can provide light on those first few dark nights).
The Campfire (or How to Use Crafting Stations)
Once you harvest a massive bundle of branches (just harvest wood with an axe and get branches in the offing, you'll need wood somehow) and some stone, you'll want to build a campfire. A campfire is much like other crafting stations, it requires you to place a fuel (wood or branches) and ingredients in the container and set the burner to On. (Other stations require different fuels - the blacksmith's furnace requires coal, and the tanning station requires bark). If you chose valid ingredients, you'll see what you're producing at the bottom of the righthand UI. You can close the UI and the food will continue to cook as long as there's fuel available, but be aware that fuel will continue to be consumed until you stop the burner or the fuel is gone.
Cooking meat (even fresh meat) promptly and prior to eating it is important. Consuming raw or putrid meat will lead to food poisoning, which saps you of at least of a quarter of your health and stamina. That's better than starving, so do it if you need to, but cooked meat is more filling and lasts longer in inventory.
If you haven't had much luck hunting, you can still make Gruel with one plant fiber and one seed. Each helping only satisfies one point of food need, but it's better than nothing.
Understanding Your Needs
Thirst and hunger are your most immediate needs. That is, assuming you haven't had the bad luck of finding yourself in a sandstorm, in which case you should hunker down in a shelter (failing that, in a mountain crevasse or behind some stone pillar or whatever might count as shelter nearby) and wait for it to end. Later in the game you can craft items that save you the health damage from sandstorms.
- Health - Your hitpoints, when this gets to zero, you die. Automatically regenerates, is increased by the vitality attribute.
- Stamina - Controls how long you can run, swing weapons, etc. Using this stat seems to have an effect on hunger and thirst. Auto regens, increased by Grit.
- Thirst - Your easiest need to fulfill even early in the game. Simply go dunk yourself in the river and hit E to drink. Later you'll want to craft waterskins and build wells to make the trip easier.
- Hunger - Early in the game, sate your hunger with scaleback eggs and grubs / insects (found when harvesting plant fiber). Once you make your campfire, things get much easier as meat becomes a byproduct of the stuff you're hunting for hides. Just remember to cook it up and eat it before it turns putrid.
- XP - Your progress towards the next level, unlocking new attribute points and recipes.
- Encumberance - How much weight you're carrying. The dial indicator moves from green to yellow to red. When you're maxed out, you won't be able to move.
Other Early Game Tips and Words of Caution
- Items you drop on the ground decay quickly. On my first playthrough I mined 300 stone, dropped it inside my house, and went back to mine 60 more for my Shrine of Mitra. When I returned a few minutes later, the original 300 was gone. Increase your encumbrance stat to 2 or 3 as soon as possible so you can carry everything you need for big building projects. Or, if you're not much of a roleplayer, you can store items in your campfire for a longer period of time (for now).
- Fiber bedrolls only last for one respawn. Make a new one each time until you can make a bed (level 13) that lasts for multiple respawns.
- Sprint with the shift key (by default), crouch / stealth with the Ctrl key.
- Resource nodes and NPCs respawn in the same places - don't be afraid of mining or hunting out an area.
- When you die far from your spawn point and want to try to recover your stuff, hit M to bring up the map before you respawn. Remember this location so you can get back to it quickly.
- Repair, don't replace. It's marginally cheaper (and definitely easier) to repair damaged or even broken tools. If you have the original materials on hand in any quantity, select the tool on the inventory screen and click Repair. If you need more mats, get more mats.
- Different types of tools harvest (slightly) different things. For example, using a pick on a tree will harvest wood and bark (needed for tanning). Using an axe will harvest branches and wood.
- Better quality tools harvest more materials in one swing. Iron tools harvest double what stone tools do, so its worth upgrading as soon as you can safely make the trip northwards after level 10.
- Whenever possible, eat and drink to full. There seems to be a honeymoon period while the meter remains full as long as you take it all the way to 100.
Just about everything you do yields experience, so just do stuff (while watching for aggro and keeping an eye on your hunger and thirst levels). If you run out of stuff to do, then gather materials and build things that you might not have done otherwise. If progression still feels slow, consider moving to a higher leveling rate server.
Until you can craft containers (level 6ish), it's worth dropping more points into encumbrance so you can carry large stacks - necessary to build shrines and crafting stations. Secondarily, drop points into strength, vitality, agility, grit, and survival (in that order). Don't worry about accuracy until you have the points / time to craft and learn ranged weapons. Later you should reset to orient yourself towards your preferred combat style and/or exploration and gathering preferences.
Here are the attributes and what they do:
- Strength (formerly Might) - Melee Damage - How much damage you do in Melee Combat / Melee Weapons.
- Agility (formerly Athleticism) - Armor - Blocking and Dodge, and how fast your character is.
- Vitality (formerly Health) - Health Points - How much damage you can take in combat or falling (and other things).
- Grit (formerly Stamina) - Stamina Points - Used in Running or in combat, etc.
- Encumbrance - Carry Weight - How much stuff you can carry before you are exhausted.
- Accuracy - Ranged Damage - How much damage you do with Ranged Weapons.
- Survival (formerly Metabolism / Resilience) - How long you can survive in harsh conditions / how long food lasts after you eat it.
Everyone likely starts out with Apprentice Craftsman, Apprentice Stonemason, and Experienced Survivalist (levels 2-4, respectively) but depending on your server type and rules, you may want to prioritize weapons and armor over building for subsequent levels. Take your time and experiment, since you can (at the time of this writing) reset your points without penalty.
Knowing Your Enemies (South of the River edition)
Imps - This guy sounds ferocious and has a huge aggro range, but is relatively weak - needing only a few whacks with whatever tool you have at hand to go down. Imps are a good source of hide, bones, and feral flesh (which, despite its name, is perfectly edible once cooked) and will come right to you. Use your hatchet to harvest flesh and hide, plus some bone (used later in crafting).
Scalebacks and Scaleback Babies - Slow and possessing a short aggro range, these beasts are tough and don't yield as much material as other beasts. Their eggs, however, are a great source of nourishment (both hunger and thirst) until you have a campfire, but be prepared to run from mama.
Alligators - These spawn randomly near water areas, have a sizeable aggro range, and will follow you for a long time before giving up.
Hyenas - These creatures are fast, have a large aggro range, and hunt in packs. When they attack in a pack, they can be especially serious. Best to avoid these in the early going, at least until you have better weapons (stone sword / maul) and maybe even then.
NPC Exiles - Come in a variety of types, and later on (after level 10) you'll begin taking these guys as thralls. These also can yield bonus religious items if you take them down with the weapon from your shrine, but run from them otherwise. The archer NPCs are particularly deadly.
Antelope - Not an enemy per se (in that they won't hurt you), these can take a surprising amount of punishment before going down. If you can corner these guys, they might be worth killing. Otherwise don't waste the arrows.
Rabbits - No aggro. Not much meat on the bone, but great for archery practice.
After level 10, you might think about gathering what you need for a blacksmithing and armoring station, then working up a suit of hide armor, resetting your attributes for a long haul (and the occasional running-for-your-life) and taking a couple gathering forays north of the river for coal and ironstone. With these you can craft tier 2 weapons, leather armor, things you need for gathering thralls and, perhaps most importantly, an iron pick and hatchet that will halve your basic resource gathering time.
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