In 1932, Robert E. Howard published his first story about a warrior and his adventures in a time before the rise of ancient civilization. The combination of fantasy, horror and pulp made the tales of Conan the Barbarian into a cultural icon. Eighty-five years after that first story, Conan is getting new attention thanks to the recent release of three high-profile games. Each offers a very different way to play in the Hyborian Age.
If you just want to jump right into Howard’s world without having to pore over any rules or find people to play with, Funcom’s early access title Conan Exiles channels the brutality and savagery of the setting. The makers of the Age of Conan MMO draw on their nine years of experience to bring Howard’s world to life with stark visuals, depicting endless sand dunes, ancient ruins and great cities populated by hostile fighters.
Players begin the game crucified for some randomly generated crimes before being rescued by Conan and told to make something of themselves. To do that, they must survive the wasteland long enough to become one of its rulers. Gameplay closely resembles the online survival game Rust, encouraging players to pick up everything they can carry to eat or use to craft weapons, armor and, eventually, a home.
At one point, I realized that I didn’t have a torch on me, or the means to make one, and darkness fell while I was scraping bark off trees in hopes of building a tannery and upgrading my armor. As my screen went black, I was attacked by a monstrous turtle, which I barely managed to beat back before blindly staggering back to my camp.
I spotted a small fire in the distance and wondered who I’d have to kill to take it over. As I moved toward the light, I hit the edge of a river and realized I was in serious risk of drowning if I…