When a game is in an alpha preview state or otherwise still deep in the process of being worked on it’s generally bad form to talk too negatively about them. After all, you’re looking at a game that is admittedly a work in progress. On the other hand, games in Early Access or Game Preview are asking you to pay for the experience of being a game tester instead of being a free stress test or something. But on the other, other hand it would cost a company an astronomical amount of money to QA test some games, especially those like ARK or Conan Exiles. The point to this rambling is that while I’m sympathetic and understanding of the situation Conan Exiles is currently sitting in, the experience of playing it is deeply aggravating. This makes it very hard to recommend to people thinking about investing in the product as it currently stands.

If you’ve not been following the game, Conan Exiles is another in the massively popular open-world survival genre. In these games, it’s up to you to survive in a harsh world that only wants to kill you. In addition to battling hostile NPC’s and monsters you’ll also deal with the elements, stave off hunger and thirst and build yourself a nice little home to help you survive. Whereas in older games you usually have a concrete goal, here your primary goal is to simply survive. All of that sounds crazy enough, but what really makes it shine is how you play it. This can be done solo or in private co-op if you want a more stable approach. Should you desire a more dynamic approach you can go online. These servers can be either PvE (Player vs. Environment) or PvP (Hunger Games style). It’s rather interesting to see how people come together or tear each other apart online. They’re usually rather friendly to newbies but once you get further inland chaos reigns.

To be sum up my conflicted experiences with Conan Exiles let’s break down my experience playing the game on three separate days.

On my first day of playing I decided to play single player since the online mode was refusing to connect to servers. It would just infinitely load. Once I started playing I died dozens of times. At first it was due to not getting out of the starting desert fast enough. Then I died due to not realizing sprint was a toggle and passing out in front of a hyena. It continued in this vein, rather amusingly so, until I finally managed to figure out how everything worked. I marked out an area for a home and started farming materials to build it up before turning it off. I felt very good about myself after this.

Starting up my second day I found the game to be barely functional. It was stuttering and lagging constantly even though I was still in single player mode. When I tried to cook something the game literally became a slide show. I died during this and my body despawned before I could get to it, losing most everything I’d gathered the materials to make. Frustrated I decided to try online again I found that it had been patched to be playable but ultimately it still lagged horribly to the point where it just wasn’t feasible to play. My last-ditch effort was to start a co-op game but that simply never responded. I would click “Join Game” via my friend’s list but nothing would happen. So just all around failing to be playable.

On my third and final day of play for this preview I found that a recent patch had fixed a bunch of issues. The lag and stutter in single player had mostly been cleared up. The online was also much more playable, the infinite load issues having been attended to, but this presented other issues since players who hadn’t had problems with the game during this time, or suffered through it, have moved on from the starting oasis area leaving it completely barren of people. A last effort at co-op revealed that it still doesn’t work for many people.

In its current state, I would heavily suggest avoiding buying early access. The mechanics and graphics are fantastic but neither the engine nor the online is stable enough for investing into it. Give it a try via trial if you can and if you can get into the experience, great. But beware that many of the problems won’t reveal themselves without more than three or four hours’ game time so it may not be a fair estimate of how well the game will work for you. Checking back at a later point in time is probably the safer bet.