Conan Unconquered Review – Barbarically Brutal
You’d be hard pressed to find a studio more qualified to tackle a fresh and innovative take on the RTS genre, as Petroglyph hopes to combine the depth and success of the Command & Conquer franchise with a new survival spin on the tried and tested strategy formula. Does Conan Unconquered thrive as a survival RTS, or are we facing yet another disappointing release in 2019?
Conan Unconquered Review
Developed by Petroglyph and published by Funcom, Conan Unconquered is a survival real-time strategy game set in the barbarically brutal world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. The game steps away from the traditional approach to strategy games where, instead of facing set opponents with the same goals and objectives as the player, you are instead facing wave after wave of increasingly difficult AI assaults.
The game features a very short solo campaign style mode and a co-op mode, both of which feature near identical gameplay. The majority of this review will be focused on tackling the cooperative aspects of Conan Unconquered, which proves to be one of the games most pleasing aspects.
Conan’s iconic dark world of sword and sorcery begins with a flurry of options aimed at increasing or decreasing the games difficulty levels, with harder difficulties rewarding higher scores. Each dynamically generated map can be altered, allowing for more or less choke points, more creep camps, and adjustments to the amount of resources. There’s a good selection of customization that offers both an ease of entry level for newer players, and a near impossible level of higher difficulty for the vets.
This is also where you are introduced to the games Hero system, arguably one of Conan Unconquered’s most exciting features – at least at first glance. There are currently three heroes available in the game, including Conan, Valeria, and Kalanthes (four if you count a reskin of Conan). The last of these is locked behind a paywall – the Digital Deluxe Edition. Even if the rest of the Hero system was perfect, locking away 33% of the players selection feels cheap, and it immediately strikes a level of disappointment that resonates throughout the entire Hero system.
Each Hero acts as a key unit in an army. Individually, they are stronger than any units and can tackle camps of enemy creeps and sometimes entire waves of the enemies attack solo. This is mostly done through the use of a single, powerful ability. Each Hero, once they have earned enough experience points in any given match, can unlock access to a powerful ability. While these abilities are fun and powerful, a single ability on a lengthy cooldown seriously hinders any immersive connection with the Heroes. There’s no customization with the progression of the heroes and no equipment or gear upgrades. It’s an incredibly shallow system that should be one of the games focal points, but instead feels like a tacky afterthought to drive Deluxe Edition upgrades.
There are special Relics that can be discovered by defeating one of several Fortress Bosses on the map, which are made up of intense battles against a very powerful singular foe. These relics offer some additional depth to the heroes, but it still falls short of even the base level hero systems of other games. Despite this, some of these battles are among Conan Unconquered’s most entertaining content. Watching your squad of Veteran Soldiers turn to stone at the foot of a giant basilisk-like lizard before being smashed to pieces was awesome – although next time I opted to use range units instead. Lesson learned.
You begin each round with a single fortress, your central hub of operations that acts as your final bastion of survival. If the fortress falls, all is lost. Working alongside a friend, you build up defensive structures, encase your base in walls, and train up troops to fight the near endless onslaught of dark forces. It all sounds great on paper, but Conan Unconquered fails to master both the survival and strategy concepts of the game.
When constructing your base certain resources and costs are shared, but armies and certain upkeep elements are not. This allows for both players to take a different approach to progression, one focusing on troops while the other invests more heavily into research and defensive technologies. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t work all that well. Despite the game saying as much, you are unable to use your allies buildings to train troops or research new technologies – forcing you to construct multiple versions of the same building, which puts a huge stress on maintaining the incredibly vital economic aspects of the game. Whether this is an oversight or a bug I don’t know, but it causes severe problems during the early to mid stage of the game.
Dynamically generated maps usually lends itself to more replay value to games, testing the players ability to adapt to any given situation. However, Conan Unconquered’s environments feel lacking and repetitive. The exact layout and design may change from mission to mission, but you will always be facing attacks from five to six choke points of varying size and difficulty. As each wave approaches, you’re given some basic intel on the location in which the troops originated but more often than not, this information causes more problems than it solves.
Two armies are attacking from the southwestern part. Conan and Valeria throw up some walls, ready some Javelin Throwers in a stationary tower, and add boiling coals to the walls defense system. Ready and waiting. However, the troops from the south West have some kind of psychic connection with the cities builders, as both armies detour and attack from the southeastern choke point – purely as a response to the wall construction. This cheap and tacky method of an illusion of intelligent AI design is frustrating. It would be one thing if the enemy sent scouts ahead first, relaying information to the main force while they remain alive, but this is not the case. The enemy will instinctively move to the location with the least amount of fortifications nearly every time.
Conan Unconquered thrives on its survival elements, increasingly difficult waves of varied enemies force players to adapt in the harshest of situations, but for every well executed element of survival, a lacking equivalent of RTS emerges. There’s no real way to organize troops, no formations. You can’t trade troops with an ally, the patrol routes are buggy at best. Your soldiers are happy to sit idly by and watch half your base burn to the ground, unless you command then to put out each individual fire.
If there is one defining aspect of Conan Unconquered, it’s the brutal difficulty. The game will challenge you, reward you, and whoop your ass in the same 60 seconds. Working together with a friend can be a lot of fun, even if the experience is often marred by frustration and repetition. Many of the units the players can create are unimaginative and fail to truly capture the vast variety, but the enemy units fulfill this role brilliantly with a strong variety of enemy forces. Some will simply aim to smash down your nearest wall, but others will fly over the top and traverse difficult terrain to find alternate routes to your best assets. Put simply, it’s brutal.
Players willing to face Conan Unconquered’s brutality will find every reason to return for more with a rogue-like progression system that rewards players with unit and building buffs based on completing objectives in individual games.
Conan Unconquered is an often fun and always brutal experience that will keep you returning for beatings time after time, if you can excuse the already questionable paywall content, economic issues, and lack of game mode variety.