Conan Exiles Interview -- Creative Director Talks Launch, New Features, Thralls, Map, and Much More

"Conan! What is best in life?" "To crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women."

Recently, Funcom released its survival game Conan Exiles out of early access, bringing back the Conan franchise to consoles after a long while (PC gamers have been able to enjoy Funcom’s own Age of Conan for years) with the launch on Xbox One and PS4.

The game was instantly successful on Steam’s early access, moving over 500,000 copies very quickly, and recently we learned that one million copies were sold by launch. Yet, the adventure has just started, and we caught up with Creative Director Joel Bylos to get more color on what we can expect from this bloody and ruthless game.

Note: some of the questions are worded as they were asked before launch, and that’s because they were. The interview was conducted via e-mail, and the questions were sent two days before the official launch.

Giuseppe: How does it feel to be so close to the end of early access and to the official launch?

 Joel Bylos: I’m not sure it has sunk in yet. So many balls in the air, so much to follow up on. So many sacrifices to the dark gods. I’m no longer even able to keep track of whose blood I have on my hands… I’m very happy to see so many people playing though. We almost reached 50,000 concurrent players on Steam this weekend.

G: Could you give us a high-level view of the new combat system?

 JB: The new combat system in Conan Exiles was designed to provide players with a better looking, more tactical experience. Players will be able to combine light attacks and heavy attacks into combo sequences that apply different status effects (such as bleeds, knockdowns, sunder etc.). Humanoid NPCs will also perform combos, and it behooves players to spend a little time considering their approach to large camps of enemies.

Players can also block and dodge attacks, giving combat a more dynamic feel that it had at the beginning of early access. We’ve drawn upon our experience with various action games and fighting games and provided what we consider to be the premium melee combat in the survival genre.

G: You now have four biomes in the game for launch, plus dungeons. Will there be more in the future, or you’re satisfied with the map as it is? If there will be more, do you have any hint on what we can expect?

 JB: The map of the Exiled Lands is in its final form for launch. We will not be extending it or add more landmass. I’ve seen people speculating about the north-east pocket, but up there is where we are hiding things (like the expansive Volcano dungeon) so we need to keep that area as it is.

This does not, however, take away the possibility of entirely new maps in different regions of Hyboria. Whether made by us or the extensive modding community.

G: Speaking of biomes, have you ever thought to add a more urbanized environment? I know that we’re supposed to be exiles, but I kind of miss Tarantia from Age of Conan.

 JB: Hah, well we have Sepermeru, City of the Relic Hunters, which includes merchants and a tavern and provides a somewhat urban environment. But to be honest, the sheer amount of work that goes into creating the 3d-assets for a proper city preclude us doing anything like that in the near future. I’d rather let players create the cities and towns.

G: I haven’t been playing for a little while, and I have been planning to come back for launch when hosts hopefully won’t wipe the servers I play on every month. I heard you made significant changes to the animal population of the game. Does that mean that as a new (again) exile, I won’t have to spend half my time running from crocodiles and hyenas? Because that part did get a little old.

 JB: That’s interesting feedback, actually. The idea, certainly in the beginning, is to have the player feel powerless and like they are scrambling to survive. I would say that fleeing from aggressive predators is a part of that experience.

So, you’ll still have to think about and how and why you approach creatures and keep a sharp eye out. What I can say is that hyenas have had their speed reduced and they have been spaced more appropriately, so you are less likely to pull an entire pack and get cripple-ganked by them anymore.

G: The purge appears to have changed quite a bit from the concepts described a while ago. I remember the initial idea was for it to be more of an invasion of NPCs starting from one side of the map and then traveling towards the middle, destroying everything in their path. Now they appear to spawn directly at their target player’s base and to be more of a localized than server-wide event. While the original idea was certainly more difficult to implement, personally I found it more immersive and impressive. Has it been permanently shelved, or this is just the first implementation, and it’s gonna become more similar to the original invasion in the future?

 JB: It’s one of those fun elements of game development. I’m a Creative Director so a part of my job is writing large expansive designs for big picture features. The Purge was one such and then it got put through the grinder of reality – repeatedly.

In the end (and I mean quite literally near the very end of development) some tough decisions had to be made for the Purge because we had to prioritize game performance and stability. Even though I initially had a lot of big ideas for the Purge, I’m still pretty happy with how it works at the moment.

As for the future, who knows? There are technical costs to having a large number of NPCs roaming around the server, and we need to continue to be pragmatic as we balance the moment-to-moment experience of players with my big dreams for armies roaming the Exiled Lands.

G: Speaking of the purge, can we expect NPCs to finally be able to walk up sloped walls and similar obstacles? Will they be able to field siege engines?

 JB: We’ve done multiple changes to NPC pathfinding, so yes, they should be able to walk up staircases and slopes correctly. Siege engines is a different proposition – for launch they will have to be content with hurling burning orbs at your walls.

G: In early access, there were some discrepancies between the nudity options on different platforms and different regions. Could you tell us if these differences will still exist for launch and if yes, break down which options will be available per platform and region? I’m asking for a friend.

 JB: In North America, console players will see partial nudity. Including full nudity would have pushed the game’s ESRB rating from Mature to Adults Only which would have prevented a wide release. In PEGI and USK territories (primarily Europe), full nudity is enabled. There are no nudity restrictions on PC.

G: As an addicted Thrall collector, what can I look forward to with the big update coming with the release?

 JB: There are a variety of special named thralls available in different purges across the world, as well as the new bearer thralls who will follow you around and carry gear for you. We’ll continue looking into new thrall types post-launch and working on the systems we currently have for thralls as well.

G: Avatar warfare has always been a contentious point among many members of the community. Some love nukes and to watch the world burn, and some don’t. Are there going to be any new options and counter-options at launch for everyone’s favorite weapons of mass destruction?

 JB: We haven’t done a lot to the base avatars apart from some damage tweaks and some work on their movement with controllers.

We do have the new Avatar of Derketo, a dual-natured goddess of lust and death who heals and destroys with her kiss. Her devotees get access to a new outfit and special conversion recipes.

We also have the new server type, PvE conflict, which is designed for people who like to dabble in PvP but don’t want to lose what they have built. These servers are designed so buildings cannot be destroyed, but players can still kill one another during certain times of the day (prime time at the server location). These servers might also be attractive for people who don’t like to lose their stuff for whatever reason (act of god or explosive etc.)

G: Now that you’re almost out of early access, what is the plan going forward? Are there any outstanding items on your roadmap that you’d like to mention?

 JB: I’d love to talk about what we are planning, but then we’d both find ourselves nailed to a cross somewhere in the desert. But we’re not planning on being idle, that’s for sure.

G: To conclude, is there anything you’d like to tell to the players that faithfully followed you all the way through early access, and to those that didn’t, but would like to come back for the game’s official launch?

 JB: Thanks to everyone for their support, past, present, and future. We made this sandbox for you to play in – thanks so much for encouraging us to get it finished and ready for launch. We hope to see you in the Exiled Lands!

Conan Exiles is currently available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. You can grab a copy of the console versions on Amazon.

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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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