This is the part where I talk about the history of the game, personal experiences and so on, but honestly: that is actually hard to do here. The inspirations the game takes from are clear and the studio only developed two other games before this one. As for me, I only grow up with the Schwarzenegger-movies, which I have a soft spot for. The only reason I wanted to check out this game, is because of the gore and that it was inspired by modern 3D hack-and-slash games like Ninja Gaiden and God of War. Being a barbarian sounded appealing. But before I start on my review, a huge thanks to Bjorn Olaf Vatzlavik for letting me borrow a book about Conan’s older adventures and providing information about historical inspirations and lore for the series. I wanted to see if this installment could be enjoyed by both fans and newcomers, and thanks to him and some personal bought comics, I felt more compelled to review this entry.
A small adventure for a big man
On his travels in search of adventure and gold, Conan enters an ancient and destroyed tomb, filled with ghosts still haunting the place. Thinking he found a treasure, he instead releases a monster from the darkness and loses his powerful armor in the process. Drifting away on the ocean for days, Conan wakes up at a beach and starts his quest to find his armor and destroy the evil he has released.
Conan presents a straightforward tale that is easy to follow without much filler, and that I am thankful for. His quest takes us to different locations that varies with inhabitants and landscapes. Newcomers will easily be engaged, and with some minor lore being provided for more depth to the story and creatures being familiar, fans will surely be pleased to see that the works of Robert E. Howard are treated with utmost respect. There is even a small reference to the movies, which is humorous.
While Conan won’t travel alone, his companion A’kanna is a good complement to our hero’s personality and is no damsel in distress. Both Conan and A’kanna are strong and determined protagonists, with enjoyable dialogue being shared between them. My biggest issue with the story, is the abrupt ending, making it feel like there could have been more to make it better structured. But what I got, was an entertaining adventure that while was nothing remarkable, was definitely a fetch quest that I truly enjoyed.
Story Score: 7/10
Makes you truly feel like Conan
Conan is a barbarian, so it is fitting that the style of his game would be of a hack-and-slash.
Our protagonist possesses heavy and light attacks, punches, a dodge roll with the right analog-stick, a block and throwing weapons. Conan will always have one sword at hand, but that doesn’t mean his playstyle is limited to only one weapon. You can pick up more from fallen enemies or if they are just lying on the ground, and either have one weapon in each hand, a weapon and a shield, or wield two-handed weapons. This makes our hero capable of complementing any playstyle the player would enjoy, by either being blunt, defensive, or speed-oriented.
Depending on the weapon you have, Conan can dish out different combos against the enemies and by collecting red runes from kills, treasures and chained up women you can find, you can acquire new combos for throws and the different weapon-setups, that do more than just prolong an attack sequence. For example, you can acquire the ability to nab the enemy’s weapon from him/her, or create shockwaves for stunning enemies to give you a breather.
Mastering these attacks, will also yield more red runes to get more attacks or even small benefits like green runes for health-regeneration. The variation is great, although one addition that is as important as the offensive approach, are the defensive abilities. Dodging from hard-hitting attacks and blocking when enemies attack with faster hits, are important factors that make this more than a button-masher, but if you also block right before an enemy hits you, you can stun them or outright kill smaller enemies with a finishing move. I love how easy it is to go from attacking to blocking as well, showing how important defense is. However, if you are too late with your defenses, you can get caught in a devastating combo or attack. An odd thing I noticed, is that when Conan attacks, he almost teleports towards the closest enemy. It is probably added to make hitting them easier, but it was an oddity despite this.
Enemies start out very simple and almost brain dead, but quickly get better. They become more aggressive, parry your attacks, can break blocks, and shoot arrows that must be pulled out should they hit you. All of this makes you be aware of your surroundings and who you should attack first. Not to mention, the beasts can be incredibly dangerous as they are much different from the humanoid creatures. Ghosts that teleport and huge deformed gorillas that pummel the ground are just some examples, and when you start facing multiple creatures at once, it can be overwhelming, but never unfair. Adding to these dangerous beasts are the bosses that come in all shapes and forms. One might be a one-on-one arena style fight, another had a huge dragon chase me through a deserted city, and so on. Some might not be as engaging, as 2 fights had me waiting for long sequences before I could hit them and were quite easy to take down, but all were creative. The only exception, is the last boss, who has a huge amount of combos, long attack-sequences where you can’t attack it, and enemies that did not let you get a breather. It was frustrating, long, and cheap.
Besides the the weapons, Conan will also find pieces of his armor that give him something that he honestly can’t stand: Magic-abilities. He will start out getting the ability “Song of Death”, which will be activated as you fight well and make combos. When it reaches a certain peak, your attacks will become stronger and deadlier as long as you keep up fighting. However, when you stop or get hit, it will decrease. Later on you will get magical abilities that each cost different amount of magic bars. They differ greatly from turning enemies into stone or calling fire from the sky. Every magic-attack is balanced in their strength, and since you can only replenish your magic by finding urns containing blue runes or maybe from a killed enemy, magic is only there to give you a breather, but never over the normal attacks, which is a fantastic extra.
Besides the fighting, Conan will also do secondary objectives that are minor breaks from the killing. One is the platforming, which is almost automatic as you simply jump from one context sensitive cliff to another. There might be times when you must wait until an obstacle is gone such as a hazardous waterfall, or be quick about your jumps, but these are few and far between. These segments are nice breaks, but underdeveloped. The same can be said for the light puzzles you must do to proceed as they are there to show off Conan’s abilities more than anything else. This leads us to QTEs. While they are used mostly for bosses to give finishing them a more interactive setup, during the platforming and path-making parts, it can be a bit off and annoying. Even an element as simple as opening the door can be slightly tedious when you must do a QTE first.
However, while you will do other objectives as well besides the ones mentioned, all will involve violence and combat, which is fantastic concept. When you rescue prisoners, you will have to fight of guards. When you need to support A’kanna by shooting down boats, enemies will try to attack and so on. Even though there will be different objectives in your journey, fighting will still be a major part, and it is great to see developers focusing on this aspect. You are also encouraged to go off the main path to find goodies like treasure and women, or find and activate 3 runes within a time-limit in an area for upgrading health, magic or Song of Death, depending on the colors.
What is a shame about the combat, is that you are never inclined to try out new weapons as you can just keep what you have. This might sound strange as I just complimented the variety of choosing your style, but while all weapon-combinations are useful, it could make fights more interesting if you were neglected a comfort-zone, making you more versatile and fight with what you have. Despite the fact that two-handed weapons are better against the enemies with shields for example, you can still simply dual wield for decent results. It is not before the last two levels that you will benefit more from changing up your setup and even before that, a couple of stages try something through this by making torches have multiple uses. It is not bad design, but it is a clear design-choice that is conflicted and a bit unclear on what it wants to focus on.
Conan sets up a great difficulty-curve that goes from easy to difficult. Despite clocking in 5 hours of total game-time, it is impressive how much great came out of it. An interesting and well-made take on the combat with ability to upgrade it, magic that isn’t overpowered, and fun enemies to dish out pain to. Not all parts are met with the highest polish, but definitely enough to make the adventure satisfying. Making additional objectives fun in a combat-heavy game, is also impressive.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
Rushed and suffers, despite clear love for the series
This is not a good looking game and clearly rushed. Water looks like claymation, textures on any surface are muddy, and the poor lighting can make characters change from realistic to cel shaded. Graphical glitches are also a common factor, and all these issues really hurt an otherwise appealing take on Conan’s world. While it is a technical disaster, the environments you visit, with both creatures and humans you meet, are actually creative. You will visit a fallen civilization under attack, wastelands with aggressive natives, fight the kraken on the open sea, and explore caves that house beasts that still give me nightmares.
Adding to the variation, are the bosses that are huge creatures and creative species. The humanoid creatures aren’t as interesting as the animalistic ones, but provide cultural identities. Another element that is actually impressive are the animations. The characters have great lipsyncing that makes the adventure more immersive, and the gore and kills you can do are gruesome and satisfying. Who doesn’t love cleaving a man in half or flinging enemies in the air only for your sword to impale them? The small yet subtle blinks on interactive objects are also a nice touch, so it is a terrible shame how ugly and unpolished the visuals are. Especially the cutscenes are on a low level, as they can involve stiff animations and when they mix 2D and 3D elements, it is not a pleasant sight.
Audio fares much better thankfully. The voice actors do a great job lending their voices to the characters in this game, be they our main duo or the common villains. One character could have had a couple of lines redone, but this is a minor complaint. Conan also comments on his attacks throughout, so it is impressive that he has a lot of different things to say, making him a character I don’t get tired of listening to. The cling of your swords and the sound of flesh being torn are impressive, but far from perfect or finished. I really doubt hitting wine bottles with my sword would sound the same as hitting it on a stone. However, what is the crowning achievement, is the music. Mike Reagan, who is known for working on the music for Elmo in Grouchland and God of War alongside others, brings a fitting soundtrack for this brutal protagonist. Hard drums, orchestras, choirs, and a huge focus on blunt and dark blow-instruments, makes this adventure more epic than it might already be. A shame that like with the visuals, the audio glitches as well, with sound effects disappearing at random.
Presentation Score: 4.5/10
Concept arts that tells a tragic tale
By beating the story, you unlock a couple of cheats depending on the difficulty you chose. They are fun extras for playing God, but hard to do a second playthrough on alone. The difficulty-modes do help, as you can unlock a “king” version, which is basically an even harder version of hard, but those aren’t very appealing. What is, is the unlockable concept art. Usually, I don’t care about this as they are easily found through a quick search on google, but besides the art made for the finished product, there is a lot of extra content that didn’t make the finished product. This is incredibly sad to see, as there was some clear love for this project that was not fully realized. This makes it appealing to unlock everything and be sure to get all the information you can get, but it can be easily done through one playthrough. It is also strange that for a game with RPG-elements, there is no new game+ which would have been a fun extra, especially since you can’t acquire every attack in one playthrough.
Extra Score 5/10
Conan was the perfect friday night rental. It is not a long game, but satisfying for what it provided and despite being clearly rushed, I had fun hacking and slashing my way through gauntlets of enemies. It might be hard to fully recommend as it will collect dust on your shelf, but it did make me a fan of the barbarian. I mean, when it makes me buy more comics about his adventures the next day, that is saying something.