Conan Unconquered preview: an RTS with hilarious dialogue

From our US chums, some hands-on thoughts about the upcoming Conan Unconquered strategy game...

Conan Unconquered, the real-time strategy game from the Command And Conquer alumni at Petroglyph Games, brings a new take on the world of this iconic barbarian. Set to release on on PC next month, this Conan RTS is inspired by games like Frostpunk and They Are Billions. 

In Conan Unconquered, you’re tasked with building and reinforcing your stronghold, amassing a powerful army, and exploring the surrounding, procedurally-generated environments as you prepare to defend against waves of enemy hordes. The game’s most intriguing feature is that it can be played both solo and co-op, which helps Conan Unconquered to stand out from the titles that inspired it.

Den Of Geek US was able to play the game at a showcase event the Game Developers Conference 2019, with a co-op partner, and the overall experience was impressive. Conan fans will undoubtedly be delighted by this expansion of the franchise, which most recently spawned Conan Exiles, a survival game set in the harsh deserts of the Hyborian Age. 

The flow of gameplay feels quite similar to They Are Billions in that the game forces you to constantly expand while managing and growing your resources and defences in a smart, strategic way – the strength of your stronghold will be tested thoroughly with each incoming horde, so planning ahead is essential.

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You’re constantly exploring, building, researching, and growing your economy, just like in TAB, but the biggest difference here is that the exploration pillar of gameplay is emphasized. Pushing back the fog of war with Conan (or one of the other handful of heroes you can choose from) has a distinctly adventurous vibe to it, which fits the source material nicely. There are also towering, spectacular-looking gods to summon, who will help you clear dozens of enemies on the battlefield (only if you first build temples in their honour, of course).

One wrinkle of gameplay was that defeated enemies’ corpses pile up over time, becoming a sort of deadly, growing feature of the environment that you need to consider when planning ahead since too many dead bodies can cause disease to spread throughout your camp and wipe out pretty much everything. The elements are also a factor, as fire can also absolutely decimate your forces if you’re not careful.

While playing co-op, two players share resources and defend a single base. This can be awkward at first, especially if you’re used to playing RTS games solo, but over time, you’ll find yourself falling into the RTS “dance” and keeping an eye on what your partner is doing and formulating plans alongside them. One simple way to do this is by planning, between you, which player should defend which side of your stronghold.

Adventuring after treasures and special bosses hidden in the outer areas of the map is more fun with a friend as well, and the sense of camaraderie definitely builds as you go through experiences together.

In terms of tone, the game exhibits a very masculine, aggressive, muscly attitude, reflected most hilariously in Conan’s delightfully over-the-top voice acting.

“It’s a, ‘Rah! Punch a camel!’ type of thing, right? There are heads exploding,” game designer Renato Orellana says of Conan’s distinctive brand of brutality. “This was just an opportunity to do something a little different. There are people who like [genres to evolve] and there are people who don’t. We just hope that there is enough of that classic feel in the game, but this is a survival RTS. It’s not Command And Conquer… it’s a variation of that. You want to be on that sword’s edge of survival.”

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Throughout our playthrough, it certainly felt like we were hanging on by a thread, barely surviving each wave of enemies. Just when you least want it, a giant horde of spiders might attack, for example, and push you right to your limits. But, equally, there are special items that can help you turn the tide at key moments. 

Just like in TAB, you can pause gameplay at any time to strategize, manage your resources, and build whatever you need to before starting the clock again. This feature is interesting during co-op play because you’re forced to make a sort of gentlemen’s agreement whenever one of you wants to stop time, which may annoy certain types of players. There may be a way to avoid friction here, but it’s worth mentioning that pausing does feel like a feature more catered for the solo experience.

So far, Conan Unconquered looks like a promising project from some of the most experienced RTS developers in the industry. Hopefully, we’ll see more unique gameplay features emerge as the May 30th release date approaches.