Conan Unconquered: Hands-on with the Barbarian’s New PC Game

Conan Unconquered returns to the savage Hyborian Age, this time in the form of a real-time strategy game. Here are our hands-on impressions!

Conan Unconquered, the real-time strategy game from the Command and Conquer vets at Petroglyph Games (Grey Goo, Star Wars: Empire At War), brings a new take on the world of our favorite barbarian. Set to release on May 30 for PC, 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.

I was able to play the game at a GDC showcase event with a co-op partner and was impressed overall with the experience. 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 defenses in a smart, strategic way — the strength of your stronghold will be tested thoroughly with each incoming horde, so planning ahead is essential. 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 honor, of course).

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One wrinkle of gameplay that struck me 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. It was a bit awkward at first to coordinate with a partner since I’ve only ever played RTS games solo. But over time, I fell into the sort of RTS “dance” and started keeping an eye on what my partner was doing, what resources they were using, and formulating plans with them. I ended up defending the West and South sides of our stronghold, while they defended the North and East. As we learned to communicate better, enemies began to fall with far less effort than when we were doing our own thing. 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 built over time in my experience.

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!” Petroglyph 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 & Conquer…it’s a variation of that. You want to be on that sword’s edge of survival.”

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Throughout my playthrough, I certainly felt like me and my partner were hanging on by a thread, barely surviving each wave of enemies. When a horde of 10 giant spiders tore through almost half of my buildings, I thought I was toast. But then my partner decided that we should go after a guardian in the Southern section of the map, and though the ensuing battle was tough and we barely made it back to the stronghold in time to prepare for the next wave, defeating the gigantic guardian yielded a special item that allowed my partner to clone himself to do double the amount of destruction, which got us through our next defense. I obviously was a little miffed that the special item wasn’t shared between the two of us, and hopefully, this will change in the final version of the game.

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 didn’t bother me in the slightest, though I could easily see certain players becoming annoyed if their partner decides they need to step away from the game for a moment. I’m not sure there’s 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. The standard edition will cost $29.99, while the Deluxe Edition (which comes with exclusive DLC, a game soundtrack, and an original ebook) will run for $39.99.

Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.