Conan Unconquered is a survival RTS, heavily inspired by games like They Are Billions. Replacing zombie hordes with the armies of a new invader, Conan must pick up his sword and try to survive the hordes that are about to attack.
Pause and take note
When the odds are against you, you need to make every second count. For most enemy waves you will have an idea of where they are attacking from and the units that are on the way. If you have the resources and time, you will want to prepare for that specific challenge, while also looking at expanding your base, scouting for some XP and resources, shoring up defences and getting a good economy running. Unless you are a pro that knows their APM, you will be glad for the chances you have to pause as you work out what to build and where.
Conan’s Unconquered’s handling of resource collecting buildings is a lot neater than They Are Billions’ system, making it easy to see at a glance how good a resource node would be for your settlement. Tiles on the floor near a resource get marked as resource nodes, and a building on those nodes will get resources per marked tile. This means you can have several buildings around a resource, all getting enough to make it worth expanding there, or defending that point.
Other fun features, which become can become horrible problems to deal with, are things like fire, which will slowly destroy buildings and kill units if you don’t deal with the fires. Units can put out fires that are licking at your buildings, but have a tougher time when they are on fire. Death can also cause a problem, with piles of corpses eventually inflicting disease on nearby units if the bodies aren’t cleared up. Clearing up between waves is also important if the enemy sends a necromancer, who will happily turn all the dead into an army of skeletons if given a chance. There are also flying enemies and spiders that can climb over cliffs, meaning you will be attacked from somewhere that you were least expecting it, circumventing your nice walls and towers filled with archers or spear-hurlers. Learning how to deal with each of these elements and how to identify them heading your way is key to surviving that wave.
Conan’s co-op mode takes a lot to get used to, mostly because of the way things get split between players. In co-op, you have a single base, and two players to try and separate the workload to manage the coming onslaught. At least, that is the premise on paper. In reality, you will both be struggling to try and do the same things, while fighting even tougher waves than normal.
There are a few things that work well in the co-op. You both have separate revenue stockpiles, so one player won’t spend everything of yours by mistake, both players can pause and unpause too, and you can see on the mini-map where the other player is looking. However, it is the way that things get shared out that can cause an issue.
The game keeps track of who built what and your armies are separate. Both players will have to build a Training Yard in order to train up units, but in general that is the only building that you need to worry that both of you build. There is no sharing of control of units, or giving soldiers to your friend for a while. Resource generation is also neatly split in half, meaning if one player shirks on building houses for thralls or any resource creating buildings, one player’s army will slowly fall behind as they battle to recover from spending everything to get the economy working properly. There is no in-game feedback for the player that skimps on helping the economy either, they might wonder why they have a bigger army than you, but that is about it. Also if you build something while paused, there is no outline of a building to let the other player know. Sometimes you just pick to build in the same area, unpause and carry on exploring, to come back and see nothing was built and you used those resources on something else instead.
Maybe I misunderstood what the co-op was offering in terms of division of labour, but in general, you will have one player trying to defend one half of the base, and the other defending the remains. You can’t have one player take a joint scouting force between waves to clear out strongholds or look for XP and loot while the other repairs and works on the economy. Defending one side of a base and helping out if I got a smaller trickle of enemies doesn’t feel so much a division of labour and more like we both have fewer resources to work with and a bigger fight to try beat. Some fights took so long that after repairing the base, the next group of enemies were on their way, meaning there was no time to scout.
Speaking of scouting, besides missing on the XP if your units aren’t there when your friend goes out exploring, the resource chests that some enemies drop are not shared at all, which feels contrary to how everything else gets shared equally when it comes to resource streams.
More meat please
As much as I love the comics that you unlock as you play and the various feats that you work towards in every game, slowly making your favourite units slightly better in battle, I feel like there was a missed opportunity here to really flesh things out. The campaign, if you can call it that, is a few levels that introduce the various enemy types and debuffs that can cause problems – a warm-up before launching into endless onslaught or custom maps with your preference of difficulty settings. The lack of a cohesive story, a poor tutorial that just throws information at you and a co-op mode that feels less like co-op and more like slowly starving to death with a friend, Conan Unconquered leaves a lot to be desired. The prices of the various buildings feel like they need to be tweaked a bit to make them feel worth the investment. The game’s tech tree feels rather confusing due to one dead end branch and requiring several different buildings to reach a new unit type or upgrades.
The lack of a cohesive story, a poor tutorial that just throws information at you and a co-op mode that feels less like co-op and more like slowly starving to death with a friend, Conan Unconquered leaves a lot to be desired.
In the end, the wave system feels too quick, eventually leaving you with no downtime between waves. Without time to recuperate, rebuild, expand or just stabilise, every near victory is more likely the first of many cuts that will eventually lead to your death. Conan Unconquered has a few good ideas, but they get lost in a game that feels like it needs a few more features and some tweaking before it really pops. The lacklustre campaign, lacking tutorial and enemies have a habit of somehow knowing exactly where a gap in your defences are without even scouting the area leaves you constantly on the back foot. Yes, this is a survival game and eventually, you will succumb to the endless onslaught, but you should sometimes at least feel like you have a chance or some breathing room.