The creators of Command & Conquer offer a new spin on real-time strategy games, with a co-op challenge in the Hyborian Age.
Despite the best efforts of indie developers there are still some genres of video game that are all but extinct. You still get the odd low budget graphic adventure, but nobody except Star Citizen seems to have the money or expertise for space combat simulators anymore. The one that surprises, and disappoints, us the most though is the poor old real-time strategy game. Nobody seems interested in, or capable, of making an RTS anymore, not even those that helped to establish the genre in the first place.
Developer Petroglyph has been around since 2003 and is run by a number of veterans of Westwood Studios, who created genre progenitors Dune II and Command & Conquer in the early 90s. As encouraging as that sounds they haven’t done much of note since, just 2006’s Star Wars: Empire At War and a number of increasingly low budget strategy efforts, such as the so-so Grey Goo and the risible 8-Bit Armies series.
Currently they’re working on a remaster of the original Command & Conquer for EA and we can only hope that inspires some kind of return to greatness, because Conan Unconquered is yet another disappointment. To its credit, it’s not nearly as formulaic as most other real-time strategies but as admirable as it is to try new ideas, how they’re executed is just as important…
A quick glance at the screenshots or videos would have you assume this is a real-time strategy game like any other. A lot of the basics are the same, particularly in terms of building up and fortifying your city. But rather than roaming around the map, taking on rival armies, your troops spend most of their time defending themselves against waves of attacking enemies.
However, it’d be wrong to describe Conan Unconquered as a Tower Defense game, because you do much more than just set up automatically-firing towers. Although you are forced to play defensively a lot of the time, it’s important to constantly expand your city to cover as much ground as possible and to allow room for internal expansion and newly researched defences.
Although resources are always scarce there’s never any real attempt to turn the game into a proper city builder, as everything is geared towards surviving the next wave of attackers. When you do need to project your forces further afield you have control of both cannon fodder units and a couple of MOBA style hero characters.
Exploring the wilderness as Conan himself hints at the more interesting, Diablo-esque game that this could have been, with some genuinely enjoyable boss style encounters. Fighting giant monsters and earning extra resources is a lot more enjoyable than just sitting back and waiting for people to run at you, or at least it would be if the artificial intelligence for allies and enemies wasn’t so painfully dim-witted and often oblivious to its surroundings. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the game wasn’t so relentlessly hard and you didn’t spend most of the time berating your own troops for their stupidity.
If Conan Unconquered was a low budget indie release it would be easier to forgive its modest ambitions and outdated visuals, but it’s clearly had some amount of money pumped into it. It’s the latest attempt by publisher Funcom to make Conan a multi-genre brand, following the equally scrappy Conan Exiles and MMO Age Of Conan. There’s some great-looking pre-rendered cut scenes, for example, but these immediately backfire as they create a huge disconnect between what you’d want the game to look like and the low-tech, low-resolution reality.
The one positive aspect of Conan Unconquered is the co-op, which allows two players to work together and brings the game closer to being a sort of real-time strategy version of an online shooter’s survival mode. We suspect that was the original pitch for the game, but while the basics are all here everything’s far too shallow and repetitive to keep your interest for more than a few hours.
The problems with repetition are underlined by the fact that the desert setting is the only one in the game, with the map being randomly generated every time you play. Apart from some tutorials there’s no proper story campaign, or story of any kind really, and you’re just left to play against the computer on your own or, if you’re lucky (and they’re unlucky), with a friend.
To be fair to Petroglyph, innovating in the RTS genre has proven impossible for seemingly everyone, which is probably the real reason why there are so few new ones being made. But you’d think the creators of the genre would be able to come up with something better than this ugly, repetitive, and thoroughly shallow strategy.
In Short: Not your typical real-time strategy game, but despite a few interesting ideas this shallow husk of a game feels almost barbarically simple.
Pros: The co-op mode is fun, if you can find someone willing to sit through it with you, and the basic idea did have potential.
Cons: Simplistic gameplay, with little variety and terrible artificial intelligence. Highly repetitive, weak graphics, and extremely limited single-player.
Release Date: 29th May 2019
Age Rating: N/A
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