Few works have had as much impact on the fantasy genre as the adventures of Robert E. Howard’s character Conan the Barbarian. Though originally published mainly as short stories in pulp magazines and widely embraced by mainstream readers in later paperback publications released largely after the famously-reclusive author’s death, the character inspired an entire subgenre of “sword & sorcery” literature and artwork; and has been translated into every medium from comic books to cartoons to movies.
While Howard’s unique vision of an ancient “Hyborian Age” warrior culture has been “borrowed” frequently by classic video games like Golden Axe and Rastan, relatively few official Conan games have been produced outside of a handful of early PC titles, an MMO and a pair of poorly-received action titles in the mid-2000s. Now, FunCom is planning to give Conan another shot at gaming glory, announcing the open-world action title Conan: Exiles for PC and console release later this year.
Funcom, which was also behind the MMO Age of Conan in 2008, are touting Exiles as a mix of action and survival gameplay. Players will be able to not only explore the harsh realm of Hyboria and engage in combat with enemies, monsters and each other but engage in other life-struggle scenarios (such as hunting for food and gathering supplies). Settlement-building and protection will also be part of the game. A trailer released online (see above) shows Conan himself approaching a series of crucified men in a skull-strewn desert canyon. Said Funcom Creative Director Joel Bylos:
“Hyboria is a harsh and unforgiving land where only the strongest can survive while the weak are swiftly cut down. Whether it is hunting animals for food, fighting monsters and other players, or building entire settlements, we want to make sure players feel like they are really fighting to survive and prosper in the most brutal fantasy world ever.”
Created by Robert E. Howard in 1932, the first Conan stories were initially published in pulp periodicals like Weird Tales; where they gained a small but devoted following among readers and authors who shared Howard’s fixation with imaginary ancient worlds and a dark, action-oriented take on fantasy and mythological conceits. Those fans included H.P. Lovecraft, who became friend by correspondence with the author and allowed Howard into the so-called “Lovecraft Circle” of pulp authors who could officially connect their own stories to what came to be called The Cthulhu Mythos – which includes multiple Conan stories by way of reference.
Howard would write some 21 Conan stories (along with several hundred other stories, books and poems featuring other characters across multiple genres) before his death by suicide in 1936. His work, particularly Conan, would go on to become massively popular when reprinted in paperback collections – a shift in profile often partially attributed to the further elevation of the “high fantasy” genre by J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings trilogy and the popularity of fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta, whose original paintings of Conan have defined the popular-conception of the character ever since.
Conan: Exiles arrives at a moment where the character could be poised for a major revival (a new film with Game of Thrones‘ Jason Momoa bombed ignominiously in 2011), with original big-screen Conan Arnold Schwarzenegger again touting a new installment in the franchise. If Exiles can tap into that renewed excitement for Hyborian Age action, it could end up being the game that breaks the “curse” of mediocre game-success for the barbarian series.
Conan: Exiles will be available for early access on PC in Summer 2016, with the full launch on PC and console to follow at a later date.