Conan Unconquered challenges players to survive waves of enemies, but a lack of story and a sense of repetition take its toll as you crush your foes.
In Conan Unconquered, developer Petroglyph Games has created a unique blend of real-time strategy and wave-based tower defense. The Conan Unconquered trailer suggests a bold sense of scale, with vast armies clashing as hero units like Conan himself tear through waves of enemies. In practice, the game fails to deliver the same sense of gravitas - but it's still an entertaining title. Most of the time.
Players who dive into Conan Unconquered will need to master four key game mechanics: exploration, resource management, base defense, and the impact of hero units like Conan himself. The full technology tree will be available to players right from the start, but it'll be up to the players to figure out how to best manage resources to build the right units and structures to help them survive waves off encroaching enemies. There's no tutorial, so Conan Unconquered is a trial by fire from start to finish: players will lose a lot at first, but it makes the satisfaction of a successful defense afterwards that much better. It just takes longer than it should to get there.
The concept is simple enough: players start with a base, and must defend it through several different waves of incoming enemies. The game sticks to a simple structure for units, which each have strengths and weaknesses against other types. This means that players will need to mix-and-match their armies as opposed to simply spamming one unit, and they'll also need to figure out where and when to best use each contingent. This encourages tactical thought from the player, who often has to quickly decide where to move certain batches of units as they put out one fire after another. This is often literal: Conan Unconquered has a fire mechanic, and every structure is flammable. This adds even more chaos into the mix as players invariably get attacked from multiple sides at once, and this madness is when the game is at its best.
Players who go out beyond their defensive walls to explore with a hero unit between waves are rewarded with extra experience as they mow down the few outlying camps that each map provides, and this experience can be used to grant one's hero unit powerups that let them wreak absolute havoc on the attackers. It's a fun risk-versus-reward mechanic, as players won't have a lot of time between waves to accomplish this - nor will have they many spare resources to dedicate to this exploration. It's a nice break from the monotony of simply repairing and building between waves, and Petroglyph Games was smart to give gamers another option in those interim moments of relative peace.
Still, the waves of attacks are fairly constant and will keep players on their toes. One can feel safe after walling off every section of flat ground next to their base only for a wave of spiders to come climbing down from the cliffs above, wreaking havoc in the middle of the base. Dead soldiers will also rot and spread disease, and that's where dark magics like necromancy come into play. The game design of Conan Unconquered allows for a few surprises like sandstorms that make areas of the map hard to see, and these offer some versatility to the odd wave here and there.
There is no real storyline behind Conan Unconquered, which jumps around some familiar-looking environments over the span of five missions and plants down a base for players to defend. Players can also challenge themselves with randomly-generated maps and post their high-scores online for others to beat, but these tend to feel familiar after a handful of games. The game would have benefited from any kind of plot, as the experience feels fairly short an abrupt without one. This is Conan's biggest downfall.
While the game features a stunning opening cinematic that gives the feeling that players are about to enter a game filled with gorgeous visuals, the actual in-game graphics are a far step back behind the likes of StarCraft 2 and are more in-line with lower-budget RTS titles like Bannermen. Perhaps more dissatisfying is the lack of voice prompts for units: hearing Conan utter the same handful of lines gets stale quickly, and in a game already plagued by a repetitive nature, this lack of variety really makes itself known.
While the game is called a real-time strategy, players will likely do a lot of pausing as they contemplate their next step and order units around. While the AI pathfinding does a relatively good job (though it can get spotty when units move en masse), the units themselves still require plenty of micro-management. Sections of soldiers are prone to invariably splitting up, and units almost always need help when it comes to putting out the literal fires that occur. It can be a hassle to get units to put out multiple sections of flaming wall individually, so the game's fire mechanic still has room left for improvement.
Much in the vein of They Are Billions, the real joy in the game comes when massive armies come to a head and the scale of combat grows beyond what you would see in titles like Age of Empires or StarCraft - especially when combat features gigantic god statues that can crush enemies with ease, though it's hard to survive long enough to use them. Still, when everything is in play at once, Conan Unconquered is a joy to watch unfold as players take in the battlefield. Unfortunately, these moments of Conan-inspired madness come few and far between the smaller skirmishes, and that's a real shame. It's also a shame that there isn't much to offer players for progressing through the short campaign: everything starts unlocked, minus a bonus hero behind a paywall, so there isn't much to work towards. Each match has a few variations from the next, but the core structure of the game gets repetitive quickly.
Ultimately, Conan Unconquered is a higher-end RTS tower defense game that offers a tough challenge for gamers, but the lack of a story or reward system make for gameplay that grows stale swiftly. Petroglyph Games has thrown in some twists and turns so that Conan Unconquered offers a few surprises mid-game, but even those can't take away from the feeling that Conan Unconquered is missing something, especially since it comes from a development staff that worked on RTS gems like Command and Conquer. It's fun, but it clearly could have been more - and that's becoming a familiar rhetoric when it comes to Conan games.
Conan: Unconquered is available now on PC. Screen Rant was provided with a Steam code for this review.