Half-Assed Hyboria

Conan borrows liberally from God of War's playbook, but it forgot to ape the most important thing: fun.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: November 18, 2007
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I'm not really sure what happened to Conan in the time since I saw it at E3 and the game's final release. I swear it looked prettier, ran better and offered more depth than it does now, but regardless the result is the same: an abashed God of War clone that feels like something run through Babelfish. Sure, the basic elements are still in place, right down to collecting the little red orbs that spill out of fallen enemies to upgrade the combo system, but like a copy of a copy of a copy, something is lost in the translation, namely fun.

It's weird because Kratos is practically Conan in a proper Greek setting. A burly dude with a thirst for combat leaving a trail of eviscerated corpses and spent, busty women in his wake. However, what Conan forgets to copy (beyond the fact that Kratos actually does the hippity dippity with the topless D-cupped females that present themselves to him) is one very basic thing: a ranged, area-effect attack.

I know, I know, Conan hacks off his enemies limbs and heads with pure, direct strikes from a big ass sword. You won't catch him pirouetting around to hit six enemies at the same time, but if you're going to bite a combat system that has enemies surrounding your hero, you need to offer and option to do a little crowd control, and that simple lack of planning completely kills the combat experience in Conan. Well, that and the fact that none of the fluidity, polish or agilty that Kratos exhibits are found here.

I tried to like Conan, too. The inner 14 year-old in me loved cleaving enemies in half right down the middle, loved freeing bound topless girls of ample bosomy proportions only to have them stretch sensually in front their muscle-bound savoir. Conan is a dude who quite literally kills and humps in that order and does both well, he's the embodiment of testosterone and in terms of seeing lots of tits and blood, Conan actually delivers. But it doesn't actually offer any real substance.

Again, the basic combat -- hell nearly everything about the game, from the timed button press sequences during boss fights to using spells (yes, Conan uses magic, which is decidedly un-Conan of him) to wielding multiple weapons -- all comes part and parcel from God of War, and that's a good thing. There are times when hacking up enemies is incredibly satisfying, but there are far more times when enemies are sniping you from afar while one close-up enemy shatters your guard and then two more beat on you when you're down. Conan is littered with cheap deaths from plummets off cliffs to enemies that will happily block all your attacks and then gang up on you with their buddies to kill you almost instantly.

There were some genuinely good ideas in place, too. Being able to literally rip a sword and shield from an enemy's hands is definitely interesting, as is the fact that there are four basic movesets to choose from based on what you're holding at any one time. You've got your normal sword, then you've got dual-wielded swords, then a big ass sword or spear and finally a sword and shield. Each of these base armaments gives you the ability to hack through enemies with an increasingly deep array of moves, and best of all using moves lets you slowly master them until you get more experience.

It's a great concept, but eventually the fights break down into using a particular move against a particular enemy using a particular weapon. This is fine, since until the latter parts of the game you'll rarely come up against more than two types of enemies, but it breeds a method of just falling back on the same moves over and over again, and the lure of effectively "leveling up" your other moves falls by the wayside because they're either completely ineffective or leave you too open to getting slaughtered by the same canned attack sequences that can't be blocked in most cases once they've started (not to mention leave you open to more hits from other enemies). The locked-in repetition is also enforced by one very simple fact: Conan's default sword kinda sucks, and he's as good as dead by the end of the game if he's not using something else, be it another sword or a shield or using some kind of two-handed death-bringer.
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