This review may contain gameplay spoilers, not necessarily story-related ones. Conan Exiles is an early-access title.
Conan Exiles puts you in the loincloth of one of Hyboria's many races as someone exiled to a wasteland for whatever crimes can possibly be thought up. You wake up after being cut down from your cross, and it's up to you to make it in this brutal world.
It's a more brutal world if you haven't read any of the source story material, it's less brutal and more Eldritch Horror slapstick if you have.
The game world is bright and colourful, extremely taxing on a machine that's at the low end of the system requirements, and chock full of things that want to kill you. In order to survive, you have to dodge (or kill) wildlife and other exiles alike, construct shelter, gather food, and find water.
As you build and craft your way around, you can gradually master the landscape and advance to harder biomes (right now, the hardest one would be the brand-new Far North).
This is one of Funcom's titles. You might remember Funcom for Age of Conan and its rather terrifying-looking NPCs. You might be more familiar with them for The Secret World and Secret World Legends. Either way, they're the company with the required licensing, so you won't be seeing Conan-related games coming from anybody else.
Funcom has, at least, improved their rendering of humans. Their men don't look like animatronics from Five Nights at Freddy's anymore, and their women have grown more refined. Both still leave something to be desired with body types.
The stumbling point? Funcom hasn't quite figured out how to render a penis. Depending upon how well-endowed your character is, you can wind up with his genitals flopping about like a slinky and stretching in ways that are unnatural. Their breast physics are slightly better, but like most video game companies, they still don't seem to understand how breasts move.
Hint: You should not be able to see breasts jiggling beneath leather armour. Not like that.
As far as early-access titles go, though things haven't been smooth, CE works better than most. It probably helps that its team is definitely passionate about the project.
Gameplay is easy to learn, and the crafting system can be picked up relatively quickly. If you've played survival games before, this one won't confuse you. If you haven't, the game does provide you with hints.
The world is vivid and alive, lush, and visually interesting once you get out of the desert. There's a lot of stuff to kill and be killed by, as well as neat areas to discover—dungeons you trip over tend to have nice loot and are a change of pace from gather/craft/build. The multiplayer component isn't bad, there are a variety of servers available for all tastes and the community is relatively supportive.
Like a lot of games of its type, Conan Exiles is built using the Unreal engine. Unreal 4 is notoriously clunky, though some companies do really well and actually manage to optimize their games.
Funcom is not one of those companies. Conan Exiles, though better optimized than ARK, will need more work on that front.
It's early-access. It'll get there.
Though there are some interesting features—like the avatars system and the ability to scale cliffs and such—it plays like a very typical survival game. There isn't much that makes it stand out to me, as much as I love this game and the world created by Robert E. Howard; it's just not otherwise a hugely memorable gameplay experience.
In the End...
My advice to anybody that's on the fence about Conan Exiles is to wait until the game is nearer to completion. It has a hell of a lot of potential, and as development goes on we'll get access to more areas, more challenges, and more stuff to build.
If you're a fan of Conan the Barbarian and want to support Funcom's efforts, by all means, buy a copy. The game can't grow without support and every sale helps.
If you're going to buy it, though, be sure to get in before its eventual release. If ARK is any indication, expect the price to go up once the game is complete.
If you haven't read any of the Conan the Barbarian stories, you can find an anthology here.