Skip to main content

Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Conan Unconquered copies They Are Billions and unsurprisingly it's fun

A base pleasure.

Conan Unconquered is a lot like They Are Billions. It's not just the 'build a base and defend it against increasingly daunting waves of enemies' survival idea: it's the bones of the game, the mechanics. It's in the way your resources work and how you harvest them. It's in the way you lay out your base and build your defences. It's in the way waves of enemies are announced and how they approach. To be blunt, it's a bit of a rip-off.

But then, why not? They Are Billions works brilliantly. The race to establish a base and wall it off before an enormous conga line of enemies smashes into it from all fronts is thrilling. Why not steal a bit of that? Funcom and developer Petroglyph don't seem particularly shy about it. They saw a chance for a quick turnaround - about a year, I'm told - and took it. And you know what? It works. Not quite as well, but it works.

The nuts and bolts, as I mentioned, are the same. You juggle a need to keep everything within your walls with a need to branch out to exploit more food/wood/stone/etc. The enemy waves are weak to begin with, easy to swat away, but by the end you need defences everywhere. Mix in a fire raging through your base, or disease, and you'll begin to panic. How to manage it all? Tick tock, tick tock - another wave approaching.

The big difference in Unconquered is you have a helping hand from the get-go in the shape of a hero, like Conan, or Valeria or Kalanthes - and they're super-powerful. You don't really need anyone else, not for a while, as they can see off early waves alone. Even later, they're pivotally strong. They heal at shrines, respawn if they die, and can unlock special abilities and equip trinkets. And as a result, they dilute the threat. Billions is a far more tense and brutal experience (the enemies being able to infect and turn a base against you also plays a big part in this).

Nevertheless, having someone like Conan on the field obviously satisfies the branding and reinforces the setting, and it's a nice backdrop for a game, all sun-baked and guttural. It even veers into magic the further down the tech tree you go, to the point you can collect souls to summon giant godly avatars to do your stomping. I know the oversized and stylised look isn't to everyone's tastes, but when things get busy it helps keep the action coherent.

The other big difference is the option to play in co-op. You and a chum can team up, each with your own hero, and build and defend a base. I haven't had the chance to try it because there was no one around to try it with, but there's a long gameplay video showing it in action and it looks like fun.

Watch on YouTube

That's the operative word here: fun. Petroglyph knows what it's doing - it's been making real-time strategy games for as long as I can remember - and with a strong template and an iconic licence, it was well away. But it's a safe game. It's not like playing They Are Billions for the first time, or Frostpunk for that matter - the survival city-builder where you fight the cold. It's not fresh and exciting. But on the other hand there's not a lot to object to. Unconquered is solid; it's just, well, fun.