Developer Letter – Combat changes during the Age of War

Hello everyone!

My name is Dennis Douthett, and I’m the Lead Designer for Conan Exiles.

I’ve spent a lot of my time as Lead Designer collaborating with the community on Discord, showing off new content on Twitch and YouTube, but this is the first time I’ve worked on a blog post to go with a release. I hope you find this insight interesting, and not too long winded!

The topic today is combat changes coming during the Age of War.

Good Stress

To begin it’s important to establish one of the many reasons we find games to be fun. It’s the contrast between stress and relief.

When designing games, we look to introduce stress to you by placing challenges in your way. Challenges can be any type of gameplay that blocks your progress: a boss enemy with loot you want, a long wall climb with few resting points along the way, a puzzle that requires observation and timing to unlock a mechanical door. The closer we can stress you to a tipping point only for you to just barely overcome a challenge, the better the victory feels!

As you continue to read this article, keep the relationship between stress and relief in mind!

Combat and Stamina 

Why did we change it?

I have seen responses to the stamina updates in the patch notes asking why we made these changes. It is true that nobody outright asked us to increase the stamina cost of attacks, but sometimes fixing problems we identify can affect multiple systems. I will do my best to explain how we got from point to point that made these changes necessary.

These changes sometimes have effects on more than one community as well. We have many different types of players in Conan Exiles, but without a doubt nearly every type of player will be participating in combat at some point. So, while nobody directly asked for that specific change, I can still say who the changes are for: These changes were aimed at making combat feel more consistent, less buggy, and more dynamic for everyone!

The Problem

A unique mechanic was implemented in recent years after our team decided the game was too easy in our playtests. Enemies attacked by multiple players would never get a chance to act, causing them to be stunlocked to death! This led us to create a system that would give enemy AI brief immunity to stun after they had been unable to act for some time. For example’s sake, the timing was something close to, “For every 3 seconds of being stunned, you get 1 second to act with impunity.”

I do agree this was an issue, but I think that solution introduced a new problem. Between the system providing immunity and the stun protection we give during attacks it was difficult to understand when an enemy would be stunnable.

Increasing Consistency and Dynamics

Even if you are a seasoned player, you likely have no idea why enemies are sometimes stunned and sometimes, they are not. There are no audio or visual cues that let you know an enemy is immune to being stunned – and if there was, they would feel very “gamey” in their presentation. So instead of using brute force to create a gap for enemies to act in battle, we would create it by starving the player of the ability to attack as frequently.

With “stress and relief” in mind, consider the combat system as it exists in Exiles today. If enemies have a large health pool, and you can attack for long stretches of time before your stamina is depleted, where does the stress come in? If the enemy you are attacking has a chance to randomly defy the expected game mechanics to cause stress, how can you counter their actions skillfully?

To address this, our first order of business for the Age of War was to remove the system that made combat feel inconsistent and buggy. By taking away what was called the “stun break” system, enemy AI was no longer allowed to defy the rules of being stunned. They were either vulnerable to being stunned, or they were immune. Most enemies you will fight in the update will be vulnerable to stunning, and only certain high difficulty enemies will be immune to them.

Hyper Armor

With the stun break system eliminated, combat felt more predictable but there was still one more place where consistency could be improved.

Hyper Armor is a window of time during an animation in which a character cannot be stunned. Many of the attacks in Exiles are inundated with Hyper Armor. In the second chapter of the Age of War, we plan to decrease the excess of Hyper Armor, which will increase the consistency of play further.

The rule for which attacks get Hyper Armor will be simple: Hyper Armor is reserved for moments during an attack where extreme momentum is present.

There is some subjectivity to this of course, but you can expect to see heavier weapons with slow animations and a lot of moving mass possessing most of the Hyper Armor, and smaller faster weapons having less of it. This will open the window to using fast weapons to interrupt slow weapons, but should you fail to interrupt the slow weapon in time, the heavy weapon in motion will not be stoppable.

Increasing Dynamics with Tension

Think back to the theory of fun presented earlier and how that can relate to the resources you have to manage in combat. Can we use those resources to make combat feel more engaging without changes to the actual AI you fight?

When you are low on stamina the pressure of stress in combat reaches a peak. Without stamina, you are forced to use positioning to avoid attacks from enemies that may swing your direction. Without stamina you are vulnerable, and without stamina, it is effectively the enemies’ turn! When your stamina comes back, you are in control again.

Our goal was clear: to create brief moments in time where you were starved of stamina. In order to take your stamina away, we also have to give a lot more back. So, the two major changes you will see in Chapter 1 are that attacks are much more expensive, but stamina comes back extremely quickly.

Bringing It All Together

In a 1v1 encounter this may sound shallow. To some degree, it certainly is, but remember that Conan Exiles is not a 1v1 dueling game. We like to spice things up with some encounters including larger groups of enemies, which increases the risk of taking damage from staggered attacks. Each additional enemy increases the stress you feel when your stamina is low – assuming you are at similar power levels.

More enemies mean more attention must be shifted toward managing your stamina, dodging, and positioning before you take another calculated swing into the pack. We have also made enemies deal heavier damage, so if they get an attack through, the danger is higher.

One more change coming to improve consistency will allow you to reorient your attacks before they connect. During these brief moments your character can still be told to rotate, which means you will be able to hit the target you intend to hit without having to think about it. It feels very natural!

After you’ve mopped the floor with your enemies, you get a kick of satisfaction from the relief that the challenge has been overcome!

Enemies, Weapons, and Repairs

Additional updates during this age will come to both enemy health and weapon balance – two sides of the same coin. We have gone through all the weapons and enemies in the game and applied updated balance to them, but it’s important to know why.

While playtesting, we observed recurring patterns we felt had the opportunity to be more interesting, and did not live up to Exiles’ design direction:

  • When exploring the world, it felt like there was little reason to clear a point of interest after you had explored it once. The rewards for the effort you put into clearing the camp were not worth the time and cost to do so.
  • Once we obtained legendary items, our desire to explore and repeat content went down dramatically.
  • When adventuring, some enemies posed little threat and had very high health pools, which led to boring encounters with no contrast in the action.

We want you to feel like a warrior capable of chopping off heads and limbs as enemies attack you. When fighting a few enemies, you should have to use some skill to dodge, block, or otherwise evade attacks and weave in your offensive. For difficult encounters you should have to plan your approach. Ideally you should never walk up to a monster and stand, unmoving, swinging your weapon into it for five minutes to defeat it. We needed to reduce the slog and ramp up the action!

So, we made the following changes:

  • A new weapon balance scheme that allows us to increase interest and value when looting.
  • Legendary weapon power sits on top of the new balance scheme, making them the undisputed strongest items.
  • Items lose maximum durability when being repaired.
  • Legendary items can no longer be repaired.
  • Enemy Health reductions.
  • Enemy Damage increases.

By making a new layout for weapon power, we can make sure each time you upgrade your weapons, it’s a noticeable power gain. We are also able to ensure that when you adventure into the world, you can find new items that are stronger than the ones you can craft! This introduces our new item type, which we call unique items. Unique items are like items you can already make, but they come with an additional power spike. This also solved the problem with legendary items. Now legendary weapons sit on top of the heap of power and are undisputedly more powerful than their epic and unique counterparts. However, they won’t last forever. Because items no longer last forever, there are new motivations for you to venture back into the world to acquire powerful items.

The power of these items was then adjusted to go along with the increasing strength of enemies that you will encounter as you progress from the southern desert into the northern reaches of the Exiled Lands. Enemies will gain more health and damage, and you’ll need to upgrade your weapon quality to keep up with their rising difficulty. We made the difference between these enemies and the difference in power between weapon tiers more dramatic than it currently is. This was done so the tech progression from one tier of weapon to the next gives you noticeable power gains that feel worth the time investment to get there.


In Chapter 1 of the Age of War, you’ll get updated item and enemy balance, revised stamina costs, stun break removal, and changes to repairing items. In Chapter 2, item distribution will be updated along with adjustments to hyper armor, and attacks will allow rotation.

I hope this explanation has helped provide some insight into the cascading series of changes that can occur when you identify an issue with a system or behavior that we want to correct. Sure – nobody asked for direct changes to stamina consumption, but to apply fixes that were more than simply band-aids, we sometimes need to manipulate several systems you’re already familiar with. We do this sparingly, because we realized that any of these changes in a vacuum could be enough to push some people to stop playing the game. We are always aiming for a healthier and more enjoyable experience for everyone at the end of the day.

All this said, we are aware that the breadth of these changes has some people worried – that they will introduce behavior they feel breaks the game or shifts the meta unfavorably. Rest assured we are aware of the implications of these changes, and we will be keeping a close eye on how they play out to correct any unsavory gameplay that emerges after it has been in everyone’s hands for a while. This may mean additional changes to the cost of certain actions, the balance of certain perks, or items, but it will not mean another major rework!

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