- An economic city (village) builder strategy;
- Clone of the acclaimed Banished;
- Main risks for the village are famine and natural disasters;
- Ability to shape the environment;
- Fun feature: first person view from the perspective of colonists;
- Mod support planned;
- Early Access already available on Steam;
- Full game due this year.
Seven hundred years ago salt was worth a fortune, most spices were totally unknown in Europe, folks’ dental work was done by blacksmiths (since, you know, they had the tools); and the only anesthetic was alcohol. To make matters worse, wars were commonplace and the climate was harsh – this was the reason why the average lifespan was only 30 years. Oh yes, life in the Middle Ages was tough. In 2014, an independent Russian studio called Bitbox decided to render the perils of that era in their online RPG with a telltale title: Life is Feudal. It was quite hardcore, but that fact didn’t prevent the game from enjoying popularity that later resulted in a new franchise. Then, the game received a subtitle – Your Own – to differentiate it from the announced Life is Feudal: MMO expansion, and from… Life is Feudal: Forest Village, i.e. an economic strategy currently in Early Access – a game almost identical to Banished. Are the Middle Ages short not only on spices, but creativity as well?
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
Before we go any further, we ought to deal with the elephant in the room – Life is Feudal: Forest Village is not “strikingly similar” to Banished. It’s almost identical. The Russian developers have been under a huge influence of the game from 2014. But that’s not particularly surprising – Banished has been purchased by over 1.5 million people – even if most players got it on sale, its developer shouldn’t complain about financial problems. Just after a couple of minutes with Forest Village you’ll be having a serious deja vu – the game has the same interface, the same settlers management system, and even the icons look similar. In the video game industry people are often inspired by works of others; sometimes they just copy proven solutions, so this is nothing new. However, the question remains the same in all these cases: couldn’t it be done in a subtler manner? Especially since Forest Village really does introduce some new stuff, and with a little more effort, it could have been much more distinguishable.
Banished on steroids
But let’s leave that matter for now. In Forest Village, the player commands a small group of settlers, and the task is to increase their numbers. This can be achieved by simple means such as satisfying all the basic needs of the population: providing shelter, food etc.; but also by fulfilling more sophisticated requirements, such as education or comfort. There’s no doubt that Forest Village belongs to the genre of economic strategies that give up on competing with Settlers for the sake of survival elements. Since there’s not many games like that, Forest Village instantly gets half a star.
Forest Village is a serious game. If you don’t provide people with firewood, they will get sick and die. If you force them to leave homes in winter, their children will not survive. In order to live, the settlers not only have to eat, but their diet must be diversified so as to provide different nutrients. Just like it happens in real life.
Each settler is described by three parameters: their mood, the quality of clothes and tools. The player has to keep all of them on an appropriately high level. The settlers cannot be controlled directly – after receiving orders and professions from the player, they take care of the rest themselves. There’s an exception here, however: in Forest Village, the player can switch to first-person mode, taking control of a specific character. It’s really just a fun feature, but one that can come in handy when you want to, for example, defend the village against predators and there’s no hunters in the area. Save for this instance, the whole game is seen from isometric perspective, which has the additional benefit of saving the players from watching blurry textures from up close and walking among an incredible attack of clones – there are only two character models: male and female.
Forest Village follows in the footsteps of Banished also in terms of the risks we have to face. For example, a lightning can set buildings on fire, while a sporadic tornado wreaks even more havoc. Diseases spread and famine strikes unexpectedly. As a fan of Banished, I haven’t had any real difficulties surviving the first couple of years in Life is Feudal. I’m eager to see what changes in the level of challenge will come later.
The ability to take control of one of the settlers is not the only difference between this game and Banished. A mechanic was implemented that allows the player to shape the environment in any way that is currently required. This tool does the job quite well. Among other novelties, there’s a day and night cycle, but it’s far from perfect. It’s clearly only cosmetic, as we see the settlers work during the night just the same. What’s more, the duration of nights and days doesn’t change if you speed up the game time. The whole thing in general doesn’t look very spectacular; the early mornings can be quite scenic, especially when the village is covered with thick fog, but at nights you cannot see much. Why aren’t there any torches? They could widen the field of view and increase the difficulty a little bit by posing an additional risk of fire. Apart from said changes, there are a couple of new professions in Forest Village, and the list of resources is longer than the one in Banished. The developers deserve some praise for doing their homework and choosing the most interesting solutions from the mods created by the community, mainly from the enormous Colonial Charter mod. That’s a big plus for the devs – you should only copy the best.
Time to leave the woods
Forest Village is currently in Early Access, which is quite apparent. Some graphical options are unavailable, snow and rain look so-so, and various minor glitches can be seen every now and then. The developers have some work to do – the sight of a bear having a peaceful walk in the middle of your village can be funny; you stop laughing when you see the bear is killed with one thrust of a wooden stick, and that its corpse is instantly transformed to a pile of processed hides. The graphics could also use a bit of polish – they’re more detailed than those in Banished, but they’re a lot less transparent and legible, which makes controlling the village’s life more difficult – and hence less enjoyable. A couple of new songs would also be a welcome addition, especially since those in the game are pretty cool, atmospheric, and very Slavic, too. Forest Village has a great potential, but it needs much work – and I’m worried that the devs need more than just three months to finish the game. Maybe some updates are almost ready; or maybe they just want to tie up all the loose ends and leave the rest to modders?
Life is brutal and full of grinding
The Russian Life is Feudal hit Early Access in 2014, and a couple of months later the full game came out. As of today, over 350,000 people have bought it, so we’re talking about a considerable success of this game by independent studio Bitbox.
This sandbox RPG with emphasis on survival puts the player in the role of a medieval kingdom denizen. The game is pretty realistic (there are two health bars and two stamina bars), which makes the gameplay nearly painful – every action takes time, even switching an item in hand. The character needs to eat different foods to survive. The progress is a matter of a lot of time and effort. There are also complex crafting, alchemy, and cooking systems. Erecting buildings and altering the environment is possible as well.
Since releasing Life is Feudal: Your Own, the Russian developers have been working on a much larger project under the same name. In Life is Feudal: MMO the devs want to increase the number of players on a single map from 64 to… 10,000 (sic!). The world will also be larger, and other aspects of gameplay will be overhauled as well.
Life is Feudal: Forest Village can be bought on Steam for € 23. The game is still a work-in-progress, and has its fare share of shortcomings, but at the same time, it has a great potential. I would recommend refraining from buying it just yet – let’s see where Forest Village is headed. Some time has to pass before it starts supporting mods, so right now the game is miles behind Banished, which is a whole lot cheaper, and has a ton of mods available. As a guy who’s really fond of the genre, I’m happy to see a new member of the crew – even if it’s just a clone. I really hope that before the release Forest Village will get out of the woods and surprise us with its level of polish. After all, this is an atmospheric economic strategy; when the modders start to work their magic, at least with half as much enthusiasm as in the case of Banished, in a couple of months Forest Village will be well worth its price.