If you don't like paying for access to beta versions, or you think that opinions based on these versions are hardly impartial, be warned: this preview is based on early access version.
Render Cube is a Polish studio that has experienced a very strange artistic arch in its short gamedev career. They went from a Halloween, cartoonish racer called Monster League to Medieval Dynasty a... naturalistic simulator of medieval peasant life? This rather odd move was probably the idea of Toplitz Productions, the publisher. When we add them into the equation, it all starts to make a lot more sense: the German company has games like Farmer's Dynasty and Lumberjack's Dynasty in their back catalog. Not only is the latter part of their titles indicative, but these games are about the daily life of, get it, farmers and lumberjacks.
Render Cube's game appears to be a complete product (though its only the first days of its early access on Steam). We can both cultivate and cut down maples and pines, as well as work in the fields. At the same time, however, you cant forget about eating, drinking, washing, gathering all kinds of fruits, establishing personal relationships, finding a spouse, having children, and, when the time comes for us and we die by accident after a brutal attack by a boar in the forest nearby (a la Robert Baratheon), leaving them some inheritance hopefully, a large settlement. Because, my fellow gamers, it looks and it walks like the Middle Ages, and I had the painful pleasure of testing it for a year (which translates to about 10 hours of perilous wandering around the world).
YES, THIS GAME HAS A STORY
Although I'm going to discuss the missions in the game to some extent, the storyline isnt developed enough as of yet. It doesn't mean it's not there: this paragraph, however, serves as an exposure and introduction to the gameplay proper. In the game, we play an eighteen-year-old hero, who arrives in the valley in search of his uncle. The idea is the uncle will give him work and a taste of adult life. It turns out, however, that the uncles already six feet under, although he did manage to make quite a reputation in the area. This gives us a little bit of credit from the locals, who are going to help us achieve our new life goal finding employment, establishing a village and writing our own story in these bleak, monotonous and unforgiving times.
A jumble of genres
As strange as it may seem, comparisons to Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Animal Crossing, or economy strategies aren't out of place. Render Cube set out a very, very ambitious plan and created a game within the framework of Toplitz Productions' previous games, while pushing realism further. The adventure is seasoned with survival elements and a lot depends on the life achievements of the main character. These, in turn, are measured by the number of tasks completed and connections made an RPG, through and through.
However, this is not The Forest, where you'd survive a plane crash, become stranded in the heart of the jungle and have to cope without any idea how to. Already at the start, you become overwhelmed by the number of activities you can engage in; it sometimes seems like it's too much. Rest assured, however: every interface point or skill tab, as well as the most basic mechanics and issues are explained in detail: from the simplest things such as the health bar, hunger and thirst indicators, to all the buildings and crafting capabilities.
But this might as well be counterproductive: at first, I felt like I had the honor of interacting with a work that transcended my intelligence, where the range of possibilities outweigh the number of my brain cells. The salvation came from disabling the tutorial and firing up the task log. It directed me to a particular point on the map, and the rest was history. Rappers would call it flow.
Running errands, like in any RPG
It's a rather subjective issue, but I don't really mind being held by the hand or at least by the little finger. Therefore, I accepted with a lot of enthusiasm the fact that from the very start, the game told me exactly where to go (truth be told, it rather suggests it "do what you want"). And so I would head to the indicated settlement, getting acquainted with some European forests on the way. Fans of The Witcher won't be disappointed the folklore is abundant, and there's even a chance you'll encounter a wisent.
In any case, I cross the boundaries of the wooden palisade and headed to whoever was in charge of that fine settlement, to read a few lines of dialogue (not voiced yet). I think to myself "Darn, I think it really is an RPG." I'm given a side quest to inform the residents on the other side of the river of the impending wolf attack. They take the message with relative composure and ask me to help them build the walls I am to bring them 40 wooden logs. By then, I was certain it was just as brazen an RPG as all those Gothics and Dragon Ages. Come on, Stranger. Do this, do that, and I promise you, you'll get some hot soup.
I must admit, though, that doing this kind of mission feels much better when you don't collect these logs with a single click, but rather have to make yourself a decent axe from the sticks and stones found along the way. And then cut down those trees by hand. And then carry the logs in a few turns, otherwise you'll break the poor man's back. While in the trance of this paradoxically engaging monotony of slamming an axe into a birch tree, I came to the conclusion that it wasn't just an RPG, but rather a genuine survival.
As the name suggests, "role-playing games" are, in a very simplified sense, about playing roles. Therefore, the relationships we enter into with other characters should carry some emotional charge. The case of Medieval Dynasty proves that a romanticized protagonist is not mandatory for having fun. The conversations with NPCs are governed by pure pragmatism. The degree of the so-called approval or affection (i.e. a character's attitude towards us) is measured in percentage points, and its ultimate purpose isn't taking the hypothetical Unigost or Dobromir towards the setting sun to save the world from a herd of boars. No. In this game, you make friends in order to convince people to live in your settlement and work for you. The same is true of love relationships, which seem to follow the worst medieval standards. You only marry for a potential heir. You're seducing to strengthen your social standing.
WATCH OUT, RPG FELLERS
You love Kingdom Come and would like to throw yourself into Medieval Dynasty just to fill the void left after completing the game from Warhorse Studios? For some, it might be a great idea it's a similar vibe; days and nights in a slightly primitive Europe from centuries ago. Some of you may be disappointed, however, because the game doesn't emphasize combat as much, and playing, apart from patience, requires certain automation and repeating many actions, often not very sexy, also in mechanical terms. It's a little more rigid and demanding than you might think.