I just picked up Banished from Steam as a reward to myself for not only finishing my last semester, but not quitting my job each and every day, and so far, it looks incredible. I’ve only just begun, so this is going to be a first impression rather than a solid review, but I really think I’m going to end up enjoying this game greatly.
Banished is a strategy game where you control a small group of villagers as they try to eke out an existence in the wilderness. To that end, they need food, shelter, warmth, &c., and it’s up to you to place the necessary buildings and such to keep them alive. Right now, it reminds me a lot of Tropico, gameplaywise, which is a good thing, as that’s probably my favorite game series and I’m looking forward to the release of Tropico 5 in a few weeks. It’s also probably something like what would happen if they assigned XCOM‘s development team to make the next Harvest Moon. It’s certainly an unforgiving game, but it’s very relaxing, so far, and I’m just having a great time with it.
First off, the games looks and sounds great. The soundtrack is very atmospheric. You certainly won’t go around humming it, but it sticks with you, and it provides a rustic feel. At times, I wish it were a bit livelier and festive, along the lines of Hikaru Wadachi from Spice and Wolf. But the stolid, joyless soundtrack fits well. Aesthetically, it’s got a Medieval look to it. It might have been a bit more intuitive to have more colors and variety in the buildings, if less accurate. From a distance, I have trouble immediately distinguishing what’s what, but then again, it would feel out of place to have garishly bright houses and chapels. I think the visuals fit the game perfectly as they are.
Gameplaywise, there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve, but the tutorials are sound and will get you through the basics. After that, it’s trial by error, and by error, I mean the senseless death of your villagers. I learnt a lot from my failures, about which more later. It might take some getting used to, but it’s not so complex that you’ll find yourself bewildered. At times, I find myself wishing I had more data, but I think I just need a Town Hall. It’s a town management game, but one without goals, so if you’re only happy when you’re completing missions, this isn’t the game for you. If you enjoy cultivating a garden, though, I think you’ll enjoy this. I find it relaxing to cultivate my village, slowly watching it grow from nothing into a bustling town. The lack of missions or set goals might be a bit disconcerting to players used to that structure, but I’m finding that survival alone is enough of a goal for me.
My first attempt was going well. My villagers had corn, peaches, and fish. We had houses set up. We had an herbalist and a gatherer out in the woods. Thinks were going really great right up until everyone died during a bad winter because no one had clothes or firewood. Now, I thought this should have resulted in a baby boom come autumn, but the game had other ideas, and the town of Kutna Hora become a frozen ghost town, destined to one day really creep out explorers.
My second attempt went much better, not least because I went for easy difficulty this time. I have a thriving village, we had more food than we knew what to do with, but unfortunately, I didn’t realize that, unlike in real life, in Banished, villagers won’t make whopee until they move out from their parents’ homes, so I had almost no population growth, while an entire generation of villagers died as virgins. I mean, come on, there’s an apple orchard right there! I guess they’re not into exhibitionism… It’s a shame, because things were going well, but I think I’ll need a new town to take advantage of this knowledge. At least they had enough firewood to avoid dying en masse every winter.
My third attempt, Providence, named for the settlement of Roger Williams, started off well. I built enough houses for population growth, I got a school set up for education, people had clothes and firewood, even if my woodcutter seemed a bit monomanical, single-handedly turning our entire lumber supply into firewood. We can’t build a tailor, but hell, we can just wear firewood. Now I’ve got a church and a tavern set up, so people are happy, and I’m pretty self-sufficient.
Not at all relevant, but one thing that does bug me a bit is the selection of crops. The presence of potatoes and maize imply a post-Columbian world, but the technology level feels more Medieval Europe to me. I suppose it could be Colonial New World, but there aren’t any guns or natives. That’s basically how I’m playing, anyway. It would be interesting to have a multiplayer mode where someone else has a village on the other side of town, and you can trade between each other. Anyways, I guess I just need to tell myself it’s just a game, and I should really just relax. It’s the same sort of dilemma I felt while watching Maoyuu Maou Yuusha. Once New World crops are introduced to a Medieval fantasy world, I start wondering where they came from. It’s a bit odd to think that potatoes are a more recent development in Europe than the printing press, and yet…
Overall, I recommend this game if you enjoy management games and you don’t mind a slower pace. It’s certainly fun, although time will tell whether I’ll still be enjoying it 40 hours from now. I think I will, though. Banished is an engaging, slow-paced strategy game where you send villagers to their icy deaths, and I’m liking it more than I thought.
If you’re interested, the game’s official site is here.