Tom Hooper aka Atomp
I’ve been following Banished for a while as it seemed as if it may scratch a particular city-building itch I have. I have fond memories of creating enormous monstrous economies within the likes of Age of Empires 2. Such games would often evolve into kettling the AI with small, highly efficient AI-busting armies (30 fully upgraded longbowman in a square formation around 10 monks) and then spending the other 80% of the population cap on workers, attempting to strip every resource from the map until all that remained was trade and massively over-priced resource purchases. Banished is not like this, and to be fair I knew it wouldn’t be but the setting and survival purity of it was convincing enough for me to follow its development. Banished is a medieval era city-builder that is in the same ballpark as Anno however with no combat whatsoever, the economic simulation is limited to a barter economy and there is no tech tree. In this sense Banished borrows from a couple of different genres as the city-building isn’t so different from the likes of Anno however the focus of the game is far more on survival and primitive economics like Dwarf Fortress. That said the game can be pretty unforgiving and had I not spent the week before launch watch Quill18 play and experiment in the game I’d be having a much harder time with it, so as a preliminary recommendation I would suggest that if this review or the game interests you then you should watch Quill18’s Banished series on Youtube as it will give you a really good idea of what the game is like and some of the basics.
First of all I’d like to emphasize that there are some interesting little quirks to the Banished resource management system, the displays available to you are actually the numbers of stockpiled materials; wood, food, firewood and the like. This is important as because of this those numbers are not an accurate descriptor of the actual amount of these resources in circulation. Residents will not take resources directly from the stockpile for their own needs, instead members of the household will take resources for the house in bulk. This means that even if the stockpile is empty there are likely resources in circulation stored in the house inventories or individual citizen inventories. With this understood the massive drops in resources that can happen make a great deal more sense and planning can be changed accordingly. Another key point that I’d like to make in order to ease you into Banished if you decide to try it is that the number of houses you have does not necessarily determine population, but instead the rate of population growth and for this reason they should be built very sparingly and with a great deal of planning. Due to the birth-death cycle a village with a constant number of dwellings will still grow in population and normally at a comfortable and manageable rate, the best indicator os which is normally the ratio of producers to dependants. The major killer of Banished villages tends to be overly rapid growth, as such excessive growth tends to produce a large dependant population which must be fed, heated and clothed whilst not contributing back. This is just the way with Banished, some might say that its brutal difficulty and unforgiving nature punish experimentation and on a single-game basis that may be correct. However the survival element of Banished means that failing is just a part of the game and having a village collapse due to a mistake is a lesson in what not to do rather than some fault in game design.
The lack of a tech tree is an interesting element of the game, most similar games will lock out certain buildings or resources with such a mechanic, ensuring that the player cannot suddenly build advanced building off the bat but must progress. Banished does things differently, deciding instead to give the player access to all of the available buildings off the bat, flattening any vertical technology progression completely. These timing and placement of these buildings are instead generally determined by need and resources. For example my current village is a slowly growing 60 population ~5:1 producer-dependant ratio settlement with a stable food industry and I am only now considering a school house. I just haven’t seen a need up to now and would rather keep maintain stable resource production over education, however now with a food industry increasingly based upon worker-to-production efficient food sources such as cattle there is a labour excess to be put to education. These are the kinds of decisions that must be made and thanks to random seed maps, variable climates and seasons and the occasional natural disaster no single strategy is going to work flawlessly in every scenario.
Aesthetically the game is clean and attractive with nice models and textures supplemented by a selection of interesting effects that use up to date graphics technologies. These aren’t graphics that are going to blow your mind but they are both functional and attractive, which is an accomplishment for a one person development team. Personally I like the appearance of the game, there’s no pretense to it, it’s just clear and to the point. The interface design is equally so, once again I’d recommend a youtube session in order to fully grasp the GUI as it can be a little confusing but overall the design is fantastic. Only one element of the UI is actually compulsory with the rest of the interface being optional windows which can be moved around the screen, allowing for a user-defined user interface which is something I’ve missed since Morrowind. The game is not afraid to throw numbers at you which is a real relief after the likes of Simcity and others where as many numbers as possible were hidden away behind vague graphical displays. In short this is an interface that is not as difficult and arbitrary as Dwarf Fortress yet still abandons the Simcity/Early Learning Centre/Apple design tenets of treating the user like a behind-the-curve 5 year old. The sound design is fantastic, giving a real feeling of being there with high quality snippets of a medieval soundscape. The music is well composed and appropriate, although it does become repetitive after a while and once BT fix my dead landline I fully intend to play the game with the Age of Empires 2 background soundtrack.
In short Banished is a great game whilst it may not be to everyone’s taste it is certainly worth at least checking out in a Youtube video or two. The game is a fantastic achievement of development by the lone developer and he should be awarded huge praise for creating something this polished. Currently the game is Windows only however the developer has said that his priorities post-release are a mod-kit and Mac and Linux ports. In terms of resource use, it has an amazingly small hard drive footprint, think 200MB small. Other than that it’s going to scale very nicely both up and down, with the base requirements being quite lenient and the availability of a 64bit build for higher specs. As usual I would recommend getting Banished through the Humble Widget on the game’s website. This way you get access to DRM-free builds (both 32 and 64bit) as well as a Steam key, all for the reasonable price of $19.99 (approx £11.99). On the other hand purchasing on Steam will put you back a tidy £14.99 (approx $25.00) and not provide the additional functionality, and probably give the developer a smaller cut if rumours are to be believed.
Quill18’s Banished Youtube Playlist:
Buy Banished on the homepage:
Banished on Steam: