It’s late winter and the village is barely clinging to life. Food stocks are low, firewood is low and we are running extremely low on coats. The year had started off well for my settlement, but things soon took a turn for the worst when a devastating harvest crippled us. It may be too late to turn this around, villagers are dying of starvation and the little food we do bring in is gone before it has even entered our stock. Banished is a game of one step forward, two steps back.
There is hope however. A herd of deer have wandered within range of my hunting post. They are now right outside it, we are saved! Come on, all my villager has to do is just kill the deer and we get fed. Stop standing around, they are right in front of you! Do something goddam it! Before long the herd of deer wonder out of the radius of the hunting post and my village finally dies out. I was so close, yet so far.
Banished is an unforgiving game. It’s a city-builder in the truest sense of the word. You build a city/town/village, depending on how big you manage to grow and your job is to keep your settlement ticking over. There are no monsters to battle or armies to control. You build and you survive. Have we had a survival city-builder before? Well I’d say Banished is pretty close to that description. It’s about surviving the here and now rather than planning what grand buildings your settlement will have further down the line.
You begin the game with a small group of villagers, a storage barn and a warehouse. There are options before you begin to change the difficulty. It’s a nice touch. Easy will give you pre-built houses, more seeds, villagers and some livestock to help you out. But don’t be fooled. Easy is anything but. Normal will still give you a nice supply of seeds etc and some villagers. Hard however will leave you feeling as if you have been well and truly banished. This is bare-bones. You have very little. But would you have it any other way?
After jumping into your procedurally generated map and cycling through the options you have to build, it initially comes across as a bit bare bones. There is no real variety in the buildings, with only two types of houses available, wood and stone and they all look the same. Variety isn’t Banished’s strength. However what makes Banished, well Banished, is its difficulty. The challenge to even grow to 20 villagers and sustain it is so great that it makes up for a lack of variety when it comes to building. You learn a little bit more about how to succeed each time you fail. You will fail. You will put a lot of time into a village just to have it stripped away from underneath you. You will keep coming back however in an attempt to conquer the game.
The problem is it doesn’t always feel as though it’s in your hands. Like my first example, I could see a way out, a way to survive that harsh winter. Except I had no physical control over what my hunter did. I can’t help but feel it is an issue with the AI though rather than a clever game mechanic which would set certain villagers out to bring you down. In all seriousness, they would be a logical explanation for what happened. A lot of factors come into play and everything has an affect on each other.
It sounds pretty game-breaking right? At times I guess it can be, it destroys all your work. However you learn how to work around it and ways to be more efficient. Fields are the way to go. Having tried to juggle gathering resources, food and filling my village with buildings, it always seemed to end in the same result. I made bad choices, but I was learning. Then I had the grand idea of constructing a field, planting some seeds and setting a farmer out to work. This has by far been the most efficient method of gathering food. Simply because the radius of a Gatherer’s hut or Hunting post seems too short and all resources within it are gone before you know it. You either build another one further away to increase your radius or your villagers die out one by one. Add to that the issues with the AI not always doing their job and it can get frustrating.
So far all I have really talked about is food. Food makes or breaks you. Most the time it breaks you. The appetite of your villagers is, well, just extraordinary. They eat, eat and eat. And eat. What’s worse is that children seem to eat even more. While they may eat all your food and chip away at your stockpile which you have spent the last hour stressing over to get it to a steady level, children help to move resources from the storage barn to their homes, allowing their parents to get on with their work. Of course when they turn into an adult you can then assign them a job. But by then you may have already run out of food and its too late.
On top of that, each house can only accommodate one pair of breeding adults. If they have no children, they will have children. Children who grow up into adults will stay at the home however if there isn’t a spare house available. Lot’s of them. They hoard food too. One house may be starving, and their next door neighbors have somehow acquired nearly our whole food stock in their house while everyone else is withering away. So that is where my food has been going? It’s a tremendous balancing act.
Believe it or not, food is not your only concern. You need firewood to warm the houses in the winter. If not they may freeze to death. You also need coats to keep your villagers warm as they work, otherwise they may once again freeze to death. You need tools in order to gather, hunt, chop and mine. No tools means work will still get done, but at a much slower pace . To get tools, you need a blacksmith who will craft. He in turn needs the correct resources. Every action in Banished has a consequence.
However despite its difficulties and AI that at times will make you want to tear your hair out, Banished is a game that can be extremely fulfilling if you manage to make progress. If the game had SimCity’s level of difficulty, it would have lost its appeal within the first few hours. It would have been too easy and before long you have seen and done everything and Banished would just sit in your Steam library collecting virtual dust. While it may not be packed with features, variety of buildings and other gameplay elements featured in other city-builders, Banished does indeed require a lot of micro-management. You will rarely find yourself without clicking on menu’s and buildings to see what you are lacking, reassigning workers, setting your villagers instructions. I’m not going to lie. It’s intense.
The UI leaves a lot to be desired. While the menus come across as clean and sharp, you aren’t provided with the information you require straight up. Instead you need to go looking for them. The event log and information regarding your village must be selected in order to display the data on your screen. You will find it under the cog symbol on the bottom left, along with another option to show a list of professions from which you can then easily assign works to. However the stats panel regarding your village doesn’t provide helpful information. Sure it tells you how much food you have, how much firewood, tools and coats. It also tells you your population, how many are adults and how many are children. It’s all well and good, except the numbers aren’t meaningful. Build an additional house and a few kids are born, and your food will diminish at a rate which logically is too fast. More information would have been appreciated and the effects each building would have on your settlement. It would make planning less stressful.
Banished is by no means a bad game. It’s incredibly difficult and will certainly have a group of gamers who will relish the difficulty. Despite my frustration with it, I found myself coming back for more. There are many areas in which it could be improved in and may not be quite the game many had originally hoped for it to be. It’s a game you need time to both learn and play. You will fail, you will start over several times before you make any meaningful progress. If that appeals to you then Banished will be a game you will enjoy. If on the other hand you want to be able to experiment and build a fabulous city, you will be disappointed by what Banished has to offer in that regard. Your focus it so survive as long as possible rather than trying to build every building on offer and creating a masterpiece.
Banished is a constant uphill battle. You will either keep climbing a little bit further after each fall, or not at all. It is addicting, it is challenging, it will have you smiling and will have you tearing your hair out. This is Banished.