Banished is city-building strategy game brought to you by Shining Rock Software, a single manned indie developer who has put three years of love into this game. You are tasked with controlling a group of exiled travellers who decide to restart their lives in a new land. They have only the clothes on their backs and a cart filled with supplies from their homeland. It is your job as their overseer to help them survive the harsh winters, cope for starvation and ultimately build their new civilisation.
You are dropped into a seed generated landscape with a set amount of workers and no objectives except for survival. You will learn about the various buildings and resources as you play through the tutorial and then be sent along your merry way to create your very own settlement. Controls and UI are simple and easy to understand with all HUD menus having the ability to be switched off and moved. With this feature in place it allows you to customise what you can keep an eye on.
The charm of the game doesn’t come from its difficulty curve or from struggling to find out what the heck you are supposed to do but more from the rhythm of play that you create. The game uses seasons to progress time and as you move through them different things will happen to the landscape, yielding more or less resources. It’s a nice change to see a city-builder rely more on the consequences of your actions rather than implied difficulty. It’s the natural flow of the game that can send someone into a civilisation type trance by way of “Just 1 more season and then bed” before realising that 1 season has turned into 7.
Another great thing about Banished is the amount of love that has been put into each or your workers. Unlike games like SimCity who have thousands of mindless drones, the Banished city inhabitants have a story you can follow and shape through your actions. You build a house and two of your labourers will move in together, pick up jobs and eventually have a child which can then grow up and become a student. Each of these people will have a status window to get their health, happiness and other information like whether or not they were educated in a school. With each season representing a year of your citizens life they can live a very long time. This means there is no retirement for your 82 year old stonecutter until the eventual grasp of death takes them.
Death plays a big part in Banished and can be very brutal at times if you are not careful. If you expand too quickly, there is no option to ration food and if you’re not careful your village will starve and die. This can also be the same for not having enough leather coats/firewood to keep everyone warm as without warmth you citizens will freeze and die. The success or failure of a town depends on the appropriate management of these risks and resources. Without your careful planning failure can be a very real concept, forcing you start anew and lose all your progress. While your resources can be managed for starvation and warmth, you are not so lucky in other areas.
Natural disasters can happen at any time and can be absolutely devastating to your settlement. I have had a tornado touch down and wipe out 90% of my town before going on its merry way. Fires, floods, infestations and sickness can also be a natural occurrence and while the latter can be dealt with there is always a falling rock around the corner waiting to crush one of your poor miners. But it’s not all bad news when it comes to random events.
When you finally get around to building a town hall for your workers you will have the ability to take on “Nomads” or passing packs of travellers who have been exiled by their own settlements. This can be a big improvement for your civilisation by way of adding workers to your structures but you must be ready for the influx of people as it will take more resources to keep your city afloat. With a town hall built you can also see how much of each resource you are producing each year and how much of that was used/eaten by your current citizens. This allows you to make an informed decision about your towns survival.
While you are able to make these decisions sometimes your citizens will be more of a detriment than an asset at times. Since you are playing more of an observer role than a actual controller, you more or less put idea’s into peoples heads to either build a school or place a stone path but you can’t exactly control their movements or how they go about doing this. There isn’t an easy way to assign educated adults to focus on a particular task so that their work will be more efficient. This can also be said about who to assign housing to. Since people stop breeding at about age 45 they will live the rest of their life in a house with their spouse until one of them dies and then they will live by themselves. This will then cause a drain on resources as there is no retirement home to send old nan the stonecutter to.
This then leads to a general lack of control when it comes to resources as well. You can’t choose where your mine’s resources will end up and in some cases it means that they can be transported to the other side of your town before coming back to the house that you built right next to your mine. Having this lack of control can also break a city. Later in the game you will have access to mine coal which is useful for tool making. While this the case it is also useful to keep citizens warm which usually means they will take it all for themselves leaving nothing to craft with even if there is ample firewood to use.
Currently being a single player experience can be tough when you are faced with an extremely harsh winter. It would be nice to possibly have a co-op PvE experience so that you would have a friend or two building their own town near you so you could help each other with resources. This isn’t a detriment to the game by any means and to counteract this the developer has said that they will be shortly releasing the mod tools for the game. This is an amazing thing to have released for a city builder. It will mean that fans of the game can transform and add their own features to enhance the game the way they want to.
In my opinion this is how an indie game should be made and released. This entire great experience has been created by one guy who spent 3 years of his life on before releasing it for the world to enjoy. No Kickstarter project and no Steam early access and it really shows the amount of love that’s been put into it. While its AI bugs and lack of control can be frustrating, Banished is definitely a game that will stick with me as one of the best city building games to date.
Banished is currently available for Windows PC.