There’s something profoundly enjoyable about brutally difficult simulation games. Games like Dwarf fortress and Gnomoria are about as simple as open heart surgery, and yet something keeps players coming back despite the large number of catastrophic failures they inevitably experience. Somehow, there is something remarkably appealing about watching all you’ve built crumble to pieces as all of your dwarves (or gnomes) begin to go insane.
Nothing says "Fun" Like a Giantess Strangling a Rabbit to death...
Nothing quite matches the scale of brutality that Dwarf Fortress achieves, but if building a society that is only moments away from collapse at any given time is your thing, Banished is right up your alley. You are thrown into a virgin landscape with only a few families and a handful of resources, and expected to make a civilization. The game has a variety of sliders that effect the difficulty level, but no matter what, you’ll have a challenge on your hands. Here are five big reasons why Banished stands out from the survival/simulation crowd.
When you first load into a new world in Banished, you are met with a huge map that’s covered in forests, rivers, and mountains. It looks like a paradise, with resources as far as the eye can see.
Yep. That’s a lot of trees.
Unlike other games like Dwarf fortress, Banished even provides you with an easy, renewable means of acquiring these resources! You can selectively cut trees and plant new ones automatically, right from the beginning, and you can create quarries and mines to keep the iron and stone rolling for a long time.
So how is this cruel? Well, because you won’t do it. Not on the first play-through. You see, each tree or rock you gather in Banished only contributes a small amount of their resource to the stockpile, and so you need to clear a deceptively large area of land to get what you need. Add to this that each building outside of basic houses actually costs a fairly large amount of resources, and you have an exponential problem on your hands. The plentiful resources all around you will lull you into a false sense of security, and then, by the time you realize that your rate of consumption is getting out of hand, you’ll be too resource-starved to set up the infrastructure you need to get a sustainable economy in place. And then everyone will freeze to death because you run out of firewood. Understanding the value of renewable resources is something that comes with experience.
… Who is actually a conniving, sadistic demon-creature from the depths of Hell. Just a heads up.
In my first town, I did the thing I mentioned in point 5: I ran out of wood very, very fast. Every winter, my people would get closer and closer to freezing to death. In my final, desperate moments, I thought to myself: “Of course! I’ll build a trading post! I have lots of stone; I’ll just trade it for wood, and everything will be great!” So, I built a trading post, and in a year or so, the first trader came. And he brought with him a single wheat seed.
Yes. One (1) wheat seed.
Now, it turns out that in Banished, that’s enough to create a whole wheat field. But it also had a value of 2500. For perspective, a stone is 7. And I already had wheat; it was the one type of seed I could grow already.
My people froze to death that winter, and I learned a valuable lesson: The trader, while useful in concept, and sometimes even in practice, will never be able to save your settlement from an early demise, and if you depend on it to bring you what you need, you will be a sad, sad city planner with a lot of corpses on your conscience.
#3 The Weather
Banished has an active weather system, and it’s great. There’s something special about seeing all of the smoke coming out of chimneys in town during a nice light snowfall, or even rainfall; the developer really hit home with the ambiance.
Look at how freaking quaint that is. Doesn’t that just make you want to live in a medieval village?
As one might expect, however, the weather in Banished can also be very, very cruel. There can be dry summers where your crops don’t grow, and harsh winters which are much colder than usual and keep your people indoors, not doing any work. Almost inevitably, a large part of your food is going to come from agriculture, and that means that the fate of your village is hinging on the harvest. This is realistic, sure, but it can also be devastating. One dry summer, a late planting, or an early winter, and your people might just starve.
And I haven’t even mentioned the tornadoes.
Just like the weather, time is a factor in the game that enhances both the realism and also likelihood of death. In Banished, the seasons really and truly matter. If you aren’t chopping firewood in the autumn, you will have only yourself to blame when winter hits and your people freeze. Moreover, if you end up leaving all of your gathering tasks for the spring, all of your farmers will pitch in, miss the planting season, and have nothing to harvest in autumn. And then all of your people will starve. If you build a bunch of new houses to expand the population and fail to realize that the children that are born won’t do anything but leech off of your economy for 10 years, your village’s resources will be unduly strained and your people will die. See a pattern developing? In Banished, planning is absolutely key, and you have to think with the seasons.
If you’ve noticed a certain theme within this review so far, it’s because that theme also happens to be one of the game’s best features. There are a lot of ways your citizens can die in Banished, but almost all of them stem directly from the player’s negligence.
“Here lies Edgar, who died from blood loss after gnawing his own fingers off to escape starvation in the winter of year 32… because SOMEBODY forgot to assign farmers to the fields.”
Death is a part of Banished from the very first. People can die of old age, in a dangerous workplace, or even during childbirth. However, the most successful settlements within Banished are those that not only avoid any kind of extraneous and preventable death, but also anticipate the inevitable death that will occur over time naturally. Just like the time or the weather, death is a part of the game that will happen, and can be planned for to an extent, but unlike time or the weather, the player can (and will) directly influence the death mechanic to make it worse on themselves. This turns into a very fun experience for those who enjoy survival games: you have to think out all the possibilities, account for the age of your citizens, and prepare as far in advance as you can for the inevitable disasters that await. This means that after a few play-throughs, once you’ve started to get a handle on how the systems work, you will be rewarded with a stable settlement that can weather any storm with relative ease. Before that, though, there will be a lot of death.
But, happily enough, it turns out that with Banished, a lot of death can be fun too. In fact, it can be almost as much fun as surviving. So, if you’re in the market for a survival/simulation game, give Banished a try. I’ve had a lot of fun with the game, and I’m sure that you will too!
Also death. You’ll have a lot of death.