Full disclosure, I typically loath doing game reviews. Testing hardware typically can be done along side of me working on something else, for example, I can test the comfort of a headset while benchmarking a video card, while also writing when tests are running. Games on the other hand require days and sometimes weeks of gameplay for testing. I know some of you might think I’m crazy, because playing games and getting to call it work sounds amazing. But when we have to publish multiple articles a week, it’s just impossible. That being said, a new game called Banished launched just a few days ago and has so far had been extremely popular on steam (it is as I write this the top selling game over a half priced Call of Duty: Ghosts and a whole bunch of games that are 75% off from Ubisoft) and Reddit. I have been playing it non-stop and many of you hit me up on Facebook and on steam asking for my thoughts on the game. Why not put it all together for everyone to see!
Developed by: Shining Rock Software
Review Sample Provided by: Wes
Genre: City Builder / Simulation / Strategy
Release Date: February 18th, 2014
Written by: Wes
Screenshots by: Wes
Typically in our game reviews we would go into the story line of the game. However, with Banished, the only back story you know going into the game is that you are controlling a group of exiled travelers who are restarting their lives in a new land. They start with the clothes on their backs and a cart filled with supplies from their homeland. The homeland and the rest of their history is completely unknown. Normally I would say that this is a really weak story line. But let’s be honest, this is actually more of a story line than you get from most city builder / simulation games. I do think that a short video or audio story similar to what you give in Civilization 5 would do Banished a lot of good, but most people who play this genre aren’t looking for a heavy story line in the first place. I know for me, I tend to come up with my own story as I go, especially when things start to go sour.
Really the most interesting story that came from Banished is the blog from the developer himself as he went through the games development. Yes, that is correct only one person made Banished, over a period of three years. I can only imagine how much stress the developer is going through now that the game is launched and has been successful.
Those of you who have played games like SimCity, Anno 2070, and the Tropico series should be right at home with Banished gameplay, but even so expect to give things a go a few times before you really get the hang of things. To get a feel for the game they have provided four tutorials for you to run through, this will help you with the controls, how to assign workers to jobs, what buildings you should use, how to product food, and how to trade. Like a typical male, I didn’t need any instructions, so my first time in I didn’t run through the tutorials. Truth be told, I didn’t even see them. It must have been my excitement to jump into a game.
When getting started you have a few difficulty settings available to you in the configuration page. First you want to name your city and along with that you will be given a random map seed. This random number will dictate the map that you use, so you can actually share map seed numbers with others to get a good location or to see who can perform better in the same conditions. You can select the terrain type (valleys or mountains) and select a map size as well. You also have options for turning disasters on or off, setting the map climate, and your starting conditions (aka what kind of supplies you start with). On all of my games, I went with the following.
You start with a barn filled with a few of the supplies you will need to get started as well as a small group of people. Unlike many city builder games, Banished doesn’t have any progression or requirements you will need to meet before you can build a building. You are only limited by the resources and time required to build the buildings. It is entirely up to you on what to build, where to build it, and even if you would like to use roads at all. Part of what sets the game apart to me is unlike the games I mentioned earlier you aren’t building your city to reach the largest city size or to put the most money in your off shore bank account, in Banished you really are fighting for your lives. Your citizens aren’t going to leave and go to the next city, if you don’t do things correctly you will see them starve or freeze.
Banished is actually very similar to a Roguelike game due to its randomization, high sensitivity to mistakes, and permanent death. Even on the easiest of game settings, you will most likely run into an issue at some point that will completely kill off your entire population. A few people in the LanOC TeamSpeak and on my Twitch stream had the chance to watch and listen as my first city caught fire and the fire spread through my houses to my storage barns are marketplaces. Even though I had some supplies left, I watched as each of my settlers died from starvation and freezing to death because they couldn’t get to the supplies left in my trading post. All of my workers attempted to rebuild but died while trying. In another attempt I ran a little low on food and a few of my Foresters died, this had a cascading effect as the people who had food died from being cold because their weren’t enough logs to turn into firewood. In my third attempt, I had a similar snowball happen but I managed to stop it with just two people left. From those two people I proudly rebuilt my incest settlement back to a strong village only to run into a bug when I accidentally told them to gather rocks from the other side of a river. I watched painfully as each of my settlers made the walk ALL the way around the map while I tried repeatedly to use the Cancel Removal tool. Because they were gone for so long, they didn’t get their jobs done as well. So we once again ran out of food and firewood.
As unforgiving the game can be, this is also what makes it so rewarding when you do figure things out and do manage to grow. Balancing your growth to prevent damaging spikes of supply usage is important and more and more difficult as you get later into a game and start to have to deal with deaths from old age and other (sometimes comical) deaths. Unlike SimCity, Banished has a more realistic population system. When you build a house two of the kids or young adults from around your settlement will move in. As the head of the household they will have a few kids and fill up their house. Those kids will require food and supplies, but until they are old enough you can’t give them a job to do. As you can imagine, if you build a bunch of houses you might feel like you are good on food but soon you have a lot of mouths to feed and you won’t have any way to increase production for 10 years (or more if you have schools). Although the overall game seems really simple when compared to other games with countless building types, it requires a lot of careful planning to balance out your settlements production to keep everyone happy.
To throw a wrench into everything you also have to worry about disasters like the fire mentioned previously, tornadoes, various diseases and parasites that can bring your happy settlement to a halt.
For all of the time in the previous section about the learning curve for banished, you might be a little surprised to find out that the controls for the game are actually really easy to pick up, especially if you have played any of the other city builders. Your camera controls can be controlled completely with your mouse or with the keyboard. You can move around using WASD or by moving your mouse to the edges of the screen. Clicking the scroll wheel down and moving your mouse left or right allows you to turn the camera to get a different angle to see around trees or buildings, you can do the same on your keyboard with Q and E as well. Scrolling in with the scroll wheel will zoom you in, pressing insert and delete on your keyboard will do the same thing.
While in game most of what you will do you will find in the menu system down in the bottom right. They have set the F keys to open up each menu if you prefer keyboard shortcuts and then once you have a specific menu open you can select the items using the number keys. Personally I prefer to stick with the mouse when navigating the menu. Each option has an easy to understand icon to make them easy to find and if you have any questions mousing over the buttons will give you more details.
The tools and reports section will help you find out more about your game. You can open up a few reports that show vital information like the event log and the general information box. I would highly recommend moving those and the professions boxes to someplace on your screen and keeping them open all of the time. Without them it is hard to know what it going on at any point in time. I would prefer that they start out open from the beginning, but I do love that you can adjust and configure the UI to what works best for you. If you want you can even open up information boxes on settlers or buildings and pin them to your screen as well to keep a closer eye on things.
Graphics and Audio
When going into an Indie game you aren’t really expecting big production quality, especially when it comes to graphics. You can also typically expect it to be a little rough around the edges. I’m not going to come in here and say that Banished is Titanfall, because it’s not even close. The overall experience is similar to Tropico. Things look good, but there isn’t anything that is going to catch your eye and really make you Ooh or Aah. But for an indie game Banished looks good, really good. All of the buildings look different throughout the year depending on the weather and sunlight. There is still room for improvement. For example, I think a little more detail on the mountains would really make the overall map pop.
The audio in Banished isn’t spectacular in any way but it does its job perfectly without being to annoying. That may sound a little cynical, but city builders aren’t exactly known for their audio. Typically you get background music that if you are lucky you don’t immediately want to pull your ears off when listening to it. Banished’s background music wasn’t distracting in any way. They did a good job of tying the audio with your camera location as well, as you move around the map you will hear sounds more as you get closer to them. This, along with sounds that change when workers run out of supplies, help draw you in slightly.
Overall and Final Verdict
After reading my gameplay section you might feel like you would have to hate yourself to put yourself through all of the frustrations of your settlement failing like I did. That might be a little true, but I haven’t played a game in years that has pulled me in like Banished has. The combination of strategy, risk, and reward keep me glued to my game planning out my next project and slowly chipping away at the achievements that are built right into steam. Even when things go badly and I have to start over I can’t wait to jump back in and give it another try.
I’m unsure what kind of life I will end up getting out of the game over an extended period of time, but even just a few days after launch I have no doubts that I have already gotten my money’s worth out of the game. Other than the few bugs I ran into. My biggest complaint about the game is the lack of multiplayer. It’s not that it NEEDS multiplayer, but having the chance to share the experience with others would bring an additional dynamic to the game. I would also like to see the games end or at least ask you if you want it to end once your last people die off. There are a few launch day bugs, I ran into an issue with my main map that causes a crash when auto saving. I hope that the developer will be able to work out the issues that come up, but even so I have had a lot fewer issues than I had with the new SimCity for example.
Banished isn’t for everyone though. You really need to have an interest in city builders and strategy games. If you don’t I doubt you are going to enjoy the game to much. It also isn’t the type of game that you can jump in and play for a little while and then stop. Once you get going, much like a good game of Civ 5, you might look up to find that it’s not even the same day or even week as when you started. When I started playing Banished it was launch day and now look it is three days later and I have 43 hours on record, you do the math.