Life is Feudal: Forest Village Review

For most folks, life involves a certain amount of unwelcome drudgery and tedium. Throughout human history, the great majority of technologies have aimed at freeing us from difficult, boring, and dangerous tasks and allow us more leisure time -- so that we can play, for example, games that simulate entire villages full of people doing boring, difficult, repetitive and dangerous tasks.

Life is Feudal took the first-person survival/building genre back in time to the Middle Ages. Life is Feudal: Forest Village, in contrast, is a city builder/economic management sim that explores the same historic period from a God's-eye view. The goal is to grow a small collection of thatched roof huts and a few able peasants into an imposing, thriving and defensible castle and medieval city. Full disclosure: I haven't made it that far... Yet.

Anyone's who has dabbled in a city builder, especially the very similar Banished, can probably anticipate Forest Village's basic game play loops: collect resources, assign workers, construct an ever-growing collection of structures, and hold out long enough for the survival tipping point to be reached, where the population and economy is strong enough to weather a particularly harsh winter, for example. Forest Village goes out of its way to make the early months and years a real challenge, throwing adversaries at the poor villagers from a wide range of directions. Weather ruins crops, wild animals kill and eat livestock, women suffer miscarriages and the population can't keep up with survival and growth. And, of course, the villagers themselves need quite a bit of micromanagement. City builders need to find a balance between workers being super autonomous and self-directed or slothful idiots, and Forest Village's town folk rest somewhere in between. They need lots of direction, but work pretty efficiently once given a task and they can be helped along by dropping into first-person mode.

Forest Village is not an easy game. Even after playing the tutorials, there are many systems and tasks that are not well explained and the interface is opaque, so expect a lot of trial-and-error exploration and repeated restarts. There are seemingly endless numbers of variables that can impact the village's success, from worker morale to disease and famine, from fertility to the population of wild animals and their proximity to the town and pastures. Happily, there is growing community around the game and a good collection of Steam Workshop mods and add-ons that make game easier and life for the population less challenging. 

Played on a capable PC with a high-end graphics card, Forest Village looks beautiful and runs pretty well but it certainly isn't without some visual and AI jankiness. Villagers can't always find their way around objects, crops mysteriously disappear from storehouses and crashes are not uncommon. Played in first-person mode, one's fellow villagers are aren't exactly brimming with personality or expression and can seem like mindless automatons going about their tasks. It would be great to decide the starting location on a given map, and while the terraforming tool has improved over time, building placement is still pretty fiddly. It would definitely be great to have a map editor (though several are in the works from modders). 

With its leisurely pace and relative lack of scripted drama, Life is Feudal: Forest Village is a pleasantly relaxing way of getting involved in the minutiae of everyday medieval life, but don't expect to immediately understand or master its systems. It can feel a little directionless at times and is definitely geared towards detail-oriented players who enjoy the challenges of both moment-to-moment micromanagement and long-term planning. Forest Village has itself continued to evolve from early access to full release and it will be interesting to see how the mod community adds content and shapes the game.