by Derk Bil
reviewed on PC
A cartload of supplies
Banished is a sandbox city builder, and it is a pretty simple game. It’s so simple, you can probably just check out some of the key bindings, skip the tutorial, and still know how to construct and work every building that the game allows you to erect. There are no skill trees, no research objectives, no money to worry about, no armies to raise and maintain for there are no enemies to fight. In fact, there is not even a campaign.
To get started, you generate a random map by adjusting a few simple parameters such as map size, terrain- and weather type. The next thing you know, you are in charge of a handful of unfortunate souls who have been banished, left to their own devices with little more than a cartload of supplies and whatever skills they possess. Your mission is to keep them safe, to make them thrive in their new home.
Winter is coming
Given the modest, but definite hype around Banished, it would be easy to dismiss the game wondering what all the fuss is about mere minutes after you start playing. It begins in the most mundane fashion possible, building some houses to put roofs over the heads of your bunch of outcasts and an orchard and crop field where you can grow beans to feed them. You would be forgiven for suppressing a yawn. A teenager joins the workforce, a couple celebrates the arrival of a new baby... And there are no enemies. How does this get exciting again?
But Banished's cleverness sneaks up on you like few games do. Not long after starting your first game, you will find out the hard way that 'simple' and 'easy' are two entirely different concepts. The game is simple to pick up, but it is never easy to keep your population in good health. You see, houses need firewood, lest the inhabitants will freeze and die during the cold winter months. Beans don’t grow in winter and it takes time to get them ready for harvest, and apple orchards take at least a year before they become even remotely useful.
Even if you do make it through your first winter, you will learn that living on apples and beans sounds okay for a camping trip over the weekend but that they provide poor sustenance having to live on them year in, year out. A monotonous diet like that is detrimental to the health of your peeps.
Makes us harder, better, faster, stronger
The focus on producing food in quantities while maintaining quality is just one part of the balancing act that is Banished. You need a healthy amount of tools in reserve, for which you need both iron and wood. Your tools - will - break, and they will break often. Your peons can survive without proper tools, but their productivity will plummet and you’ll be knee-deep in misery before you know it. Making steel tools rather than iron ones increases productivity and cuts down on breakdowns, but it also increases the complexity of the production line. In turn, this increases your ecosystem's vulnerability by adding a dependency on yet another resource to the equation.
Schools will allow children to get some education at age 11, and it will last until their 18th birthday. Eventually it will make them better workers, but for those seven years, they are removed as contributors and leech off society.
There is a happiness element as well, but it's not coming from theaters and parks, or even from a pay rise. Instead, it comes from allowing your people to mourn their dead on massive cemeteries, having them listen to sermons in churches where they are told that god is either a merciful or a wrathful god or that Chtulhu is coming. Okay, some of that is in your imagination - or mine - but the bottom line is that churches make people happy. And so does drowning one’s sorrow in alcohol, which can be made available through breweries.
Innovative, challenging gameplay with the feeling that there’s actually something at stake.
Minor stability issues