Indie-ana Jones Reviews Banished
At first Banished looks like just another city builder. It’s like Sim City with elements of Civilization but much more involved. You play as a group of exiles restarting life in a new and possibly dangerous land. As the scene opens and you see your people milling around you immediately have to start building. You have a supply cart but that will go fast, so before it disappears you need to build storage areas and shelter. As soon as shelter is completed you better get a woodcutter so your people have fuel to cook and keep warm.
I thought that Banished would be like a lot of other strategic city builders, after a short period of time it would basically run itself. Typically this is when I get bored and stop playing and regret my purchase. I was so very wrong about Banished. At first you may feel that everything is going great then all of the sudden people start dying (mostly of old age or getting lost in the woods). So you go from everything being pretty hunky dory to holy hell in an instant.
This is where the level of micro management goes through the roof. Soon you go from having around 10 citizens to just a few. Now you have to manage every aspect of what they do. For a little bit you may need one person to cut wood for the coming winter and a few seconds later move him to harvest the crops. The others must be moved from fishing to hunting to gathering. While doing that you have to find someone who can build more shelter that will hopefully spur the birth of babies that will soon grow to be useful citizens. I have played Banished quite a bit and I still have to bounce people all over the place.
Death and birth are the most painstaking things, you have to hope that you have enough kids that survive to replace the dying ones. It is awful because the kids always get lost in the woods and there is no way to get them back. Most of the time they do it in winter so they freeze to death before you even notice they are out there. Sometimes adults die for the same reason they get lost and it is infuriating especially when they are a hunter or gatherer working on keeping your people alive. To add to the birth and death issue is that even if you get two young people in a house together it is not a guarantee that they will create a child. This is just an annoying oversight and is one of a couple of gripes I have with Banished. You can never replace as many as you lose typically, unless you get super lucky.
Farming is the way to go, if you want to survive winter immediately plant crops and orchards. You do not have to work them too much and they will provide the best food supply. The depth in this aspect is amazing and frustrating. You can plant orchards and the trees take time to mature before you can harvest (usually about 5 years). Then as you harvest them over time they produce less and less fruit/nuts and you eventually have to cut them down and replant. It is just a smart detail that I would not have thought of if I was creating a game like Banished. Ranchers are also an important part of your world and if you plan to survive comfortably they are a must. In all of my cities so far the only way to get livestock for your rancher is by trading for them, which costs a bloody fortune even for chickens! When you do get livestock though you can set a limit of how many animals should be in your herd and if you go over the extras are butchered. If you want a bigger herd then you just up the number and it will allow them to breed more. If you build a second pasture you can move all or half of your herd to the new one. It’s better to split your herd because then you soon have double the amount of animals and in turn more food.
The graphics are great, they make the environments feel real and interesting. Your playing and building in a medieval era. Each map you work on has different terrain and resources so make sure you pay attention to that. If you are on a map with little coal or stone you better get on building either a mine or a quarry to supplement your lack of resource. The detail is great though and it makes the game beautiful.
What makes the game especially engaging is the season cycles and how beautifully horrible winter is. This is a time that you really have to be the shepherd of your flock. It is cold and your people constantly freeze even if they have enough wood and food. That is what will drive you nuts, people dying for no good reason. Many a time I have had people freeze in their house when they have 250 wood stored up for burning and 400 pumpkins to eat. This is the second gripe I have and it is not a small one because it adds to the first gripe that you can never replace as many as you lose.
Controlling the people and managing supplies, tools, clothes and everything else a person needs is difficult. The menus are difficult to get used to even with the tutorials. To move workers around you have to open up a menu that looks like a bunch of shovels and get stats, you have to choose a button that has 3 bars across it. There are a ton of buttons with a ton more sub buttons that you just kind of have to search through and slowly get the hang of it. On the same subject is how time moves. It is just atrocious, most of the time you have to be on 10 speed otherwise nothing ever seems to get done and even at 10X it seems like normal speed and it’s the fastest you can make it go. So you pause the game in early spring and shift a bunch of people to farmers then hit 10X until it is Autumn , then pause again and move people to fishing and hunting or herdsmen then 10X again until early spring. That is pretty much the game for me because if you play it at 1X it is basically real time and it will drive you mad.
Banished is an engaging game, don’t get me wrong and it does a better job of keeping you going than Sim City or Space Base DF-9, but like them it is just going from pause to as fast as you can go until something is finished. That really makes a game less fun and more chore in my eyes. When there is basically nothing to do but hurry up and wait it just seems sort of bland. Banished does have a realism that is not seen in most of these strategic city building games though. Sound effects and music are good and do not get in the way of the game. I was able to listen to both without issue and they added more atmosphere to an already real feeling environment. The graphics are great and make you feel like you are surviving in a medieval wilderness, dangers abound. If you like city builder type of games I would say this is a must but for those who are not I wouldn’t say pass but I suggest waiting for a sale. It is currently $20 but Steam is always running a sale so keep an eye out.