“You wake up in your wooden shack, the air biting your skin with its sharp fangs of cold. It’s the middle of the winter, and you are the town’s woodcutter. You provide one very important tool to living in these cold desolate months: chopping piles of firewood. You have a responsibility to keep the fires going of all of the families in this town, including your own. The McGinnis family had just given birth to a child last night, named him Terry. He needs to keep warm. You can only hope their family will have enough firewood to last the season, and you pray that your daughter’s hypothermia will pass. You start chopping, hoping the cold doesn’t take you with it.“
The previous short story was written to illustrate how every job had its purpose back when towns and their citizens had nothing but the wood of nearby trees and the stone under their feet. Survival was the only objective in these times, living one day to secure enough resources to survive the next. Banished is a city builder game with this focus in mind.
Developed over the course of 3 years by the one man studio “Shining Rock Software,” Banished tasks you with taking charge of a banished group of four to six families and carving out a home for them in the middle of unknown geography, and growing it into a genuine city. What you will be carving through is both literal and figurative.
On the literal side, you need three main resources to build housing and job buildings: Logs, Stone, and Iron. One is renewable, the others force you to seek out more when you’ve exhausted your nearby supply. The job buildings you can build are beneficial and sometimes necessary to your survival. Gatherers find edible plants and foliage, Herbalists find and make medicine, Hunters hunt wild deer, and Laborers do most of the menial work that supports all of the other jobs, including many more I haven’t listed here. Jobs are the organs and the people are the lifeblood of this town. But unlike blood, there aren’t many people to start with, and it’s not hard for their numbers to go down.
The figurative side involves many things that might lead some of your citizens to a meeting with their maker. Death can be the result of your actions, if you mismanage your city. Mismanagement can lead to starvation, diseases, or fire. But wait, there’s more! Death can also result from work place accidents and succumbing to the cold of winter. And we will also throw in passing from old age as an added bonus. The point that this terrible infomercial is trying to make is that people will die. It’s a tough world.
Banished has an atmosphere that is hard to ignore. One of both innocence and fear. It is a beautiful mix, but it is not without faults. The main issues are a lack of a tutorial for new players and the endgame. The lack of a tutorial is a large issue for this kind of game, but there are numerous starter guides online that explain game mechanics and tips, which mildly mitigate this annoyance.
The endgame might be a problem for some, for the specific reason that there isn’t one. If you manage to scrape together a successful city, the game doesn’t end until you decide you’re done. While it functions as a city simulator at this point too, the real highlight of this game is the buildup to that point, where everything is on the line constantly. Learn the ropes on medium difficulty, then play for real on hard. It will kick your teeth in, but the reward is worth the pain. That is, if your town survives the winter.
★★★★☆ “Great – Has some flaws keeping it from excellence.”