From Sticks and Stones to Stately Homes in Manor Lords

Manor Lords Preview

It isn’t much, this little plot of land. Just a clearing in the woods, really. But there’s plenty of tall timber, abundant berries, and even a few deer that our talented hunters can dispatch. There are only a handful of families in our little group. With hard work, organization, planning, and time, we can make a home from these humble resources. Now in early access, Manor Lords is a medieval building sim/RTS that moves at the speed of the seasons.

Choose Your Style

From the 30,000-foot view, Manor Lords has an outline not unfamiliar to strategy gamers. You start with a few tents and a small group of people, and over time make a thriving settlement. Depending on how you choose to play, Manor Lords can be about more than medieval daily life. It can have a strong military component as well, with wars and territorial disputes.

One of Manor Lords’ strengths, even in early access, is how easily the focus of the game can be shifted. There are three basic scenarios. One is entirely free of military conflict. At the other extreme is a scenario built around building military forces and capturing neighboring territory. The third scenario is a sweet spot that balances both. Even within the basic scenarios, there are many options for dialing in the experience.

However, no matter how you choose to play, Manor Lords has a deliberate pace. The game recognizes that in the real world, things take time. You can’t just instantly outfit your soldiers with bows. Those bows need wood, bowstring material, and metal for arrowheads. And each of those ingredients requires specialized buildings and people to work in them.

Medieval Micromanagement

Like building sims in any genre — from Cities: Skylines to Planet Coaster — Manor Lords has a strong puzzle-game aspect. Where, when, and how to allocate limited starting resources comes first. Planning for growth comes second, and sustainability comes next. Make a mistake at any step in the process, and the consequences can be dire. The strength of Manor Lords is in its relaxed pace. It’s almost never impossible to course correct.

Manor Lords is built around family units rather than single workers that pop magically from a town center, eager to work. Some families will autonomously assign themselves to needed tasks, like wood cutting or hunting. Other families are free agents, assignable to whatever work is most pressing.

Growing the settlement can feel opaque. It depends on the overall happiness of the village. Word gets around that your little town is a good place to raise a family, and the population grows. Like most building sims and strategy games, happiness comes from security, food, shelter, and those intangibles that make life worth living.

Step By Step

The first few hours in a game of Manor Lords are entirely about laying a strong foundation. There are lots of processes, buildings, and tasks, and everyone will have different priorities. Despite the complexity under the hood, Manor Lords has an easy-to-use interface and gives the player plenty of information.

But even at its most conflict-free setting, Manor Lords requires the player to play strategically. It’s easy to misplace buildings too far from resources or fail to consider the efficiencies of production chains. If it seems to take forever for hunters to return to town, it might be because their shack is halfway across the map.

The changing seasons play a large role in village life. Storing enough food for winter and fuel for fires comes from decisions made in the warm days of spring. Raising a military force is likewise a long-term planning task, doubly so because conscripting an army takes all the able-bodied men from the workforce. If they die in battle, it can decimate the village’s sustainability.

The Dark Ages Never Looked So Good

For a game just entering early access, Manor Lords looks incredible and has very few performance issues. It reminds us that early access doesn’t have to mean “essentially broken.” Either zoomed out or in first-person mode strolling through the town, there’s a lot of detail and character to everything. Get close and you can listen to the villagers comment on their daily lives and tasks. It isn’t a game where structures magically pop in and it’s fun to watch buildings rise, plank by plank.

Some impatient gamers might balk at Manor Lords’ deliberate pace, but really, it’s one of the game’s strengths. Things take time. Manor Lords does a great job of reminding us that villages are made up of lots of people doing lots of things with a common goal. It was true in the Middle Ages and it’s true today. Subtext aside, Manor Lords is a thoroughly engaging, detailed, and already polished building sim and RPG. I look forward to playing as the game moves toward final release.

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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