Imagine a cross between Sim City and Age of Empires, and you’ll roughly have thought of Banished. It’s a fantastic game which focuses on the survival of a group of nomads who have been exiled from their original villages, and you are tasked with helping them build a city of their own. It doesn’t have a defined time period, but it’s set in a “ye olde” time rather than in a more current or futuristic setting.
It’s a game which I have permanently installed on any machine I own because it’s so easy to dip into – it’s not so easy to dip back out of though! Many a time I’ve started playing “for only half an hour”, only to realise I’ve built a town of 500 people and my weekend has passed me by. It’s such an absorbing game, with billions of different maps to build on, each posing different and difficult challenges. Banished also has a wonderfully understated soundtrack which really goes well with the game, it’s not overbearing, it’s not a powerful soundtrack, but it is exactly what is needed in the game, a soothing, relaxing song which makes you feel like everything is okay, even when all your town is dying of syphilis.
There’s plenty to do to stave off death in this game too, so you can even try to create your own challenges, such as your people only having a pescatarian diet by building nothing but fishing docks, or create a town that has no schools (they even put an achievement in for this!). There are so many things to do, but the real challenge is making your town sustainable while maintaining the growth of it. Getting the balance right is an incredibly difficult task which is made all the more addictive with each new citizen, and made all the more devastating when it all goes wrong. And, unless you’ve created a wondrous utopia, it will go wrong.
There are so many things that could cause your town to crumble, from nomads appearing and eating all your food to a tornado ripping through your town. How you recover from these trifling issues is what can make the game so much fun. Rebuilding or repopulating your town can be tricky, but when it all comes together, it’s such a good feeling. Nomads appearing is one of the features I enjoy the most, as it appeals to my gambling nature. Each time nomads appear, you’re taking a risk with your town. Nomads can appear in any quantity, meaning they can be a nice boost to an ailing workforce, but they can also bring disease and consume all your firewood and food. It really can be a tough choice to tell over a hundred wandering nomads to sod off for the better of your town, but sometimes, to protect your settlement, it is for the best.
More recently, Shining Rock Software introduced mod support into the game. This erupted in a sea of new mods to add to the game, some of which add some fantastic new features to the game. This in itself is a wonderful addition, but it does bring me to one of my only criticisms of this game, and it is a small criticism, and not really the fault of the developer. The mods have brought about occasional instability within the game which can cause crashing, and although this could be because mods clash with each other, it’s not always immediately obvious which mods are causing the crashes. It does detract from the game a little because no-one likes to have their hard work disappear in front of their faces. It would be difficult to pin the blame entirely on the developer though, because it’s more than likely I’ve just tried to put on too many conflicting mods. It’s very difficult to narrow the selection down when there are so many high quality mods out there though!
Another minor thing is the learning curve. There’s no difficulty setting per se, you’ll be able to set your starting conditions, but the mechanics of the game won’t alter in any way. The tutorials provide a little stepping off point, but even after playing through them, you’re not always in the best of places. It can still be a little tricky to get everything set up in a way that doesn’t kill your first few villages without a little extra input from the various Banished forums. This may be considerably irritating if you’re only looking for a casual play. This game definitely can be a more casual affair after you’ve learned the most effective and efficient ways to set up your village, but it can cause some real headaches if you’re not quite there yet.
For a game that I picked up out of curiosity, I don’t think I could have been more surprised. The fantastic amount of depth and quality in the game is staggering, especially when you consider the company is only one person. Add in to this that they are still improving it, and you have a great game that is only going to go from strength to strength.