Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Banished is a city builder designed by Shining Rock Software, which misleadingly is just one stellar dude, Luke Hodorowicz. It was released on February 18th in 2014, but it's still being tweaked and updated regularly. It's just now starting to have player-created mod content.

I got the game the day after it was released, played it for several days straight, and frequently go back to it. This is one of my favorite games, but some people give it flak for a couple reasons. This post is not really a review (I am not even really a reviewer, so get that out of your head), but rather me expressing my (correct) opinions on some controversial gameplay and design within Banished.

The game has almost zero plot so you couldn't really say there are any spoilers, though gameplay and mechanics will be discussed within this post.

In Banished, you build a city mostly from scratch, and have to build and maintain the resources, supplies, and population of the town in spite of many challenges.

artistic screenshot of some houses, orchards, and cows

The game has a few tutorials, but even with them, you're still left pretty cold and alone. It took me several failed attempts with many, many dead villagers - usually by starvation, though one time was because no one had any babies and everyone just died of old age - before I began to grasp the rhythm and balance required to establish a successful town. Though it was frustrating, the game was very charming, which kept me interested until I got the hang of things - and from there it kept me interested for many many days following.

Banished is pretty ambiguous and, while I personally would recommend it any day, if you don't like games that don't hold your hand, you may not quite like it. The tutorials give you the basics, but the basics are nowhere near enough to understand the entire game - it requires you to learn through trial and error. Personally, I find no fault with this. I can understand that some people may consider it a negative, though I may consider them to be wrong.

whoops, I'm being sassy

In fact, the most negative review I've found of the game (which I will not be linking to, I do not intend to shame the author, he is welcome to his wrong opinions) is literally five paragraphs about how the game is bad because it didn't explain things to him, and one concluding paragraph about how it has no point. So, fair warning, things are not explained in detail to you.

The second most frequent criticism of the game is that there is no point. Clearly, the point is to build a flourishing town, however, most people probably actually mean that there are no defined in-game goals or campaigns. This is true - you have no direction, no instruction, no time limits - your mission is only to build a civilization where hopefully everyone does not die.

There are tons of city builders and they all have their own unique aspects, but the biggest part of city builders that I would assume anyone who enjoys the genre would agree on is that they enjoy building the city. The entire concept is to continue to grow, just as you would in any other city builder. Not sure if the people who had this criticism had ever played a city builder before.

this is the point.

However, even this is still not technically true - the game has achievements which require you to play in significantly different ways, meaning that you have to start several different towns to earn them all. Just like having to figure out how to play the game on your own, you also have to figure out what your goals are on your own.

To me, Banished is beautiful for these reasons. You don't slowly unlock everything - you have access to everything at the start, but what to build, where, and when, are all important aspects that you'll have to figure out by sentencing several hundreds of villagers to their doom. You aren't told what to do and particularly you aren't told what not to do, like no one mentions that you probably shouldn't build a tavern before you build a blacksmith. You'll fail at the start, then you think you have the hang of things, but then you didn't notice that your 30,000 food supply had been dwindling too quickly and everyone has starved to death. Great job.

The most amazing part of these supposed faults is how they coincide with the minimal amount of story you are given for the game itself.

Banished's only story is summarized as:
You control a group of exiled travelers who decide to restart their lives in a new land. They have only the clothes on their backs and a cart filled with supplies from their homeland. 
In the same way that these people were banished into the wilderness to start a town from scratch, you too are tossed haphazardly into the wilderness. It's the most brilliant metaphor I've ever seen, and people are too busy comparing it to other games to realize it.

There is no overlord keeping you from squandering your resources on something stupid or holding you hand to ensure that you don't die - it's just you and the villagers, figuring out how to start a new life. How many groups of a handful of exiled villagers start a new town in the wilderness and succeed? The learning curve and gameplay are direct reflections of the spirit within the game. It's perfect.

these dudes were slick enough to bring some cows

I wouldn't mind if the developer added a campaign or different maps with specific goals, but personally I see no reason to make it a priority. I don't even think adding more tutorials or explanations is necessary. If you are truly desperate to learn how to play without playing, there is a small wiki dedicated to the game and forums on the main site where people explain their methods of success.

While I'm not a game reviewer, I found a lot of the negative reviews failed to even understand that the game had gameplay in it. Sure, you could just say I'm biased - I clearly am - but when a review does nothing but talk about what the game is missing, I feel like they may as well replace their entire review with "why isn't this game a different game?"

several orchards and a mine later, please don't die guys

Without 'goals', I still love playing this game. After I learned how to make successful towns that didn't starve to death, my goals became to create nice looking towns that had all of the various types of buildings spread out appropriately as a real growing town might. I ensured that my multiple tailor and blacksmith buildings were not too close to each other, that farmlands were distributed nicely and placed in quiet areas, that graveyards were not too close to the marketplace, or that the tavern wasn't too close to the school.

I love city builders and simulation games. I've played a lot of them, and they're all unique and special snowflakes in their own way. Banished is one of the toughest I've played and my absolute favorite. It may not have a campaign or specific maps or goals, but I don't believe they are necessary to enjoy the depths of this game.

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