Developer, Publisher: Shining Rock Software
Release Date: February 18th, 2014; Review Platform: PC
Testing Specs: Core i5-6500 3.2GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070 8GB
Banished is unlike a typical city builder you encounter, with its focus on lower scale management and survival aspect of its population. Yet the experience is very absorbing as you manage a group of exiled villagers into growing a settlement. Playing through Banished reveals a deliberate balance of expansion and survival tactics, where anything can go wrong within a single weather season. You’d be fooled into associating it’s calm music background and a small scale with a relaxing experience, as it is anything but; although it is incredibly rewarding to grow your village into an expansive town. Being able to build a large settlement is both an extreme test of player skill and a rewarding outcome, but getting there is not an easy road. Banished offers a unique spin on the city-building genre, which hasn’t been replicated quite often, and if you’re willing to put up with its slow pace, the game offers a very rewarding experience.
You start off Banished with a storage barn and a handful of citizens, from there on evolving the small population into a functioning town. Unlike in most city builders, the main resource in game are your citizens, which are appointed to different professions and carry out the tasks you give them. From the pool of laborers, you direct the people to become builders, farmers and so on, but professions aren’t locked in forever. This makes it easy to switch roles when you have to replace a certain work force or create a new professions. As the town grows, food production becomes crucial as it is only the adults that can work on different tasks. Expanding housing lets people have kids, which aren’t beneficial to the town until they get older and are able to work, although consume food resources. A lot of the time you’ll spend in Banished is micromanaging professions to run a town most efficiently, which is one of the primary tasks apart from expanding.
To create structures, you also need to use the natural resources spread across the game map generated. Those are limited at the start until you build sustainable production structures, which then produce higher quantities of items and in case of forestries, replenish the resource. Quarries and mines on the other hand are depleted over time, and necessitate rebuilding them in a different spot. Food is another important thing, and players have to make sure to have a good stock of that so their citizens don’t starve. As you upgrade your town, resource production expands into clothes, tools, and other elements necessary for the population survival and prosperity. Banished is more of a survival game in this regard, as ensuring the well-being of your town’s citizens is a priority over expanding. While that does bring a lot of micromanaging into play, growing into a large town is very satisfying as many things can go wrong on the way.
Changing game seasons are another thing to look out for, as the game demands a different approach to dealing with colder seasons than summer. Food production becomes an important element to diversify as much as possible, since different temperatures affect what you can produce. Farms and orchards, for example, can’t grow resources during the winter time, as planting and gathering occurs only within the summer season. And whereas other places that produce food operate all year round, man-made sources like farms bring in an influx of food at the end of summer, which isn’t enough to sustain a population all year round. Within the first couple of in-game years players definitely want to focus on wildlife as their source of food production, spread between fisheries, gathering huts and hunters’ cabins. Another inconvenience of winter is the necessity for firewood as citizens need to stay warm during that time or otherwise would perish of cold. This means the production of wood needs to be high in the summer to both contribute to building structures, as well as leave a good amount for wood cutters to use over the winter. While trees can be cut and replanted all year long, it is usually in the summer that forestries produce the highest amount necessary to use.
Between various disasters, citizen deaths and easy food shortages, Banished isn’t exactly as relaxing as it first appears, although that would hardly stop you from playing it. The game has a slow and deliberate pace, which can be increased up to five times regular speed, however the faster it goes, the more chances that creates for something going wrong. I found the optimal speed to be twice the normal pace, since it is faster but still allows you to be in firm control over a town. On its standard setting, Banished feels very slow in its gameplay structure, and while makes expansion even more methodical, players will appreciate a slightly faster structure. With plenty of UI elements to provide feedback on different events, Banished is also very informative in telling players the different events that occur throughout the population. It may be that children become adults and can now contribute to the population workforce, or a supply of a resource is low, Banished always keeps players informed. Just make sure to bring out the necessary UI logs from the game screen.
As far as diversity goes, Banished has plenty, although the end game feels very disappointing in many aspects even despite the slow time taken to get there. Being more of a village builder, the game doesn’t go far in tech of any sort, and after around 10 in-game years, you would have built everything there is on offer. Construct the city hall, and you don’t have anywhere further to go but expand with existing housing and production structures. This isn’t exactly a criticism given the game’s scope, but those expecting far-reaching variety wouldn’t find it here. Getting to that end game, however, is an exercise of careful planning and often enough, many attempts. Before you’re even able to construct any town services, the settlement could succumb to disease, run out of food or get hit with a disaster. The methodical approach to gameplay is one of the highlights in Banished, and those who will enjoy the concept of it would likely play just for the fun of seeing a town survive a certain amount of years or population. For me, the most satisfying side of Banished is watching the population grow without a major decline in resources, which usually isn’t that easy to achieve.
Banished is a city builder unlike any other, taking a survival-focused approach to settlements build on a much smaller scale than your average city. Controlling a small population, your citizens act as the only resource of labour and their well-being is far more important than fast expansion. With finite building and food resources, one can’t commit to fast expansion in Banished, as it always leads to detriment more so than success. This makes the game a methodical and slow-paced builder, which gives you time to plan out a town and keep track of all events happening . Despite its slow and deliberate pace, Banished is very absorbing, and features many diverse elements to keep players engaged and on their toes throughout its early and mid-game, and although the limited tech path can be disappointing, those who will master the demanding nature of Banished will find a lot to like here.