City Sim’s have always held a special place in my heart. There is just something about planning a large city and watching it grow. It’s a timeless concept that has been done over and over, and sure, we’ve had small changes to the formula, but there’s always been one constant feeling; your people are safe… For the most part. Of course, you could always deploy a disaster and watch it burn, but that would just be your own doing. So, with that thought, what if the safety net was removed, disaster could strike, and your village could be no more? Essentially, Banished takes safety and throws it out the window, along with some other standards to make something unique.
Banished is a city building sim with the interesting twist of incorporated survival mechanics. The game was developed by the one man production team, Luke Hodorowicz, and his company, Shining Rock Software. I believe we can all agree that Luke has done an amazing job, and I wish to start this review by tipping my hat to him. Banished is a city management game, with the primary focus on the villagers being your main resource and the source of your survival. At the beginning of each game, you’re given a handful of families, resources, and pushed into a random area, alone. The fate of your village will be dependent on whether you can keep your people alive for long enough to breed, gather, and build, before death takes them. Oh, and death collects often and cruelly.
When the game starts, all the menus are closed off; which is when Banished shows off. Forests, mountains and rivers are simply beautiful, and are accompanied by subtle music which draws you into the experience. However, it truly shines when the village is up and running; it’s great to watch each villager go about their day to day life. The soundtrack doesn’t ever feel forced, either, which is something that annoyed me with a certain Maxis reboot.
Banished does away with a lot of features that you would typically expect to find in a city management game. There’s no research, no multiplayer, no rival cities, no enemies; not even a scenario. However, the absence of these features forces Banished to focus more clearly on the survival elements of the game. To keep your villagers alive the longest, they will need food, warmth, a roof over their head, and medicine. Basically, each resource and building is interconnected to another system. For example, wood is required to keep fires lit, but is also needed to build and expand. It sounds like a risky move, in theory, but the end result comes together surprisingly well.
Playing through the tutorial provided me with a clear explanation on how to run a successful village. However, in execution, my first village was a ghost town before I had reached the second winter. Banished doesn’t hold any punches, and it will not hesitate to punish you for making very simple mistakes, even from the early stages of the game. With this in mind, I suspect this could deter those players who are looking for more of a traditional city sim, but for those who enjoy a challenge, it will not disappoint. Although, with that being said, while I always understood the requirements of my village, as well as what it needed in order to survive, I never once felt as if I was ahead with any specific requirement. There is no reporting system to outline an individual villager, which means you will never know how much they’re gathering, where they’ve traveled from, and other basic information.
Playing Banished is like building a castle out of playing cards, well, in as much that each card must be correctly placed, and the loss of a single card will cause hours of work to come crumbling down. In turn, the building and expansion of the city has a constant feel that the whole system will fall apart. You’ll rarely have enough of a resource and each resource has a trade-off, which will always throw you off. However, after each failure, I found myself enduring longer. Basically, if you can get into Banished’s survival building system, you’ll very likely get hooked onto the interlocking systems of your little society as the villagers work together and slowly expand.
As an example, you’ll need to house all of your people, which isn’t very surprising, but housing people will also result in them having children. To put it bluntly, children are useless, and as such, will need to be fed till they grow up. Additionally, more people mean that you’ll need to have more coats and firewood to survive the winter. This simple formula is designed to motivate players and encourage them to consistently build and plan ahead, while, ultimately, trying to reach that point you can let go and hope it’ll all stand. It’s a highly rewarding system. However, with that being said, the survival system also appears to be the only truly remarkable feature about the game.
Banished may have tired to stand out using survival, but the key to a city sim’s survival is long term goals. There are no wonders, no large scale projects or scenarios. You’ll have encountered everything that Banished has to offer within a single play through. It relies on challenge to keep you playing, but there’s only so many times you can watch a village starve to death before you’ll want to move on. Within the first few hours of play, you’ll have built every building and witnessed the rise and fall of several villages. The game is begging for multiplayer or the inclusion of long term goals, and as such, the lack of any purpose beyond survival can make it a rather tough sale.
Banished is a beautiful and challenging city sim, and while it brings an interesting survival formula to the table, it also seems to have forgotten several basic features that would have served to improve the game’s longevity. I can comfortably recommend it to any city builder’s out there looking for a challenge over the weekend, but if you’re looking for a city sim which you’ll be able to play for weeks, or even months on end; I’d say Banished isn’t for you.