Off The Grid: Banished
Zachary Brictson reminds us of the inevitable change of seasons.
At normal game speed Banished doesn’t have much going for it. Too slow for any real progress to be seen, playing at this pace is meant to offer an opportunity to enjoy the hustle and bustle of a growing settlement. It’s a welcome feature, being able to bask in the workings of your economy, but also one that reveals Banished’s less fancy aspects. The ‘follow’ option that locks your camera onto a citizen shows how visually unappealing things are when examined up close. Infants and grown men are rendered with the same adult villager model, for example. Actions all use the same basic set of swinging animations, whether for mining, chopping trees or farming. Trees fall and instantly turn into squares of lumber to pick up, as do clusters of stone and iron.
At 5x speed, however, this humble simulator becomes remarkably addictive. Villagers quickly move from area to area, clearing land to build houses, carrying resources to construction sites, paving roads, chopping firewood for the town stockpiles and harvesting wheat and squash to store for the winter. Resources aren’t just taken to a town hall to become used as numbers, rather, they have designated areas. A forester will take his lumber to a stockpile, a woodcutter will then grab the materials and return to his lodge. After the firewood is cut, he brings the finished materials back to the stockpile for villagers to collect and take to their houses. Banished prides itself on this realism, and it lends to an imagination that overcomes the visual shortcomings.
The most touted element of the game is managing the resource of labor. A customizable user interface informs you when new villagers are born and raised to adulthood, at which point you can assign them professions. A fishing dock can take four hands, but maybe there are only two to spare. Maybe you need to move labor to a gatherer’s lodge to accommodate the declining health of your town with nuts and berries. But where’s that hunter’s outpost you were planning to build? It’s winter now and the town tailor has no hides to make into coats.
It sounds intense, but even at 5x speed, Banished is a relaxing game of number tweaking and micromanagement that you can play comfortably with one hand, and a drink in the other. Notching to 10x speed can be ridiculous, but once you get into certain habits, like swapping your farmers out during the winter and back again for planting season, it’s just a matter of city planning and watching your population grow. There are no victory conditions and the generic maps – though randomly generated – of mountainous valleys may become tiresome. However, the joy of construction, survival, and growth are well implemented. There are at least several lengthy endeavors awaiting you in exile.
Zachary Brictson is a Computer Science graduate from Northern Illinois University who chooses to write about games rather than code them, contributing to physical publications like The Printed Blog, sites such as Playstation Universe, and his own blog, Up Magic.