Early Access Corner: Episode 2

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It’s me again with some new recommendations! Early Access is an important part of the industry, and no matter what people may think, it’s a system that’s here to stay. It’s a great way for smaller developers to show their games off to the market, though it’s certainly a practice that’s been the subject of controversy over the last few years especially. 2021 has seen some impressive releases in Early Access, with juggernaut hits in Everspace 2, Valheim and Dyson Sphere Program. We’ve already seen my thoughts on Everspace 2, and I’ll be providing a review for the excellent Valheim very soon.

Today, I bring you more games in Early Access, all three of whom launched last year!

Kingdoms Reborn

I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ve played a torrent of early access titles this year. I’ve had so much fun exploring passion projects, and Kingdoms Reborn is one such game. Launching in early November, its premise grabbed me right away. An open world-Banished style game, focused on trade? Sign me up. It even has some card-game elements.

It’s pretty darn cool. Sure, it’s in early development like most of these games are, and it has a long way to go, but I’ve been liking it a lot. You pick your starting location in an expansive open world, find a place to begin your bustling city, and begin. You pick up buildings through a trading card system, though houses, farms and roads etc you can make from the start. Everything costs a certain resource, and your goal is to make it through each winter. That means food, and making sure your little guys don’t starve to death. Unfortunately for them, I’m somewhat known as a bit of a sadist when it comes to games, and imagine their shock when they realized I’m entertained when my villages suffer.

The gameplay loop so far is quite simple, and it’s at the beginning of a long development cycle, but it’s a lot of fun so far. It might be worth giving it a look, although it has a long way to go. Let’s see how it develops in the coming months!

Medieval Dynasty

Remember Kingdom Come: Deliverance? It was my personal GOTY in 2018 alongside the 1.0 launch of Rimworld: a beautiful, ambitious and well crafted medieval RPG, with some caveats in performance and an interesting combat system that hurt as much as it helped. What if you made it a crafting/survival simulator while taking away that combat system? Welcome to Medieval Dynasty.

Made by the same guys who made Farmers Dynasty, I think a lot of people were skeptical it would take off properly. Farmer’s Dynasty isn’t bad by any means, but a hardcore survival/crafting Medieval RPG is hard to do well, and many believed that these guys, while ambitious and capable, couldn’t pull it off.

I was one of those believers, but the game looked fascinating as a premise, so I was happy to try it out. While Medieval Dynasty is among the least played on my list at this current time, its early impressions leave me interested for more. The game is gorgeous to start off, with some of the best lighting and forests I’ve seen in a AAA title, let alone a small indie studio. While it’s ‘survival crafting’, a phrase many gamers now roll their eyes at, this is done rather well. There’s a nice questline to starters, so you’re not blundering about like a gorilla who has finally discovered he can mate for the first time, which gives you a lot of space to get used to the mechanics. You can craft your own village from scratch, and even start your own family.

Skeptical of another Early Access title in limbo? I wouldn’t be too concerned about this one. Despite a slew of other ‘Dynasty’ games of mixed success, I think Medieval Dynasty might be the one that gets it right. The developers are very helpful in dealing with problems, communicative, and committed to seeing this game through. They have had a history of leaving old games to wither on the vine, but I do believe they’re taking this one seriously.

Medieval Dynasty is in capable shape for a game of its controversial genre, and while there are a few bugs and glitches, and I wish the game had voice acting, it’s suprisingly enjoyable already.

Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord

Mount and Blade Warband is one of the best sandbox games ever made, with an addictive gameplay loop, incredible mod support and a structure that is hard to beat. Taleworlds took their time with this, but Warband is one hell of a success story. Years ago (I’m talking like 2011 time), Taleworlds Entertainment announced the development of the sequel, Bannerlord.

And we waited. And waited.

Years passed. Elections, economic crashes and war passed with a blink in the eye. Development videos came and went, with development moving like a sloth on sleeping pills. You can imagine what the player scene and fanbase were thinking. When is the game going to come out? Will it come out? Will this become the Winds of Winter of games, or Star Citizen?

Then we finally got the game in Early Access last March. And a £39.99 price tag. That is quite the price jump from Warband’s very fair price point, and for a small studio in alpha state? That’s a big balls play that was controversial from the beginning. I’ve always been fascinated by pricing in games, and what people view as acceptable. In a year of financial instability and worldwide chaos, money is even more important, so a £40 title by a developer with a reputation for slow development and barren content at launch was always going to be difficult to sell.

I do love the shield wall.

I’m not criticizing them too much on this, as I like the developer and I enjoy Mount and Blade. Warband is one of my favourite games of all time. There’s no other game like it on the market. With the first giant worldwide lockdown with the still-going COVID-19 pandemic, Taleworlds pulled a surprising move, releasing Bannerlord a week early, something people rarely do. Furthermore, it got a chunky 20% discount at launch. So I picked it up and began playing.

Let’s start off with the good. It’s Mount and Blade just like I remember it. The combat is fun and meaty, and roaming around building an army from scratch is great. The gameplay loop, so important in an endless sandbox RPG like this, or any game for that matter, is still solid, and I had fun for the first 20-25 hours. Warband was never a looker as graphics went (It makes Morrowind and Oblivion look pretty), so Bannerlord’s graphical improvements were a delight. It does look rather gorgeous at times, and the cities look good, even in their placeholder, rudimentary state.

It’s just like Warband, and that’s where the problems begin. I expected more progress in the game after so many years, you know? Even in 2020, I feel they released it in a half-baked state. Sure, it’s playable and fun, but half the systems barely worked, the kingdom management and economy is broken, and everything just feels a bit off. It’s also quite the demanding title with it’s fair share of bugs and glitches. While things are improved over Warband (and thank christ for that) such as inventory management, a family dynasty with birth/death, more flexible companions and an enhanced sense of progression, the story is barely worth mentioning, the AI is a complete mess and very few battle maps. The towns and villages are very repetitive, though they have been open about all this; many things are in placeholder, and will be updated…

I have my concerns about Bannerlord. After so many years in development for it to be like this, I have to admit I’m a little worried, and we approach the one year anniversary, it doesn’t feel like there’s been much progress. Sure, bug fixes and perks have been added, with improved systems, but it makes me wonder if they have the ability to pull things off.

Despite this, there are some lights at the end of the dark tunnel. Full mod support finally got released not long ago, which will go a long way to helping, and while I’ll be a little mocking of the games slow development, I can’t fault their communication and desire. I began Bannerlord full of praise back during launch, but like a messy kebab from a questionable takeaway, the aftermath and regrets started. If you’re prepared to handle a perfect example of controversial early access development, you may have some fun with Bannerlord. Let’s see how it goes before we pass judgment. It has the potential to be amazing, but will they let it? This year will tell.

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TheThousandScar

Author/Blogger/Cartographer/Streamer/Narrative Game Writer/I play far too many games. twitch.tv/diabound111 | thousandscarsblog.wordpress.com

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