This article was originally published on August 17, and was updated on August 18 to include a response from Crate Entertainment owner and lead designer Arthur Bruno. Click here (opens in new tab) to jump to the response.
Religious buildings are a common feature of medieval-themed city builders. Games like Banished, Anno 1404, Patron, Foundation, and others include churches, chapels, monasteries, cathedrals (and in Anno's case, mosques), and other religious buildings which typically provide a happiness bonus or fulfill a 'faith need' for citizens and residences built nearby.
But you won't find religious buildings in Farthest Frontier, the new medieval-themed early access survival city builder from Crate Software, maker of Grim Dawn. In fact, there's no religion in the game at all. While it includes public amenities like theaters, markets, pubs, and hospitals, there are no churches or chapels to build and citizens have no faith requirements that need to be met. (There is a shrine, but more on that in a bit.)
Some players are curious about the absence of religious buildings, while others seem downright annoyed by the omission. "Where is the church? (opens in new tab)" is the title of a thread on the official forum, where the lack of a church is called "a shortcoming" (translated from French). "I totally agree that churches are a must have and could be a basic need of the settlers," says another commenter. Another player in the thread states that "churches are an absolute must" and expresses disbelief that the "dev's didn't realize this."
"Well mosques/temples/etc also existed in that era. I’m sure everyone shocked we didn’t add churches would be just as satisfied by the addition of those instead, right?" responded Zantai (opens in new tab), a designer at Crate Software.
"We’ve intentionally left faith ambiguous in [Farthest Frontier] even if churches are a 'staple' of medieval Europe, which is another thing we’ve deliberately left vague," Zantai continued. "The setting for the game is inspired by certain time periods and places, but it is not set in those places. The player can decide whatever suits them."
This doesn't mean Crate Software is opposed to the idea of some sort of religion in the game, which is still in early access. It just doesn't want any actual religions represented.
"If we ever incorporate a faith system of some kind, I think it would be best if it was a customizable system where you name the faith and decide its bonuses/features. There’s way too much baggage and drama around real world religions," said Zantai.
Farthest Frontier isn't the first city builder to sidestep the potentially messy topic of religion. Cities: Skylines, the biggest city builder of the past decade, only has a single cathedral as a landmark but no churches or other religious buildings, something player-made mods (opens in new tab) have added for those who want them. Other city builders, like Ostriv, make religion a requirement: A church is necessary for a city to grow beyond a population of a few hundred. But Ostriv is specifically set in 18th century Ukraine, whereas Farthest Frontier isn't set in any particular time or place. (As one example, the game includes dire wolves, which went extinct roughly 10,000 years ago, long before the medieval period.)
The closest thing to a religious structure currently in Farthest Frontier is a shrine, which can be upgraded to an altar, but there's no specific religious designation for either of the structures. Shrines and altars provide "a desirability bonus to nearby residences," is all the flavor text says. Nothing else. (A house's desirability score, if high enough, will allow it to upgrade into a nicer building.)
Another commenter in the thread asked if the drama around religion kept churches out of the game, what about resource extraction or the very idea of colonization? Shouldn't those historically contentious elements be removed from the game, too? In other words, they were (rather unhelpfully) suggesting that the entire game shouldn't exist.
"I’ll happily draw the line at religion any day," Zantai said. "And I think that’s all the remains to be said on this subject."
Other players commenting in the thread are perfectly happy with a lack of religion, or with the potential inclusion of nonspecific religious structures.
"I’m an atheist so normally loathe to push for any kind of religious inclusion in games… but it does seem strangely odd there’s no 'temple' buildings in the game. I think something should be added: doesn’t have to be called a church. Could just be called an 'elders gathering place' or similar," one commenter said.
"I like how the shrine is vague but serves a purpose, I think it would be fitting to have a building that serves a similar purpose," another player added. "It could just be a building with smaller shrines that adds desirability and requires a worker for upkeep."
"Personally I’m glad that there’s no religion mechanic, but a generic temple or something to celebrate the dead would be cool," said another.
I think it's refreshing to rethink the norms of city builders (or any game genre for that matter), and just because something is traditional and expected doesn't mean it should automatically be a requirement. At the same time, I also wouldn't mind something nonspecific when it comes to religious buildings in the game. Not that my citizens have much time to visit a shrine or temple anyway. All those bees aren't going to farm themselves.
Lead Designer's Response
Crate Entertainment owner and lead designer Arthur Bruno has elaborated further on the lack of churches or religion in Farthest Frontier. In an email to PC Gamer, Bruno says there were a number of different reasons, including those mentioned above.
"I did not want to add a large religious structure that was purely decorative and had no function," Bruno says. "I felt like that would just lead to disappointment and the obvious question—why doesn’t this building do anything besides raise the desirability of nearby housing?"
Bruno continued: "We have talked about it as a feature several times during development, where all sorts of different mechanics were proposed, some much more involved than others. We still haven’t quite nailed that down and that’s another part of why there is still no religion."
There's also the question of what form a religious building might take.
"For some, the answer is obviously a church. Maybe some sort of quaint, wooden church as seen in most of the small New England towns I’ve lived in? But wait, is the game set in the Colonial period, should it be a big medieval cathedral instead? What about a Norse temple? Maybe it’s not set in a real time period at all?"
"We’ve tried to keep the setting and time-period of the game somewhat ambiguous because I feel people should have freedom, while crafting their own charming town out of the wilderness and watching their people get mauled by bears, to imagine the details of the setting as they see fit."
Finally, Bruno suggested players might someday be able to design their own religion in the game, perhaps one based on something from Crate Entertainment's other game, fantasy RPG Grim Dawn.
"It could be interesting and allow for more creative design, to explore a system where players got to choose deities who could confer different favors upon your town. Or who knows, maybe when the friendly traveling merchant, Scorv
Egdenor the Butcher was in town, he's been secretly whispering to those willing to listen, of the glorious return of RAVAGER!"