This new fantasy city builder has a monster, and it turns out it's me

A fairytale city
(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

I've done some pretty bad things in city builders. I forced children to work dangerous jobs and had protesters brutalized in Frostpunk. I got tired of traffic problems and deliberately flooded my city with polluted water in Cities: Skylines. I starved farmers to death—on their own farms, no less—in Farthest Frontier. My track record as mayor isn't filled with triumphant ribbon cuttings, it's soaked in blood and littered with bones.

But I've never felt quite as guilty as I do now after playing Fabledom, a new city builder that entered early access this week on Steam.

Like I said back in February when I tried the demo, Fabledom is a city builder with storybook looks and fairytale charm. It's like building a cozy village nestled in a children's fantasy book. You do the usual stuff like build houses and farms while trying to keep your citizens fed and warm and happy. But there are fairytale elements to it, too: you can acquire a brave hero to protect your village, you have to deal with events involving fairies and witches, and you can romance a prince or princess from a neighboring realm.

After choosing my realm from the procedurally generated map, I get to work in usual city builder fashion: building houses for my citizens, placing wells for water, drawing roads, and assigning peasants jobs like chopping wood and mining stone. Soon I've got vegetable and wheat farms, a windmill for grain, and a bakery for bread. New citizens arrive looking to join my town so I put them to work, build them homes, and collect taxes from them.

Once I've constructed a messenger building I can reach out to the other realms to meet their rulers and, potentially, romance them. My courier reaches Agnes, The Harvest Princess, who rules the region to the west, and Giovanni, The Merchant Prince to the east. To get on their good sides I need to send them gifts: Agnes wants 30 carrots (she's into gifts that can be grown) and Giovanni wants cold hard cash: 50 gold. I can just about manage both of those gifts, so my highly transactional romances begin.

Lord of the realm

(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

Meanwhile my little realm is expanding so much I need to buy new parcels of land to build on. As my town reaches a population milestone, officially becoming a village, I unlock buildable hero quarters, a big colorful tent that allows my village to employ a brave protector named Fergus. I send my bushy-bearded hero onto my new parcel of land to investigate a small ruin, where he finds the schematics for a new building. In the future, Fabledom will let me encounter the heroes and spies of other realms and even wage war against them, though those features aren't in the game yet.

My double royal romance is getting more challenging, or at least more expensive. To really fall in love with me, Agnes now wants a gift of 100 tulips, which means building an entirely new farm just to grow flowers for her—which feels like an incredibly selfish way to use my citizens since they're currently struggling to grow enough food to last through the winter. 

No, letting my villagers starve while growing flowers just so I can score with a princess isn't the horrible thing I did. It's much worse than that.

(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

Then there's Prince Giovanni, who wants me to build a gambling table for our first date. I instantly lose a ton of gold betting on dice rolls at this table, and in a fit of fury I demolish it before our date is over, angering the prince and pretty much guaranteeing I won't be able to woo him. I guess I'll have to focus my love (my agricultural love, anyway) on Agnes.

Hoom, hum

When I've replaced my gambling losses through taxation, I buy another square of land, and this one contains an interesting surprise. It's home to an ancient talking tree named Bob Barkskin. Bob is straight out of a fairytale, a towering tree with a wizened old face on the trunk who addresses me as "seedling" and tells me his story.

(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

"Greetings young seedling," says the magical tree. "It's been quite a while since I had a visitor. My name is Bob, and apart from growing a glorious moustache I am also the keeper of these great forests." How can you not immediately love an ancient talking tree? You just know he has a big booming voice, provides a cooling shade for lost travelers, and I bet when he laughs his big branches shake and drop acorns and leaves to the ground around him.

Anyway, I immediately chop Bob Barkskin down.

Wait! Hear me out. I have a choice when it comes to Bob: I can befriend him, which gives my village a buff where the trees my lumberjacks harvest grow back much more quickly. But chopping Bob down gives my hero an amulet that improves his health by 20%.

"Getting a gift" from Bob Barkskin"

I know it sounds horrible. Okay, it is horrible. I chop down Bob Barkskin, the friendly ancient tree that has protected the forest for centuries and is happily growing a moustache. But I simply don't need that tree-growing buff—my stockyards are stacked with spare lumber and my trees are already growing back just fine. This is a fairytale, and I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised to discover I'm the villain. I'm basically Mayor Saruman. I do feel terrible watching him sink into the ground, his gentle presence lost from this world forever.

Evil stepmayor

I'm not sure if it's related to my cruel murder of Bob Barkskin, but soon after he's been turned into firewood, fairies invade my farms and cause 25% of the crops to die, and a witch casts a spell that turns all my citizens into skeletons which causes them to consume twice the food they normally would. (Presumably to gain their flesh back.) As a result, some of them soon starve to death. 

But even with my callous disregard for gentle tree spirits and the health of my citizens, my city continues to grow. I've just unlocked larger homes and I can now attract commoners as citizens instead of just peasants.

(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

Plus, Agnes seems happy with all the tulips I've forced my hungry skeletons to grow for her. I definitely see a "happily ever after" in our future. Just not one for my citizens.

Fabledom is a lot of fun, it's beautiful to look at, and it has a lot of promise as an charming little city builder, but there are quite a few missing features as it launches into early access. Some basic city builder staples like a fisherman's hut, chicken coops, iron mining, and a blacksmith shop aren't in the game yet. There's also not much you can do with your village hero at the moment, so they pretty much just stand around when they're not murdering benevolent talking trees. 

I'm really enjoying what's there, but if you're looking for a more complete city builder you may want to hold off for a bit and see how quickly more features are added. Fabledom is expected to be in Steam Early Access for about a year before it's finished. 

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.