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Version reviewed: 0.2.0.0, September 26, 2014
Reviewed on: Intel i7 2.8 GhZ, 8GM RAM, Nvidia GeForce 660Ti
Recommended: Intel i7/AMD Phenom II x6 with 3.5 GHz, 8GM RAM, DX9-compatible GPU
Price: $40/ £25
Publisher: Bitbox Ltd.
Developer: Bitbox Ltd.
Multiplayer: Up to 64 online players
Link: Steam store page
The beginning of multiplayer medieval survival crafting game Life is Feudal: Your Own will sound familiar. You start in your underpants with just a handful of cookies (the perfect beginning to a day, really) and your first step is to make a few tools. By harvesting branches (snapped off trees), stones (plucked from rocky hillsides), and plant fiber (gathered by rooting around in the grass), you can make an axe for chopping down trees, and a saw for cutting logs into boards or billets for building structures or furniture. Make a shovel and pickaxe and you can start unearthing minerals, and once you've built a furnace and you can start smelting, your first step to creating weapons, armor, and better tools.
The difference here, as opposed to Minecraft or even Rust, is in time and realism. In Minecraft you can have a basic hovel built in minutes, in Rust, within a half-hour (provided you're not murdered). I found a small settlement on one LiF server, being worked on by several players, and I've checked in on their progress a few times over the week. They've got some furnaces going, a chicken coop, the beginnings of fortifications, and a bit of leveled land cleared for farming, but no looming castle or sprawling township. Yet. Successful building is a group effort and it takes real time. Your inventory is based on weight and in some cases, size, so transporting a single log means slowly lugging it around on your back, and even when cut into boards you won't be able to hold more than a dozen at a time.
Interactions with the environment are done through drop-down menus. Right-click on a section of the ground, choose the type of action you'd like to perform (prospecting, gathering, etc.), then choose the specific action. It's made simpler by the ability to set a default activity, so if you plan on collecting a bunch of stones, you can click that option straight away instead of having to navigate the menus each time. Still, the system is a bit cumbersome as opposed to, say, a game where you hold an axe and click on a tree. Crafting itself is well-presented: choose what you're trying to make from a drop-down list, it will show you the required ingredients and how many you have of each, and a button-click will put it together in a few moments.
As you perform actions, your related skills increase. Build, and you'll become a better builder. Farm, and you'll become a better farmer. Hard skillcaps mean you'll never become a master of all trades (except on private servers, where caps can be tweaked), meaning that you'll have to aim for a specialization (blacksmith, carpenter, hunter) and team with other players with other skillsets. Characters are tied to the server they're created on, meaning you can't take your badass blacksmith and plunk him down in a different world. I get this reasoning: it wouldn't be fair to quickly build up your character on a server with more forgiving settings and then unleash him on some hardcore server where people are tirelessly busting their butts to increase their stats. At the same time, put in 80 hours on a server and decide you don't much like it there (or if the server is abandoned) and you'll be starting over with a blank slate, which could be a bitter pill to swallow.
You can create a private server and go at it alone—I did a bit of this while learning to play—but LiF is obviously heavily aimed at a collaborative experience. There's no real creative mode but there is a GM mode you can access when creating a private server, allowing you to enter codes in the console to spawn items, change your stats, observe players, and use other 'cheats.'
What's the goal? Well, survival, for one, though typically that's not too hard. Find an apple tree and you can quickly gather enough food to last you the day, and you'll hear angry wolves well before they attack you, allowing you to flee if you're not armed or armored. If you choose to fight, good luck: combat, at the moment, is a bit rudimentary. My fights with wolves have consisted of sluggishly thrusting my crafted axe in their direction (there's no targeting or crosshair) as they snarled and bit me. Be careful attacking other players: some servers discourage it and may ban you (I'm basing this on observations of global chat conversations), while others are full PVP. Dying means respawning in just your underpants and losing a fair number of skill points, plus playing in a weakened state until your character mentally recovers from the trauma of rebirth. You can also be knocked unconscious, and recovering can take several minutes during which you'll be able to do nothing but stare at your comatose body, which can be looted in the meantime.
The biggest issue I'm having with Life is Feudal is its complete lack of stability. Nearly all my sessions ended much earlier than I wanted them to due to frequent crashes and occasional server timeouts (the third most common reason was me quitting because night fell and it's simply too dark for too long to enjoy playing). Loading the game and joining a server can take several minutes, and I'm often completely unable to join the private server I created, with no reason given. There are other assorted irritations, like the fact that you can't back out to the main menu: you have to exit the game entirely, even just to choose a different server. I imagine a lot of this will be fixed in the future, but it's annoying as heck now.
I admire the LiF's grittiness, and that it requires a real investment of time and dedication from its players. The idea of genuinely collaborating on a town with friends, building it up, and then defending it against competing towns is definitely appealing, though at the moment it feels like just that: an idea. Most of its planned features have simply yet to be created or implemented. It's also $40/£25, which is quite steep (DayZ, by comparison, is only $30, and you probably know how incensed people get about that early-access experiment).
It's got loads of promise, but I'd really only recommend Life is Feudal to the most dedicated of enthusiasts, willing to contribute (suffer?) during what feels like very early stages of development.
Unclear. Life is Feudal is doing strong sales and is one of the most popular games on Steam at the moment, which hints at a large, passionate community with keen interest in its success. At the same time, there's a monstrous amount of work still to be done by an unproven development team.