What is it? A realism-focused sandbox survival sim set in the Middle Ages.
Expect to pay: $40 / £25
Developer: Bitbox, Ltd.
Publisher: Bitbox, Ltd.
Reviewed on: Windows 10, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 780
Multiplayer: Up to 64 players per server
There's a warning about Life is Feudal: Your Own that's seemingly built into its very title—that little play on the word "futile" that's a tad too perfect to be an accident. Be grateful for that warning. You could end up like me, fully confident that months of sampling other survival sims like Rust and ARK: Combat Evolved had prepared you for what this medieval themed variant has to offer. But after I spent several minutes combing the beach I'd washed up on for the flint the spartan tutorial told me I could use to make an axe (along with some branches and plant fiber), I knew I was wrong. This was real. A little too real. Barely an hour in, trying to eke out an existence on the smug little private server I'd made seemed like it was a very futile endeavor indeed.
There's a lot to admire about that devotion to realism, though, particularly as it allows interactions with objects through right-clicks and menus that most of its genre cousins would shy from. When I stumble across an elm in the woods, for instance, I can yank off its branches or shave its trunk for bark or just chop the whole thing down for use in a building elsewhere. But the realism doesn't end there—in this feudal world, you'll find no Skyrim-style bags that hold more than an entire merchant's shop. If I want to use that log, I'll have to slowly haul the thing over to the site, all the while wearing a pained grimace that would make the Sheriff of Nottingham beam with pride. And then I'll do it again. And again.
Anyone who who attempts to do this alone is frankly doing it wrong. Hate people? This isn't for you—even living as a raider requires some helping hands to cart off the stuff you steal. I suppose there are some masochists who wouldn't mind paying 40 bucks to live like Tom Hanks and Wilson on the game's island setting, but this is largely meant to be a game about crafting predesigned cozy cottages and manors rather than shoddy leafy huts. Much as the game itself takes its name from an intricate social structure, so does Life is Feudal itself place a heavy emphasis on cooperation and socialization. In the absence of enemies like zombies or dinos (or even many animals apart from oxen, deer, and the occasional bear), it's other players that matter here. In Life is Feudal, it takes a village to make a village.
Want a cozy cottage? Here's what'll take if you tackle it on your own.
100 Building Logs
Each dragged in individually from the hills.
Heated in a kiln set to 1000 or higher and made from flux, rock, and sand.
6 Door Modules
Sound simple? You'll need to make an anvil and forge to make the pieces (and the skill to use them).
250 Clay Tiles
Each fired in a kiln.
5 Window Modules
Requires that kiln again and some skill in Carpentry.
Having some other peasants to help along doesn't fix everything, though, especially considering that each server has a maximum limit of 64 players at a time. That means that even though PvP combat and a rudimentary morality system exist (although some server GMs ban players who start squabbles), it never reaches the potential for the real wars implicit in the title since there's rarely enough people active to build the kind of heavy fortifications such events require. (Not to mention that the combat is a slow mess that poorly mimics Mount & Blade and drains your stamina to the point of uselessness in seconds.) Thanks to the labor required to do the simplest tasks, even relatively busy servers often have little more than a couple of huts and a sad little palisade to account for weeks and weeks of work.
Find the right group, though, and you'll find some gratification in the grind. The sluggish pace means that the construction of a mere cottage is an event worth celebrating. The vast amount of skills involved means players have a tendency to slip into focused careers when playing with others, which helps create the illusion of a bona fide working society. Does it sometimes feel like a new real world job in the process? You're darned right it does. All the same, I found some quiet satisfaction in the knowledge that I was building structures that would help my community survive and not just clocking in hours for pay that I'd use to pay someone else. In its best moments, Life is Feudal recalls a beautiful simplicity we've lost in the modern world.
It doesn't hurt that the world itself is quite the looker in spots, even if it tended to bog my GeForce GTX 780 to slideshow speeds on medium settings. Still, I doubt that's enough to keep me coming back until something, at least, speeds up in Life is Feudal, but I can't deny that there was something deeply fulfilling about finding the myriad uses for objects around me that kept me coming back even after enduring the occasional crash and lingering bugs. For a while, anyway. Right now, having just spent an hour trudging back and forth to a tree to help build a simple chest, I'm more than ready for the Renaissance.