Review

Banished Review

  • Game release: December 31, 2013
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

May your fears be banished!

by

SimCity's influence, both on the strategy genre and on gaming in general, is immense. Still, the past few years have seen an explosion of clever city builders taking some huge steps toward developing personality and becoming more than their progenitor. Banished is the latest in that line, elaborating on the intricate, small-scale design of recent games like Tropico and creating something unique in the process.

If you're reading this, it's safe to assume that you have an Internet-capable device with all of the modern comforts that typically implies. But what if you didn't? What if you were forced out of civilization as you know it, to live in the wilderness? How do you think you'd fare? Banished asks those questions, opening with a dozen or so outcasts seeking to make their way in the wilderness. It's a humble setup, but the game is masterfully constructed with dozens of interlocking mechanics--the perfect foundation for a stinging emergent narrative and a focus on empathy in the face of a Malthusian world.

Cultivating crops can be one of the best ways to keep some consistent food coming in. Be warned, however. Too much farming will deplete the soil.

Banished is a series of small goals that feed into one ever-looming command: survive. Every game starts in the spring, and before winter hits, you need to get enough firewood, gather a decent supply of food, and build some houses to keep your citizens from freezing to death. Just getting enough food is tough, because you rarely have enough time or free land to get a proper set of crops growing. Instead, you'll be chopping down as many trees as you can before getting a fishery going in a nearby lake or river. Then you hunker down and hope nobody dies.

What if you were forced out of civilization as you know it, to live in the wilderness? How do you think you'd fare? Banished asks those questions, opening with a dozen or so outcasts seeking to make their way alone in the wilderness.

People, more than anything else, are your vital resource. They need homes, food, decent clothes, tools, emotional support, medicine, and more. Every mechanic, every building you can place, and everything else you can do relates back to that central theme of survival. If you can't gather enough food, your people die. If they're stuck outside for too long, or don't have warm clothing, they die. Each time you fail as their leader, you're reminded of the loss with a grating sound and a yellow gravestone. These serve as a one-two punch to punish you for failure because losing citizens makes it that much harder to keep up the resource flow. One fewer worker means you can't gather food, stone, wood, or anything else as quickly. When children die, it's even worse, though you likely won't know it for some time. As your population ages, you eventually lose more than a few citizens to old age, and the best way to replace them is to give your younger citizens houses in the hopes that they'll reproduce and bolster your future numbers.

Like most games of its type, Banished has a number of natural disasters that strike your populace. In many ways, they serve as a kind of random "boss fight" in the sense that they will often test one aspect of your infrastructure. Diseases test the health of your population, fires your city planning, and tornadoes your ability to rapidly rebuild before winter comes again. With Banished already amounting to a desperate attempt to stave off death, disasters can be absolutely devastating for the unprepared. When pests hit your crops and you're already barely squeaking by each year, you're going to start losing a lot of people. Those kinds of cascading failures contrast with the almost hilarious scenarios that surround SimCity's giant robots or aliens.

Societal collapse isn't caused just by disasters, though, as maintaining equilibrium with the environment is actually impossible, which is another point of contrast between Banished and other games in its family. Most of the time, resources are unlimited in these sorts of games, but not quite so here. Farms won't continue producing food indefinitely, and most fishermen's docks steadily deplete the available population of fish that you can draw upon. Stone and iron, two critical materials for construction and maintenance, are also finite. After your initial stores run out, you can find some of these materials out in the world, but once you've exhausted those reserves, you're left with two options: trading and mining. Trading is a lot harder than it sounds, as opportunities come only a few times each year. Trade ships also have limited space and don't carry too much with them. Additionally, accepting trade increases your risk of disease and pests for your people and your crops. Mines are just as troublesome. Their supply of stone, iron, and coal is finite, and they take an enormous number of people to operate efficiently; they are also deadly, potentially risking mineshaft collapses or being crushed to death by stone. This, of course, all leads back to the struggle of maintaining your population.

Societal collapse isn't caused just by disasters, though, as maintaining equilibrium with the environment is actually impossible.

Banished has dozens of these kinds of interlocking, intricately woven systems that all feed into one another. Every decision has a cost, and every choice is a risk. Some elements of city planning are also completely incompatible with each other. To maintain your peoples' health, for example, you need some herbalists. They collect basic resources from the floors of old growth forests and can use them to make poultices that keep your people working their best and resistant to possible disease outbreaks. The key, however, is the "old growth" bit. You also need a steady source of logs to chop up for firewood. A good team of foresters can maintain a large enough area of continuous growth, but helpful herbs and wildlife can't be found in such young forests. To maximize your production, you need separate forests for your potion masters and your loggers. This dynamic becomes much harder to balance with the addition of resource-distribution mechanics. Loggers that need to transport the fruits of their labor more than a few tiles begin to lose efficiency and increase the risk of running low on firewood or tools--the two main long-term uses for lumber. If any of these pieces begin to lag, you place yourself and your people at risk of a systemic failure. A reduction in logging output can cause your supply of new tools to run low, dropping your logging output that much further. Everything is a feedback loop.

Such strongly linked systems require an enormous amount of care to manage effectively, and that most often comes into play when you're looking to expand your village. If you try to develop a new logging outpost without building a network of roads, supply barns, and the like to make sure the resources keep moving where they are needed, your new loggers will likely die of starvation or hypothermia. You must effectively build semi-self-sufficient towns that link together via markets and high-capacity roads. The game isn't completely unreasonable here, though. If you build a new house near a mine on the edge of town, a few people will probably move in, and their occupation automatically shifts to match the closest workspace that can support them. When everything works, Banished is remarkably rewarding.

While the process of survival is never-ending, holding out against the elements amid the hostility of the untamed natural world is a small but powerful personal victory. Villagers have names; they're born, grow up, and eventually die under your intense supervision. Banished reinforces the human drama with its brutal difficulty and negative feedback loops. It's fertile soil for some of the most remarkable emergent storytelling around. With relatively few, well-designed mechanics, the game weaves a powerful tale of empathy and desperation and is a high-water mark for narrative elements that mutually reinforce mechanics. Even better, this is a very human story divorced from the Western tropes common in the loosely imperialistic messages of other, similar games. It's just you, your people, and their strong desire to live.

The Good
Brilliant network of interlocking mechanics makes every system relevant
Riveting, emergent drama
Solid menus with a customizable interface keep all the information you want accessible
Wonderfully challenging, steady difficulty curve
The Bad
Lacks a sense of progression
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

Daniel Starkey spent more than 60 hours over five days starting up over a dozen cities and struggling to keep his citizenry alive.

Discussion

112 comments
NinjaGaz
NinjaGaz

It was a good game - finally nice to play something a little unique. I got a good few hours out of it (well worth the money) but I did end up finding that I was doing the same thing in each map. It lacks something to vary the way you play the game, but apart from that it was a good buy.


All very impressive as it was written by just 1 developer.

Algearond
Algearond

Definitely going on my list although with TESO out now going to be quite a while lol

MaxZeta
MaxZeta

I hate/love this game (more hate actually). It's super challenging at first, interesting and keeps you hooked up when you realize that your most important resource is people. But the fact that it has no goal (therefore I agree with the "lack of progression") and the fact that a single catastrophe can wipe out a 2 hours game, made me uninstall it and move on...it's half baked as it was stated before. With some minor adjustments it could be a nicer and less frustrating game.

Harrason
Harrason

People need to realize that while this is technically a game that's in my opinion not finished and all, this isn't really just a game.

At first, it's about a mundane story of several settlers who struggle to build the city from the ground up. Then, it's about the city and the people and it's struggle to keep it alive and kicking for as long as possible, be it decades, centuries, or if at all possible, millenniums.

You don't play this game for short bursts of excitement or for a huge amount of features. You play this game as if it is your life. That kind of mundane life where you go to school every single day, where you go to work every single damn day.

Yet. Once in a while you may see something that's rare, and in doing so, you derive enjoyment out of it. This is the kind of story that nomads have to deal with during the ages of old, they don't have the internet and billions of people supplying information around the world every single day for their leisure and enjoyment, they just make do with that small tens of square kilometres around them for their own survival.

Granted, there are a lot of improvements that the 1-man development team can do for the game, but before that, why can't we just marvel at the beauty of this game that portrays that slow, easygoing life?

prime_pm
prime_pm

Can you like sacrifice people in the game in order to control the population, like a pseudo Children of the Corn?

Stu-pendous
Stu-pendous

It's a promising interface, but the minefield of bugs mars it from excellence. I do very much love the concept and hope with modification it gets the refinement it deserves.

jesot
jesot

I'm waiting for modders to fix the game before I jump in.  The game has a lot of potential, but has a lot of bugs and technical roadblocks in its current state.  Definitely not a game that I'd have reviewed at this point, but definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

nicecall
nicecall

just wanted to troll here again and wonder why this bad game got an 8, anyone know?

Floymin
Floymin

I've noticed a trend in games that focus more on gameplay and strategy than a story with rewards and an ending. This game looks to fit that mold. Are people saying they *don't* want games that will keep them busy with no reward or end in sight?

LickTheEnvelope
LickTheEnvelope

Really fun little sim.  People harping on it not being worth an 8... meh... maybe but for $20 it's much better than a lot of $60 games and at that price I think it's an 8. 

jimmy_russell
jimmy_russell

Highly overrated game. It deserves a 6/10 I think. It's clever but gets boring and tedious quite quickly. There's really nothing else to see past the first few hours playing, it's just repetitive and monotonous gameplay at that point.

nicecall
nicecall

i found this game really boring, i'm not sure how i could ever play it again, i spent a few hrs on it and almost fell asleep just watching the slow pace of everything.  The rating system on this site makes no sense, they give this an 8/10?  This games quality is far below what i would call an 8 out of 10.  its in the 5 range at best and thats being generous

mariocerame
mariocerame

This game is more like a 6.5 or perhaps a 7 (if charitable).  This game is fun for a day perhaps, but the game play is relatively shallow--there isn't much in terms of nuance. In short--if you've played Dwarf Fortress, it's like that game, without the digging and without the siege warfare and with only 4 resources instead of a jillion and without skills.  You'll even start with a cart. (Or imagine the Caesar series, but much, much simpler.)

The resource management is simple--too simple.  It is not very challenging. All the crops and orchards are the same. You can use firewood as a tradeable resource throughout the game.    The people are relatively fungible--they don't gain skills or anything to make you attached to any of them. It's basically Stronghold without the combat--and without baking bread.

The tagline is misleading--there is no sense that your people are banished or exiles or whathaveyou.

My sense from this review and the Rome 2 review is that Mr. Starkey plays games for too short a time--maybe an afternoon--whereas I as a consumer want a game that will be rewarding when I invest more time.  I think that's true for most strategy gamers--we want a game for our mind to conquer and a game that will challenge us. This is not such a game.  You'll conquer the game after a few hours, even on the hardest settings, and you'll keep playing hoping that a new challenge will arise--but it won't.

6.5.  An 8 is totally inaccurate.

enoughofthis
enoughofthis

this game or ff hd remastered...


hmm i think i will go with ff

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

Downloading now...  This just might be able to fill the city-building void left by the death of the SimCity series.

Shouoken4Peace
Shouoken4Peace

This game looks very interesting. Maybe it will be included in the Steam Spring sale? *crosses fingers*

altairdarius
altairdarius

8 ??? better then Thief and Castlevania LOS 2. I don't get it.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

I have to say, this is one incredible game. I bought it last weak and it is both wonderful and imaginative. I love how almost everything -from people and trees to the sheep and chickens in the field!- has a natural cycle to it which seems lacking in pretty much every other game. What makes this game even more impressive was that it was made by one -count that- one guy!


Also, I think this game is much more like Ceaser III rather than that much overated series by Maxim -which I never really liked.

psuedospike
psuedospike

"Banished (Farmville 2014) is a better game than Theif!" -Gamespot


smdh

chitosan87
chitosan87

@MaxZeta  Totally agree ... I managed to survive for 2 hours, my Village has grown bigger. But then what? I cannot connect my Village with my other Village. Waste of time ... well ... Back to Sim City 4 again ...

Caldrin
Caldrin

@nicecall because its not a bad game at all..


I dont think i would have hit it up wit an 8 quite yet due to bugs, but if they got fixed then yeah the score is fine.

mariocerame
mariocerame

@Floymin

I like games with strategy and emergent storytelling, like CK2.  I thought this could be something in that mold.  It isn't.

sSubZerOo
sSubZerOo

@Floymin  Because those "rewards" are usually something that does nothing for enjoyment of the game other then to pass a few artificial hurdles you couldn't get by before it.. Because playing those said "story" based games usually have little to no replayability and have little to no decision making that actually matter..  This isn't saying they are bad just that the market is glutted with games like this now where they last all of 10 hours with minimal reason to replay it...  While games like these are all about choice in how you go about things, best of all it is randomized.. Meaning one play through could be completely different then the next.. Games like Demons Souls and Dark Souls really opened up the popularity that people do not want linear games with minimal choice, but games that can be replayed and played completely differently from one playthrough to the next.. The way I see it these games are a investment for your enjoyment.. And I personally would rather have a game that I could see my self playing numerous times for years down the road then one that I may play two or three times through if I am lucky.. 

DanCStarkey
DanCStarkey

@mariocerame  I do like me some Dwarf Fortress, but I'd argue that it lacks the finesse or the elegance of Banished. Regardless, the score is my opinion, and I think your opinion is interesting, but I'm not crazy about the insinuation that I don't play games for long. My records show a few dozen hours on Banished.

The biggest issue here is that everyone's experience is different. In speaking to other reviewers I found that per unit time I was hit with a lot more disasters and, as a result, my game was significantly more challenging. I also just didn't seem to find the rhythm others have and I struggled a bit. I know quite a few other critics that never made a "successful" town. It happens.


That said, I'd say the score is virtually irrelevant. I'd prefer you pay attention to the text as it gives you a window into my perspective and the criteria upon which I judged the game. I've often had controversial opinions of games (both here and the dozen or so other websites for which I write), but I also do my best to justify the opinion with observations. Then I write something that stitches it all together as best as I can. It's all I can do, really. 


To summarize, Dwarf Fortress is a very special game, but I'd NEVER recommend that to a general audience -- and there's a reason for that. I see games as a medium that is steadily becoming more accessible and more democratic and that's important to me, personally. That accessibility matters and I think that reflects in my work. You're free to disagree, of course, but how difficult a strategy game doesn't translate to an intrinsic "goodness" and from what I can tell, the average player has a lot more trouble with the game than the more hardcore strategy fans. That in mind, I try to focus on who I know my audience is, especially here at GameSpot.

GGCrew_basic
GGCrew_basic

@vadagar1"stop deleting my comment GS I I swear to god I will keep copy pasting it here till the end of time"

In other words: "Ban me failing to adhere to the community guidelines."

You have a couple of valid points - too bad it's buried under such vitriol.

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

@altairdarius You're comparing stealth-action, action-adventure, and city-building games as if they're even remotely related.

vadagar1
vadagar1

@altairdarius I do 


its called good taste in games 


thief is a fail and castlwhatever is for gothic/emo wanabe justin biber fans 

WolfGrey
WolfGrey

@psuedospike  

That new Thief game is a piss poor example of a Thief game. It is nothing more than a casualized version of that the series is all about.

As a long time thief fan, my middle finger goes to them.

Floymin
Floymin

@mariocerame @FloyminYou actually expected a story in a game billed as "the medieval Sim City"? Your loss for getting it wrong.

mariocerame
mariocerame

@DanCStarkey @mariocerame

I appreciate your thoughtful response, and I'd like to reply with two major points. Note that I purchased this game and invested a Saturday day into it based on your review and a commensurate desire for a new strategy game.  Your words had power. 

First, as a consumer, I disagree strongly that a "score is virtually irrelevant," and I hope that you either reconconsider that position or fix what does not work for you.  See, I read reviews generally to decide whether a game will be worth my time, which is limited.  A score frames and organizes the text, and informs me about how strongly the reviewer felt about his experience.  Other GS readers value the number too--wasn't there a recent big kerfuffle over the score GTA5 received?  Right.

The bottom line score can inform the whole review. I have bought games because a reviewer gave the game a poor score--for example, I purchased Star Wars: Rebellion way way back last century because the Gamespot reviewer gave the game a score of 4.5.  A 4.5 was really bad!  Whatever the reviewer felt about the game, he felt it strongly.  In reading the text, I discovered the reviewer didn't like things about the game I knew I would like--that 4.5 mattered a lot in me deciding to buy the game, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I valued that review a lot! I knew whether I wanted to buy the game or not from that review! I still load up that game every couple of years.

In this case, you gave the game an 8. That suggested to me that you believe it is a "great" game and felt somewhat strongly about it.  You put it in the same camp as "Tropico," and I played the hell out of Tropico thirteen years ago.  You're someone who plays lots of games, so I value your thoughts.  That bottom-line judgment informed every sentence of the text: each sentence is read through the lens of, "This guy believed this game was great. He compared it to Tropico. Okay."  I was surprised at how disappointing I found this game, and I found your 8--that is, judgment that the game is "great"--strange.  Based on your review, I thought I would want to buy this game, but that was not correct.

If you truly believe "the score is virtually irrelevant," then wouldn't it be more intellectually honest to forego giving games any score, or at the very least inform your readers that you believe the score is of no import?  I recall fondly how GS reviewers would break down various aspects of a game into different scores.  I appreciated that feature, but I can understand how perhaps reviewers struggled with it.  At any rate, please reconsider your position on the irrelevance of game scores.

Second, I wasn't recommending DF here.  I mentioned it for the same reason that I imagine you mentioned Tropico early on--to create a common reference point.  I was describing Banished's gameplay as best I could in a few hundred words, and answering an internal question, What at the minimum do I wish I had been told before buying the game?  I was not promoting DF--but DF was a handy reference as many elements of Banished are clearly inspired by aspects of DF.  I do not disagree with many, many of the points you make about DF, but they are strawmen.

Last, the insinuation--my apologies if it was incorrect--was based on two points of data, from which I drew a line.  I wouldn't say these reviews were controversial so much as missing the mark.  You suggest that you're trying to serve the audience--which is a great principle.  I suppose, though, if these two reviews are indicative of what GS has become--coupled with the irrelevance of game scores--perhaps then I need to move on.

Very best,

mariocerame
mariocerame

@kitmeep @mariocerame


Haha--no lie.  Not only is there no crime for these supposed social outcasts--there is no violence besides, er, slaughtering some livestock?  And no government but the empty town hall . . . .

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@GGCrew_basic  

Indeed - shame really. Some people can't refine their statements and cut out all the ranting fat.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@johnners2981  

"Shake my damn head" - it's an abbreviation that the lazy tends to use when they don't want to elaborate their points.

DanCStarkey
DanCStarkey

@mariocerame  He's a phenomenal editor and especially, given how young I am in this business, feel that it is a privilege to work with him. So i feel you there. 

mariocerame
mariocerame

@DanCStarkey @mariocerame

Thanks for your thoughts, and my sincere apologies about the various misunderstandings.  More importantly, thanks for the attention you gave this.  For me, now, time is the big limit.  Some $60 isn't a big deal--my tight budget is in time.  I imagine your time is also limited, so it says a lot that you gave my remarks so much of your attention.  While your apologies are welcome, they aren't necessary--I'm not bitter or anything.  I said that I relied on your review not because I was upset, but just to express how much I value credible reviews--I very much need them.  Really!  Also, I appreciate that you have given me a better understanding of where you're coming from, which will help me understand your reviews in the future. 

As for the game, I could pick at the game, but I said what I needed to say.  Resources felt too fungible--people, crops, animals--and strategic choices seemed few, and I felt I mastered the game in less than 8 hours. 

In closing, I probably rely too heavily on Kevin's word to leave GS.

DanCStarkey
DanCStarkey

@mariocerame  I made several terrible typos and I feel like an idiot.


Beyond that, I'd say that I've been a fan of Gamespot fr a long time... since I was eight years, actually. I grew up with it and working here has been like living out a childhood dream. To that end, the people I work with are some of the best I've ever spoken to. They do genuinely care, and they do their best to make some great content. They aren't duplicitous or misleading... at least not intentionally, if ever. And they always encourage me to produce the best work I can. To that end, While I am (again) sorry that you didn't find what I did in Banished, I stand by everything I said. I think, when viewed through my frame of reference, that it was a fantastic experience. 


I'd like to see you continue to visit gamespot and provide the insightful comments you have, but we clearly have different perspectives. If anything, I'm curious why that might be.

DanCStarkey
DanCStarkey

@mariocerame  You have a point. I'll be honest, I speak from a place of privilege in that I really don't buy games anymore. In that sense, it can be hard to maintain the same kind of frame or context that a consumer does. In the future I will try to keep that in mind. 


I remember, when I was still an amateur critic, I picked up Portal 2 for $45 new and I was really upset that I only got a few hours from it. After all that was my entire gaming budget for the month. I apologize that my score led you to make a purchasing decision that you later regretted, but I also feel that it's not completely out of line. If we are discussing scores, mine trend a lot closer to the general consumer consensus most places -- particularly metacritic. Many real-life friends picked it up on my recommendation and had a splendid time with it. 


At the end of the day, we can't ever nail a game completely. Everyone has a different opinion, and everyone will have a different opinion. 


When I say the score is irrelevant, though, I mean that more in the sense that it should be considered a distant second to the text itself. That doesn't counter your point, though. So I'll back down from that phrase as it doesn't have place here. 


To close this off, I really wish everyone could have perfect perspective and buy everything they wanted to without limitations or issues of any kind. That's not realistic, though. At the end of the day, I played Banished for a long time -- enough to seriously annoy my significant other at least -- and I loved all of it. From that real experience, I tried to analyze why I had felt that way and produced this review. That's my job. Some people will have different experiences, but I can't do anything about that. I'm one person with one opinion. People disagree though, sometimes that has negative consequences. I can't think of anything else to do other than apologize. Clearly I'm not alone in my love for the game, but then again you clearly aren't either. We're both in the write.

defiant_noise
defiant_noise

@mariocerame @kitmeep What would they steal? They all take whatever they want(tools, food, clothes, firewood). There's no gold or anything else of value and if there were what would they do with it?

And they may be a bit preoccupied trying not to die to worry about stealing things.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@altairdarius  

Based on their score numbers alone, you should have added. Don't you think that this is shallow?

Banished More Info

First Release on Dec 31, 2013
  • PC
Banished is a city-building strategy game where you control a group of exiled travelers who decide to restart their lives in a new land.
7.2
Average User RatingOut of 107 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate Banished
Developed by:
Shining Rock Software
Published by:
Shining Rock Software
Genres:
Strategy