On November 17, indie developer BitBox Games released its new sandbox game: Life is Feudal: Your Own, on Steam. Life is Feudal was the winner of this year’s Best Indie MMO award at E3. Part of the planned Life is Feudal MMO development path, Life is Feudal: Your Own provides the Life is Feudal client, playing on player-created servers, similar to Minecraft, Space Engineers, Wurm Unlimited, or Ark.
As a sandbox game, Life is Feudal (LiF) follows in the Minecraft / Space Engineers / Ark mold as well, and the concept behind the gameplay will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played those games. You start off with nothing, and have to live off the land, using available resources to produce food, shelter, weapons, and anything else you need, while protecting yourself from wild animals, starvation, and of course, other players.
Where LiF differs from most other games in the sandbox/survival genre its use of a system of attributes and skills. Attributes directly affect things like carrying capacity (Strength), how long you can run (Constitution), accuracy with ranged weapons (Agility) and so on. Skills directly affect which materials you can gather. More on that in a bit.
From the first moments of the game, LiF presents some interesting hooks. The opening cinematic uses stylised artwork with a decidedly Viking flavor to tell the story of how you found yourself here, alone in a hostile land far from home. Right from the start, that choice of style helps set the ‘you’re not a person from a modern life’ tone of the game, and begins to develop a sense of immersion. Just as helpful is the narrative voiceover — a strong, familiar accent that for most will evoke Middle-Earth, or Westeros: Sean Bean. It’s just one well-executed piece of BitBox’s very nice work on the look, sound, and feel of the game.
The graphics in LiF are beautiful. Played on low settings, the game looks good. On high settings, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Trees are visibly differentiated at a fairly long distance, animals can be easily identified from equally far away, the difference between night and day is, well, night and day. This would be good news on its own, but the graphics are supported by a soundtrack of recorder, harp, and lute music. The selections are all eminently renn-faire-worthy, and include Greensleeves, one of the undeniable staples of ‘this is a medieval setting’ ambiance. In fact, the only annoying thing about the game’s presentation is that I haven’t been able to find a way to move the camera in third-person mode so I can actually see the front of my character.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone…
One important thing to keep in mind in LiF is: this game isn’t meant to be played alone. It is literally impossible to max out all of your skills, so playing by yourself on your own server, while perfectly reasonable for something like Minecraft, will only frustrate you. Right now, the game has only one map, so using a personal server to learn your way around and figure out where resources are on that map isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s of limited use. Besides, what’s the use of building a cool sand castle if you can’t show it off to your friends? Or kick over someone else’s in the process?
Multi-player, though, really gives the game’s complexity and range of items and skills a chance to shine. By playing with friends, you can specialize in a narrower range of crafting skills without sacrificing the ability to work your way up to more advanced building, weapon, and armor options. In fact, because the person who plans to be a blacksmith and armorer isn’t wasting time learning how to be a farmer and carpenter at the same time, skill training can go quicker and far more painlessly.
Finding ways to accelerate your skill training will help immensely, as well. If you find the right ways to proceed, and which skills you want to have to be able to perform certain tasks, everything goes much quicker. If not… it can take hours just to be able to craft a chair — and if you really manage to take the path of least efficiency, by the time you can craft that chair, you still won’t know how to build a hut. But really, why worry about a hut when proper half-timbered houses and villages can be built?
LiF has a skill tree that builds off of five different, basic skills. Nearly every other non-combat skill in the game is based on one of these. The only exceptions are Arts, Fishing/Hunting, Jewelry, Mentoring and Piety. The basic skills are Farming, Forestry, Nature’s Lore, Prospecting, and Terraforming. From those, all others follow; Animal Lore from Farming, Logging from Forestry, and so on. In order to unlock each skill, the skill before it needs to be at a minimum threshold of 30 points.
Each skill also has two associated attributes, a Primary and Secondary. Each use of a skill increases the skill, and also increases the two attributes. These increases are generally small, both for the skill and the attributes. As a result, it can take a while to make any significant progress into the upper echelons of skills, but as you go, you unlock more options and uses for the skills that can in turn provide more ways to improve them.
No-one can reach the upper levels of all of the skills in Life is Feudal — there is a skill point cap in place that’s currently equal to 600 + (Int – 10). Combat skills (Blades, Two-Handed Blades, etc) and Crafting Skills (Forestry, etc) each have their own skill cap. When you reach the skill cap, advancing one skill is only possibly by degrading some other skill. In order to make this possible, you can choose different skill advancement behaviors for each skill. Skills can be set to increase, meaning they will only improve, and will not be degraded – but of course, setting all skills this way means that once you hit the cap point, you can’t advance any of them. Alternately, they can be set to decrease – the skill won’t increase with use, but will be degraded slightly to allow other skills to increase. This lets you bring skill values back down if you’ve wasted points in accidental increases due to repetitive actions. Finally, skills can be locked, set to neither improve, nor degrade.
That said, it can be difficult to get your bearings and get your wits about you in the game — especially if you’re trying to play solo, on a private server you don’t have connecting to the internet. Progress will be slow, and often frustrating. LiF may be ‘Your Own’, but the best way to ensure Life is Feudal, and not Futile, is to play socially. Look for one of the many publicly-accessible servers in the lobby listing. Hook up with friends if you have some who are into this genre, and bring them along as well. In my forays onto public servers — even the PvP ones — the players have been more than happy to help talk new folks through getting started.
Once you’re working with friends, new or old, each of you finding a niche that’s fulfilling and interesting for you, you’ll quickly get your footing. From there, you can begin developing a sense of common achievement and community. Life is Feudal is a sandbox game, and one that is continuing development into a full-blown MMO. If experience has taught us anything, it’s that ultimately, what makes both of those genres really shine isn’t just the game, but the people we play with — including the people we’re trying to kill.
Combat in LiF is physics-based. There is no auto-attack, no random number generator determining hit-or-miss. Instead, your positioning and action makes the difference. If you’re too far away and go to stab someone with a knife, you won’t reach them. If you’re too close when you swing your axe, you’ll only smack them with the haft. It makes for a more challenging combat mechanic for PvP, but it’s also a lot more satisfying when you win.
Combat skills are broken down similarly to crafting skills. There are five basic skill lines, and five complementary skills. The complementary skills don’t have a direct effect on your combat ability, but each improves aspects of how your character relates to fighting.
As with crafting skills, each of the combat skills unlocks further options for character development, with the second skill in each of the five lines being an armour skill.
Positioning isn’t the only consideration when making an attack, though. For ranged attacks, agility plays into your accuracy. Far more importantly, though, is the way Constitution plays into melee combat. Swinging an axe at someone isn’t an easy thing to do, and LiF incorporates that. Making a melee attack saps some of the player’s current endurance. It’s entirely possible early on to take two swings and leave yourself winded and out of breath — and unable to properly defend yourself from whoever (or whatever) you were swinging your axe at. All in all, it’s a fairly satisfying, realistic system that never leaves you at the mercy of the RNG.
It’s Not All Fun And Games
There are some places where BitBox can definitely improve things, though. For one thing, the character creation interface is inexplicably split between drop-down menu selections, and sliders. As an example, for ‘facial feature’ (which is actually more like tattoos or war paint), the game uses a slider to choose between half a dozen or so options. For hair style, though, it switches to drop-down to select between eight options. Then for hair color, it’s right back to a slider. The inconsistency has no apparent rhyme or reason, and way it’s presented, if they’d just choose one or the other, they’d be able to offer their selection in a clearer and more compact manner.
The interface is also fairly unintuitive. Not in the basic controls, which use the normal WASD layout, but in navigating through learning how to do things. The tutorials presented are extremely light on details, relying instead on example videos embedded into the tutorial’s help page, like a YouTube embed in a wiki.
Despite these relatively minor hiccups, though, the overall picture is pretty good. Bitbox is continually working to improve things, and is very responsive to community feedback via the game’s forums, both on Steam and the LiF website, so it’s likely these issues will be addressed as the solo game’s release moves into the MMO’s development cycle.
All in all, Life is Feudal: Your Own is an interesting entry into the sandbox survival genre. The gameplay is solid, even if skill progression can feel a little slow sometimes. Combat, both PvP and PvE (against predators like wolves) is engaging, requiring focus and a willingness to learn, but is very satisfying if you’re willing to make the effort. The graphics and ambiance are beautiful, even on the lower settings some older machines might require, and the overall presentation really helps to sell the idea of a medieval survivor, working alone or with others to forge a new life and make their mark on the world. While Life is Feudal lacks the elegant simplicity of Minecraft, what it brings to the table in its place should be more than enough to carve out its own niche in the gaming landscape. Fans of the sandbox survival genre, especially those who enjoy PvP-enabled games, should definitely check this one out.
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Arrendis.