Going Medieval (Early Access) Review
Going Medieval is in Early Access and has a bunch of bugs, which is totally expected and understandable. What I didn’t expect is for these bugs to be a dark source of delight for me—an omniscient sky god watching my malfunctioning settlers cycle through exhaustion and starvation without reprieve. Am I sick? Yes, because I can’t stop playing this game.
The late Colina, one of my three original colony founders, was my favorite. Colina was easily one of my strongest characters—a powerful cook, good with plants, strong at construction. When it was time to sleep, Colina would sometimes just bug out and stand there, refusing to get into bed. She would get exhausted and ravenous, and eventually become unconscious. I’d get another settler to carry her to a bed, which is what you’re supposed to do, but she’d just get up and sprint back to her chores even though I’d set her to prioritise rest. Occasionally Colina would snap out of it and approach the food stockpile to get a meal, only to pass out again. There are stretches of time where I’d watch her faceplant on the floor in front of a roasted meat or stew because she couldn’t stay awake long enough to eat. I can’t believe I don’t have any screenshots of her. Colina, I miss you.
To be clear, Going Medieval, in all its buggy glory, is a magnificent layer cake of colony-building micromanagement and neurotic fretting over your three starting settlers. There’s a bit of backstory about a plague ravaging the land and survivors emerging to begin anew—I should know because I made (and have yet to see through) five different settlements. Depending on how overwhelmed you get with these sorts of games, the learning curve can be rough—it isn’t just about keeping your settlers alive and happy, but also finding a rough equilibrium with the environment and resources. And while it’s got all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a colony-building sim, it’s really about the people, like an endearing SimTower from hell.
As the game progresses, managing your growing settlement turns into a juggling act—you’ll need to figure out how to store your burgeoning collection of chronicles, keep your stockpiles from rotting, placate the followers of two religions, strategically upgrade your buildings with stronger materials without letting the more sensitive residents get cold and wet, endure oppressive heat waves, and feed them all through a hard winter. You can’t please everyone, just as I could never please Osbert, who bugged out and died in his bed (he was injured and confined to bed to rest, but then he became ravenous, and simply expired).
One unintentionally hilarious thing is that the settlers will get upset over seeing dead bodies. This is compounded by the fact that everyone is bloody and injured after a raid, everyone needs to rest, and can’t haul away the corpses to be burned or buried. I love watching my lovable crew of ding-dongs become increasingly distraught over seeing a body, yet can’t do anything about it because they’re critically bleeding out. Combine this scenario with the aforementioned unconscious/exhausted/ravenous trap, and it’s practically art.
I should probably mention that some people can be cannibals; not the “I ate longpig out of necessity” kind but the “human flesh fuels their spirit” type, which is a little weird in a medieval colony setting (there are historical instances of cannibalism in Europe, though). Each character is randomised—when you first set up the game, you can flip through random personalities for your three founding settlers. You can get a sadistic combo like “extra assholish when it rains” and “angry, mean drunk,” or a sweet ray of sunshine who helps to keep everyone feeling positive. New settlers will show up—runaway prisoners and destitute vagabonds—which sometimes invites trouble to your doorstep. The RTS-like combat can be brutal in the early stages when your people are unskilled, poorly geared and lack defensive structures, and you’ll be surprised at how attached you get to them when they get killed.
The stockpile system can be frustrating, especially for book storage (the bookshelves are purely decorative, which sucks). And the elevation tool can be really finicky, especially if you’re trying to force someone to work on one unfinished floor tile and can’t quite select it. The game AI isn’t an entirely smooth ride yet; despite assigning prioritised tasks to my settlers to hunt, harvest, mine, cook, and so on, the little bastards still find a way to do what they want. Someone might abandon picking redcurrants for no discernible reason and leave them out in the woods for days. If your residents get super mad at you, they’ll throw a tantrum and refuse orders for a period of time. These rebellions are extra special when they fall into the “exhaustion/ravenous” bug cycle because you’ll have someone visibly steaming away with an angry cloud over their head, starving themselves out of sheer spite. You do you, Xristiana (but I also kind of hate you because you refused to cook for days)!
I’m not put off by Early Access wonkiness when it creates an unintentionally engaging (even endearing) experience, especially when my new favorite medieval god-simulator mirrors modern-day labor concerns as my indentured settlers collapse in exhaustion in front of their floor food. Sure, the game never spells out what was happening in 1353 Britain in the real world (namely the Hundred Years War and the rule of martially-inclined King Edward III), so you’re free to play in a contextless void, which is fine and valid. But even as Going Medieval does its best not to mention the sociopolitical history of the Middle Ages in Europe (feudalism, mass migration, violent wars, etc.), it’s clear that it expects you, the player, to have some ambient awareness of what medieval European life entailed, and your role as overlord to these dysfunctional, charming little serfs.