Developer/Publisher: Bitbox Ltd.
Release Date(s): Sep. 19, 2014 (Early Access)
Genre(s): RPG, Simulation, Action, Indie
Pricing: $39.99 / £24.99 / €29.99
Rating: None yet
From humble beginnings Welcome to the world of Life is Feudal: in this action RPG, you are placed upon the earth with little more than some rags for clothing and a few cookies to keep you from starving. What you do from there, however, is up to you. This game is the first major work from Russian developers Bitbox Ltd., though a large number of the developers have worked on big-name games like Bioshock, Halo, and Mass Effect. In addition to being one of Bitbox’s first works, the game is still not yet finished, and what is currently available is the Early Access/Beta version of the game, meaning players are likely to come across a bug or two, but all of these should be fixed for the final release. Life is Feudal is a game where you as the player decide everything from the storyline to how you personally spend your time, though the end-all be-all for the game appears to be creating your own city or castlewhere you personally live. So what are you going to choose? To live on your own and become a master survivalist, or join with other players to create massive cities?
A Rough Start To start with, Life is Feudal allows you to choose between joining the official servers, servers created by other players, and your own user-created server. Each of these servers is a different world, though for the most part they all feature the same map type, so finding resources will be pretty easy as long as you know where to look. Be sure to look over the different server settings though, because some servers allow for quick advancement in skills and abilities and others are held to the default settings default settings. The servers with default settings will be a long grind if you want to unlock the more advanced abilities and skills.
After you've chosen your server or “world”, you get to create your character. Character creation includes your character’s name, family name (last name), skill levels, crafting skill levels, combat skill levels, and race. Later on, gender and appearance will become available to allow for greater character customization. While the character customization screen shows different armor sets, you don't receive them on creating your character, and they're more to show off how your character will look like in each set. Skill customization is pretty fun because you can decide to start off with randomized skill levels or create a character with a wide variety of skill levels, making for a vastly distinct character each time you play.
Once you're in the game the graphics are fairly well done considering this is Bitbox's first major game working alone, but there are still a few things that could be polished up to make the game look better. The world itself is wide open and filled with forests, valleys, plains, and other types of landscapes all well at home in medieval Europe. Also, there's a good chance you will spawn next to, inside, or even on top of another player's home if you're playing on a multiplayer server. In such a case we'd recommend finding somewhere else to set up shop.
Rags to shiny stuff
As we mentioned before, Life is Feudal starts you out with nothing but rags to wear and some cookies to munch on. So if you don't want to die of hunger you need to either meet up with another player (if you're on a populated server) or start working on creating tools for farming, hunting, or fishing. After you choose how you're going to gather food, you're faced with a tough decision. For farmers it's how much you're going focus on expanding your farm over eating the crops you harvest; for the hunter it's what type of animal you're going to go after to obtain the meat you'll need to survive and how far from your camp you're willing to travel to hunt the animals, or whether you're going to craft snares in hopes of capturing some; and for fishers it's where you'll decide to set up camp and how long you're willing to sit and fish, knowing you won't have much success at first. After you've got your food gathering method down, you can start to focus on expanding your camp from a campfire, to a shack, and then to a house.
The controls are altogether pretty simple. Life is Feudal relies heavily on point-and-click mouse functions and keyboard commands to activate your skills and to get around in the game. While the controls are for the most part fairly standard, they may take a little while to get used to, though within an hour or two you should find yourself cruising along with expert efficiency.
The strugglesAt the beginning, Life is Feudal can be pretty hard to get into, if not boring for someone who has little or no patience for learning what to do and how to do it. The basic controls are listed in-game and the game’s website also has a few basic tutorials that are a bit too simplistic considering how complex the game is, so more advanced exploration and crafting requires the player to either figure it out for themselves or seek out other players' advice on the Internet. You might even get stuck wondering such things as "how do I pick up a rock?" All of this can be frustrating at first, but after learning what to do the game really opens up and becomes a lot of fun. In our own experience, things got frustrating after hours of trying to figure out, with no explanation in the tutorials, how to get rocks to craft a couple of primitive tools to keep from starving to death in the first few days. But after looking around online for some explanations and learning what we needed to do, everything else clicked into place and all the frustration from before was blown away as the overwhelming possibilities opened up before us.
All those skills In order to get anywhere though, you'll need to increase your skills by grinding repetitive actions, which on the official MMO servers is accompanied by various mini-gamesinstead of a simple progress bar. After the action is completed the game has a system that dictates how much the action will increase your skill level. This alone is interesting when you look at how the skill increases numerically, though when the skill multiplier is at the default level, increasing your skills takes a lot of time and effort. Though this is pretty cool, because when you think about it, because no one's able to just learn a skill in a few hours. It can sometimes take years to learn one, so Life is Feudal on default tries to mirror that skill progression. When the skill multiplier is set to higher levels, however, you can quickly move through the skills. Skills in themselves are pretty cool, though an interesting thing is that not only can you increase your skills, you can also choose to halt a skill's progress or allow it to degrade and decrease in level. Some servers, including the official ones have a skill cap where you can't increase your skills in crafting or combat past a certain point, so picking which skills to increase, holding them at a certain level, or decreasing them plays a huge role on those servers. Most player servers on the other hand have increased the skill cap to the max in order to be able to use every skill at max level.
Master builder Over time you will see your character will gain more health and stamina and your chances of gathering/creating things will improve. Building structures is also fairly simple: just level the terrain using a shovel and whatever skills you need, and simply place the materials where you want them to go. However, I'd recommend consulting a guide (and so do the developers) as to the specifics or orienting, placing, crafting, and finishing these homes and villages. Of course, before you can build this hut of yours to upgrade into a castle of epic proportions, you will need to gather materials. Like we hinted at above, unlike some games, Life is Feudal operates on a “Chance to find” basis, where you activate the gathering, watch your character go through the process (or attempt a mini-game), then you get a notice of whether or not you found anything and the amount of experience gained. This can lead to a lot of extra time invested if you are on bad terms with the Random Number Generator. In later moments of the game this will be alleviated as your skills grow and you get better tools and, in some cases, get better at mini-games.
Crafting is a little bit different. It's all done through the handy-dandy GUI that comes attached to your character or the tool/machine you are working with, e.g. the smelter. When crafting things overall you have three in-game methods to tackle the process: the first method is to let it idle-complete. With this method it will take longer and longer to craft/harvest/process the next consecutive item/material. But it lets you go eat dinner or go to the bathroom and still be productive. The second method is a little mini-game where you try to tackle an objective to get a better product than you would idle-completing it. This will also always be faster than idle crafting. The third method is if you are bored or at a friend’s house, you have the ability to play these mini-games on the website and store the completion data. You can use this data to get pre-completed games and collect the item/material you need.
Similarities?Life Is Feudal has a very Minecraft-like feel in that it's a sandbox game with no real quests or set storyline (at this time), but without an annoying grid system that makes it impossible to make anything but cubical structures, and a much steeper learning curve. and speaking of high learning curve, there's also a Dark Souls feel in that if another player or creature kills you, you lose skill levels and open yourself up to having your body looted for everything you have on you. This also holds true for the chests you create -- they can be looted by other players on the server, so figuring out how to your items becomes a fun mini-game in itself. While this is the feeling I got from the game, a number of other players I ran across online said that they felt that other games have done a better job with the whole open sandbox thing.
Sound Off!The game's sound design is pretty in-depth, from boar grunts all the way to the sound of far-off birds singing in the trees somewhere. Though the musical tracks do leave a lot to be desired, with only a couple of tracks available that sometimes really don’t match what you might be doing. If you're used to having a percussion or a fast upbeat track indicating when an enemy is about to attack you, you might find one of the casual tracks continually throwing you off and causing you to spin around every time it comes on, looking for the enemy that just might be nearby. Also, when you go into a combat stance, the battle music plays whether or not there is an enemy or creature to attack.
Guilds and Raiders or Solo-SurvivalMultiplayer is a lot of fun, and for the most part everyone on a server is very helpful and willing to assist other players who have just started the game and get them started, since everyone had a rough start when they began playing. In multiplayer you can specialize however you want, and when playing with other players these specializations allow you to create vast cities and communities in order to to survive or take on other groups of players in combat. Though you can join up with and leave parties, there is no set guild system at this point in development, though it's likely to be added in the future. If playing with other players is not you thing, you can always create a server with whatever settings you desire and play on your own or open it up to other players if they choose to join. After creating your server, though, if you don't like how things turned out you can always re-edit the settings before jumping back in, or even delete the whole thing and start all over again.