Review: Manor Lords (Early Access)

Developer – Slavic Magic

Publisher – Hooded Horse

Platforms – PC (reviewed)

Review copy given by publisher

NOTE:

The following game is being reviewed in an Early Access State, the game may change after the release of this review, this review reflects the game at the time of publishing.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a city-builder RTS type of gamer. I’ve dabbled into some old school Warcraft and Red Alert, but nothing more than just playing casually in the campaign mode. I’ve also never touched stuff like Total War or Frostpunk, but for some reason solo developer Slavic Magic’s Manor Lords captured my undivided attention. This hybrid strategy game entered into Early Access on Steam at the end of April 2024, and it has quickly garnered the attention of millions of players for its organic gameplay and historical authenticity.

Manor Lords is part city builder and part real time tactics, set in late 14th century Franconia, during a period rife with feudal strife and burgeoning townships. You play as a no-name lord who must build up your own kingdom and expand your territory into other regions. Gameplay can be as slow paced or fast as you would like, but definitely captures the vibe of medieval life. Constructing buildings, tending to your citizens, and building up a strong militia. You get the idea. Whether it’s nurturing a fledgling settlement into a bustling trade hub or commanding armies in large-scale battles, Manor Lords provides a canvas for you to paint your narrative of power and perseverance.

Currently, the game has three distinct modes: “Rise to Prosperity,” “Restoring the Peace,” and “On the Edge,” each focusing on different aspects of medieval lordship and end goal. For example, Rise to Prosperity tasks you with reaching the large town settlement level whereas On the Edge has you doing the same in addition to surviving enemy attacks. A plethora of difficulty options can be toggled such as off map adversaries, raider frequency, bandit camps, and starting supplies. It can be as relaxing or sweaty as you’d like it to be.

In general, this is a very slow-paced game, although you can toggle the in-game speed to 12 times the normal speed. The city-building component is a dance of expansion and sustainability. Your citizens need to take time to gather resources, manage supply chains, and construct buildings. Houses are needed for your families to sleep in, woodcutter’s lodges are needed to produce firewood, and taverns are needed to keep your workers entertained. There are even six types of taxation and you are frequently put into situations such as preventing soil exhaustion and deforestation.

That being said, one of the game’s most lauded features is its commitment to historical realism. Every building, tool, and societal function draws inspiration from 11th to 15th-century Europe. The seasons change, weather patterns shift, and you must navigate the tumultuous waters of war, disease, and famine. This attention to detail immerses you in the medieval fiefdom you rule, and the game even offers a third-person camera mode to explore your kingdom up close. For a solo developer to amass a project of this size is nothing short of impressive.

I do have some minor gripes, which is to be expected considering the game is in Early Access. First and foremost, I would prefer a more guided campaign of sorts, where the game eases you into the different mechanics and intricacies. As of now, there is no story as you are plopped into a sandbox when you start a new game, with no guidance or tutorial. My next pet peeve has to do with the in-game UI, as the text can get quite small and sometimes it can get difficult to see where you are placing things. All in all, It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and lost if you’re not familiar with the genre, so I suggest you play in the easiest mode first, and turn raiders off so you get a feel for the general flow of things.

Of course, no medieval experience would be complete without the clang of steel on the battlefield. Manor Lords doesn’t shy away from the brutal reality of medieval combat. The game’s battle system emphasizes strategy with unit formations, morale, flanking, fatigue, and the impact of weather. Even a smaller force can triumph over a larger one with the right tactics, and the promise of cavalry, fortifications, and siege engines adds depth to the military aspect of the game. Some aspects do feel a bit barebones though, and overall combat isn’t to the scale or extent as some other big name strategy games.

In a day and age where PC games, especially ports, are riddled with bugs and performance issues, Manor Lords performs nearly flawlessly on my RTX3080. It runs at a velvety smooth 60 frames per second with no stuttering or frame dips. The game offers a suite of graphical settings such as anti-aliasing, capping the framerate, adjusting shader quality, as well as tinkering with volumetric clouds or view distance. Controls can be rebound at any time, but at this time there is no controller support. The keyboard and mouse work way better for a game of this type anyways. There are some visual bugs and weird animations, but none that take away from the overall experience.

Manor Lords stands as a shining example of the potential within indie game development that puts many triple-A projects to shame. Keep in mind that it’s still in Early Access too, meaning the game will only get better from here on out. It’s an experience that respects its roots in history while providing a platform for strategic creativity. I’ve never been so immersed in a game about building cities and commanding troops, but being the lord of my manor allows me to weave my own stories of medieval life. Manor Lords is out now in Early Access on PC via Steam.

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