If you grew up playing games like SimCity, Warcraft I & II, or Civilization, chances are that you would immediately fall in love with the 2014 PC game Banished. But be warned: This game is not for the faint of heart.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Banished is currently on sale for $5 on Steam. Go pick it up on the cheap!)
This game feels like someone took the hardest parts of every civilization-building sim, mashed them together in a ball, and then used that as their blueprint–but with way more depth, strategy, and sky-cursing mass extinction events. Oh, and to top it off, there’s none of that pesky combat to get in the way of your construction and city planning. Your enemies are nature, chaos, and your own over-zealous choices.
That’s not to say that Banished depends on luck or just one specific formula to succeed. There are many avenues to victory, and perhaps even more avenues to defeat. Too often games like this require you to set your sliders correctly and then sit back and watch the world take shape.
This is not that game. In fact, unlike many other survival sims, you can win or lose by how much direct involvement you have with your city and workers from one moment to the next. Sure, there will be times that you can assign a few workers and then go grab a glass of water from the kitchen, but often you’ll be working the controls like a mad scientist in some steampunk comic, pulling levers, twisting knobs, and fine-tuning minutiae. And trust me, it will change on you in a heartbeat, so don’t get too comfortable.
Perhaps the vanilla version suffers a bit from late-game listlessness, and that would be my biggest–and perhaps only–complaint. But what bails it out is the open integration for user-made mods that breathe new life into your games, tweak existing mechanics, and add tons of brand new assets. In fact, this is one of the few games where I would strongly recommend using a specific mod INSTEAD of playing the vanilla game.
The mod I’m speaking of is called Colonial Charter. This mod is seemlessly integrated, a breeze to install, and 100% free to use. It adds countless new buildings, job plots, resources, and production goods to the base game, and feels like it was intended to be part of the game from the start. Not only that, but it adds some quality-of-life additions found in other mods, making it a veritable all-in-one solution with no worries of load order adjustments or mod conflicts. Once you use this mod you will never go back to vanilla, and starting a new game will feel like a totally different experience with its multitude of maps, settings, and world bonuses. (For a real gritty post-apoc feel I recommend an Adam and Eve game on a desert map. Play on Hard to give yourself that desperate-survivalist challenge.)
Banished isn’t for everybody, but that’s fine. It’s deep and thoughtful, and there are absolutely no bad guys to shoot or run over with your jeep. This isn’t a mindless time killer, and it isn’t for the impatient or noncommittal. For those of you left standing, it is well worth your time, mental bandwidth, and spare change.