Medieval City Builder Manor Lords Becomes The King of Early Access

Manor Lords
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

Apparently, publisher Hooded Horse is building wonderful friendships with a lot of gamers. They first introduced themselves to me by publishing the amazing roguelike city builder Against the Storm from developer Eremite Games. I was fortunate enough to review that title, and while you would not think that the roguelike and city building genres would go together, they really do, at least in Against the Storm. And now, Hooded Horse has another title that is really appealing to gamers in the form of developer Slavic Magic’s Manor Lords.

A real claim to fame in Manor Lords is that when it was released on Steam into Early Access, the developer (who is really just one person) expected a few hundred people to give his medieval city builder a try. Now it’s been in Steam Early Access for about a month and millions of people have played it. It’s an incredibly detailed medieval city builder that includes both economic and military elements, yet there’s surprisingly low system requirements so that it even runs well on most laptops or older PC hardware. And at just $39, it’s definitely worth it because Manor Lords is really fun to play even as it continues to fully develop.

Now, one thing to note is that Manor Lords is, of course, in Early Access, but it is very, very early. If you read the developer notes, there are pages of things that Slavic Magic wants to add to the game, including critical pieces like proper castle walls and battlements to protect those incredible towns we are all making. And now that it’s being played quite a lot, people are also submitting bug fixes too, so the developer is also busy patching those things up. It’s quite a lot for a developer consisting of one person.

As such, this is going to be a beta type review. We are only going to give Manor Lords an overall score and not the usual full breakdown. The score is our guess or estimate of what score the title would earn if it released in its current condition. Once it officially leaves Early Access, we will give it a full review and look at it a lot more critically. But with its over a million players right now, we would be remiss if we didn’t cover the game a little bit to let you all know what the hype is about, and what to expect if you are considering Manor Lords in Early Access.

So, in terms of my experience with Manor Lords, I went through the tutorial and was immediately impressed with the depth of the systems involved in building out the realm. Your settlement starts out with a small homeless camp, a pile of supplies, and an ox. From there you need to build a logging camp to make more materials and a hunting camp to feed your people. Then you can start building your town from the ground up. There is currently only one map available, but it’s pretty huge. Gameplay can be pretty different depending on where you site your village.

The first thing I noticed about Manor Lords was its slower pace. Medieval peasants dealt with time based on months or even seasons, so there is almost never a huge daily rush. In Manor Lords, if you are working at a snail’s pace, then you will eventually freeze or starve. But compared with the pace of Against the Storm where there was always a crisis, a monster, or a world-ending event right around the corner, Manor Lords is downright peaceful. I really liked that.

I could have hit the fast forward button to speed things along but why? I was really enjoying being out in the countryside building up my hold. Everything looks really amazing. In fact, especially for being in Early Access, everything is almost shockingly well rendered. You can zoom in far enough to watch your farmers planting crops, shepherds moving their sheep around the little fields, or woodcutters debarking trees. It all feels very organic and real, and I can see why everyone who plays ends up enjoying what Manor Lords offers. You can even watch as people just stroll around the village (once you actually have one) taking it all in, which is nice. Because of the slow pace and being able to watch things grow, it really does feel like your own place.

There are currently three different game modes to play. The first is called Rise to Prosperity, where you will need to build a town up to the Large Level. You can do this in peace without any fear of attacks, so it’s a perfect way to learn the mechanics before adding in military elements.

In the Restoring the Peace mode, you also have to grow your town, but there are areas of your realm which are held by an evil baron that you will need to conquer, and there’s also bandits to deal with from time to time that want to raid your peaceful hamlet. You will also need to utterly defeat those bandits at some point to win the scenario.

The final mode is called On the Edge and is the most challenging. You are attacked very often in this mode and need to build up your town while also defending it. You will need to build up your army quickly too, as the attacks start coming pretty soon after you begin. This is the only game mode where Manor Lords is not quite so calm, so those who have a lot of city building and military type game experience can enjoy a more violent and arguably exciting experience.

In terms of the military side of things, which you will need to conquer in the latter two scenarios, the militia system is what you will mostly use. Even though you don’t have a standing army per se, you will need to make sure that you invest in your militia. That is because when trouble comes knocking, you can hit the panic button and watch as your villagers suddenly drop everything and run to grab weapons. You need to make sure that they have what they need to fight. The whole experience of calling out the troops is amazing, and I would love to see this type of title based in colonial America or other eras as well.

One thing I will say I hope improves militarily is a better explanation on how and where to hire mercenaries. I have a major invasion incoming in one of my games, and I’m worried I won’t get my militia fully equipped in time. I would also like it if the AI player would slow down a bit in terms of claiming other settlements as it will be claiming territory long before you’re ready to start trying to do the same thing.

There are other areas where Manor Lords needs some improvements. The trading system is a bear to work with. It goes into great depth for setting imports versus exports, special trade routes, and regional specialties. But it all kind of goes over my head, and there is no good way to figure out what direct impact your policies are having on the market. Also, if you only have one cash crop or export good, which is likely going to be true at the start of most games, then you can flood the market and prices will bottom out regardless of how small your settlement is at first. The developer has said they are working on a patch to fix that, but like everything else in Early Access, we will have to wait a bit until they get to it.

In the end, for a title that just hit Early Access, it’s pretty amazing. I am truly excited to see how Manor Lords continues to grow. It features a wonderful world and feels more authentic than any other city builder I have played. Plus, at $39, its playable right now, even as the developer works on more advanced features and revising some mechanics. And if you buy it now, it will support the developer Slavic Magic, something they really deserve given the depth that Manor Lords already offers.

The future is bright for Manor Lords, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for this ingenious city builder.

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