Life is Feudal Review

December 13, 2015 by Adam Barnes

Incredibly deep and complex, but equally as off-putting.

It takes a very particular type of player to appreciate Life Is Feudal. That might seem like a bit of a get-out clause, but it’s absolutely true and for that particular subset of gamers it will be one of the most absorbing, compelling, time-consuming titles they’ll have played for a long time. If you're not willing to put in a lot of effort to learn, however, then you'll likely find Life Is Feudal a bit... well, dull.

The concept is a pretty simple one to put across, as well. Life Is Feudal is an open-world survival simulation set--as the name suggests--in a medieval era. The idea is to gather resources, build up a settlement, and sustain yourself. Though it’s considerably more complex than something like Minecraft, the comparison is easy to make, but perhaps a more suitable reference point would be the likes of DayZ, Ark: Survival Evolved or Rust--you know, the new breed of creative survival simulators.

And boy, is it complex. This isn’t a simple game to pick up, and the in-game tutorials aren’t nearly complete enough to give you a full grasp of not only what you can do, but also what you actually need to do. Extra-curricular research is a requirement if you want to get to grips with the game within hours rather than days.

That in itself isn’t such a problem, however, but it can frustrate when you consider the sheer breadth of options available. Even just interacting with a simple tree can offer up a host of potential actions, from gathering a branch (to craft a primitive tool) to collecting bark to felling it for logs. That’s just one example, but if you imagine that across the wide range of the game’s flora and fauna and you’ll have a good idea of just how intricate Life Is Feudal can get. The complexity is appreciated, but heavy reliance on researching can mean introducing yourself into the game can be a struggle.

This does make it a little unwieldy, not only to figure out but to actually control, too. The UI is not intuitive, and much like DayZ before it you’ll spend as much time spent using menus as actually exploring the world. Not only that, but gathering resources takes a considerable amount of time--you’ll need to be prepared for a lot of moments of mind-numbing nothingness during your time with Life Is Feudal, thanks in large part to the tedious grind of gathering. This is confounded by the fact that every action takes a good few seconds. You’ll quickly grow to despise the progress bar that appears each time.

But then all this ties into the crafting system, and that’s where there’s a lot to admire about Life Is Feudal. It’s still heavy on the simulation side of things, but that is its charm--it’s not on the Minecraft side of the spectrum where you simply punch trees to collect wood. The process is far more involved, with your progress through the different tiers of technology and structures phased behind each new resource you’re able to collect.

While this arduous work can feel frustrating--especially with the with the lack of explanation and confusing systems--it somehow manages to make the game far more rewarding as a result. In making the whole process of gathering feel like work, each new object, item or even structure feels like a significant achievement--and that is where the niche group of players will really become drawn into the world.

Its huge open world can be played online, too, each with friends or as part of a bigger server. This is where the game begins to make so much more sense. Rather than tiresomely searching for each and every construction material yourself, you can instead team up with other players and work towards a greater goal. Or, alternatively, wage wars against neighboring settlements. It’s a game designed to played with many, rather than solo--even if that is an option--and that’s something to consider before jumping in yourself.

There’s a beauty in the symbiotic nature of online play, too, since you’ll find yourself drifting towards a more specific role than perhaps you’d have anticipated. Rather than becoming a jack of all trades, online you’re able to assist in a way that most makes you content: perhaps you’ll be a farmer, a blacksmith or even a warrior. The RPG mechanics underpinning all this are integral to all this too, and though it is obtuse and bothersome to figure out, that complexity is--again--reason enough to decipher it.

A good warrior, for example, needs to be strong, but if you don’t carefully manage your skillpoints, then you’ll find many of your attributes being balanced into all the wrong places, wasting much of your potential. This is a sort of meta min-maxing that might not appeal to a wider audience, but those who play Life Is Feudal will appreciate it, and so it’s something you’ll need to understand. An equivalent warrior player will easily overcome you if you aren’t being smart about the numbers.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out, too, that though this is now an officially released product--the game has been in Early Access for a considerable length of time--it is still a little ropey. Bugs and crashes occurred often during review, and while the developers do seem to be forthcoming with updates and fixes there’s no ignoring that right now you ought to expect a few problems.

In other words, you’ll need to have an open mind to get the most out of Life Is Feudal. It’s a hard game to recommend since it is so utterly devoid of introduction, and as such you’ll need to be willing to put in multiple hours before any one part of it clicks. With that said, it’s likely to be a very particular type of player who appreciates that depth and therein lies the game’s double-edged sword--if it was more accessible it might’ve tapped into a broader audience but in doing so it would lose its complexity and therefore the core feature it has to offer. 

Yet this, too, means that you can guarantee a devoted group of players for years to come. This is a game for the sort of gamer that will devote all their free time to such an experience, and if that’s you, then at least you can be sure that there will always be a server--however small its population--to call your medieval home. As for the rest of the world? Well, you’re probably going to want to sit this one out.