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A Medieval Sandbox with Potential

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Life is Feudal: Your Own is a medieval sandbox survival game.The game is in Early Access at the moment and I really must stress that point before I go any further. Early Access means different things to different developers, and for Life is Feudal, the current state of the game is best suited for people who are actually interested in providing feedback fairly early in the game’s development.  There are bugs, many things are incomplete, and tuning is definitely all over the place.

If the above hasn’t scared you off, let’s talk about what the game is actually about.  In Life is Feudal, you create your own world or join an existing dedicated server (think DayZ), create your own character (complete with stat and skill allocation), and venture out into a forested island to make your own destiny.  The key difference, at least for now, is that your character is not persistent from server to server. If you join a different server, you’ll have to start over from scratch on that server. 

There are a ton of skills you can focus on in Life is Feudal. Skills range from hunting and fishing, to warfare engineering, to militia service. All told, there are over 50 skills you can work on in Life is Feudal, but you’re limited by a default skill cap of 600 (server admins can tweak this). Each skill is governed by a pair of attributes as well. If you’ve got a certain character focus in mind when creating your character, you’ll want to lean your attributes and starting skill selections towards these skills.  Both skills and attributes are raised by use and you can even set certain skills to raise when used, lower when hitting their cap (100), or lock skill gains for specific skills altogether (to manage your skill cap). You’ll need to reach certain prerequisite thresholds in order to improve abilities past a certain point. For example, you’ll need to get your Forestry up before you can start improving Logging to its maximum.

Playing the game can be done from either the first or third person perspective and interestingly, everything is handled through a context sensitive menu. It sort of reminds me of Project Zomboid in that sense. Right click a tree and you’ll get options for actions that can be done based on the applicable skills and your ranks in them. Initially, Forestry will allow you to snap branches or pull sprouts out of trees. Similarly, Logging will allow you to peel off pieces of the bark. Get your Logging high enough and craft yourself an axe and you’ll then be able to cut the tree down altogether.

Crafting mostly works the same way. Right click an item in your inventory that can be used to craft (e.g. a branch) and you’ll be able to pull up a menu to craft items using that base component. Initially, branches will be key, as they serve as the base component for most, if not all, of the primitive tools you’ll want to craft. The act of crafting is extremely simple, too. You simply select the item you want to craft from the dropdown menu and the UI will show you what components you need and how many of them you have in your inventory. If you have enough, you simply hit craft and watch a progress bar until it completes.

Oh, and you’ll be watching a lot of progress bars in Life is Feudal. Every action you perform has a progress bar, whether you’re crafting tools, peeling bark, or scrounging around in the grass for edible objects. With all the attention to detail in creating a believable world, the constant progress bars for each action do sort of pull you out of the experience and remind you that you’re playing a videogame. 

Currently, skilling up and progressing in general in Life is Feudal takes a long, long time (server admins can tweak skill up rates and other minutiae). Still, this isn’t Minecraft where you may have a house set up inside of an hour.  Life is Feudal is a decidedly slower experience. There’s almost a zen like quality to the game’s pacing. It’s slow, but at least for me, it didn’t feel like an issue. I’m also unsure if this is characteristic of the game or simply the result of the current state of tuning. For example, some things are slower than should be acceptable. If you want to get into mining, you generally need to dig deep enough to hit ore. The difference in Life is Feudal is that creating these tunnels can take absolutely forever. I’ve seen most players suggest finding ore on the surface level due to how long tunnels take to dig.

I never got far enough in my play to put down a house or any other structure, but weirdly enough, the game felt engaging in a way that I can kind of see myself putting in the time once the game is further along in development and things feel more complete. The game’s tuning just feels completely off at the moment.  I can scrounge around in the grass for five minutes and find an edible taproot that will completely sate my hunger when I’m halfway to starving or I can spend considerable time and effort leveling up my Hunting/Fishing to maybe catch a fish, set up a campfire, craft a cooking pot, and then spend a couple of minutes frying the fish, all for the same payoff. There are just too many examples of this sort of thing for me to want to spend my leisure time with the game at the moment.

Combat, at least in my early experience, is also essentially unplayable. The earliest weapon you can craft is a sling and the hit detection and the damage on this thing are both completely inconsistent .The effort it takes to kill a moose with a sling is just not worth your while at the moment. Even combat vs. players was comically out of whack. I played the game with a friend who’s developed a bit of a bloodlust during his time in ArcheAge, leading him to start stabbing random passersby with his knife. My friend chased this one poor fellow around the beach, stabbing him probably over 50 times, and the guy (equipped only with rags) didn’t seem any worse for wear (though he did yell over the in-game voice chat). The scene would have gone great with some Benny Hill music, but didn’t inspire much confidence in the game’s state of combat balance.

Despite the game’s stage of development and hefty $40 pricetag, Life is Feudal: Your Own is up there on the Steam top seller list and there are quite a few servers running the game. It’s hard to say if the game will ever live up to the potential that quite a few gamers apparently see in it, but even with the aforementioned issues in mind, I don’t feel the game is too far off from delivering on a fairly engaging and unique sandbox experience. If you’re in the market for a medieval life simulator, you may want to keep your eye on this one.  Just keep our initial warning in mind.


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB