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MMO Early Access Review - Nose to the Grindstone

Jacob Semmes Posted:
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It’s been a great year for survival games. ARK: Survival Evolved and The Long Dark left early access. You don’t have to wipe your eyes. You didn’t misread that. It’s true that these games officially released. Adding on to the banner year for survival games come the open beta for Life is Feudal: MMO. The game is grim, difficult, and dangerous, but damned if it isn’t a joy to play. However, players need to keep their nose to the grindstone because Life is Feudal: MMO demands lots of time and patience in order to achieve anything substantial. This is our Life is Feudal: MMO review.

Life is Feudal: Your Own is a lot like ARK: Survival Evolved: limited server population that can be hosted privately and the other standard faire of survival mechanics. The map is 3x3 km and servers can hold 64 players. Sounds familiar, right? Life is Feudal: MMO increases all of that. The map holds 10,000+ players and is 21x21 km. The map is huge but despite this, no area seems unsettled. The speed of progression is slowed significantly from Your Own. So if you’ve played Your Own, MMO has similar mechanics. But unlike in ARK and Your Own where you fare well enough on your own, playing on your own in Life is Feudal: MMO is near impossible. 

Progression is based on which skills you use. Cutting wood and making furniture raises your carpentry whereas tracking animals and fishing raises your hunting. Hit a training dummy with a sling raises your Slinger skill and etc.Players are limited in how many skill points they have with which to raise those skills. Once your pool is gone, you can no longer raise any more skills unless you lower others. Thus, players can master very few and must be extremely specialized in how they level.

Skills are broken down into Crafting, Combat, and Minor Skills. Each of these trees have that limited points pool. Understanding the recipes/blueprints that each skill unlocks is important since self reliance is difficult and knowing your place in a village or guild means relying heavily on your allies to craft and harvest for you. Players have to be part of a symbiotic group, each player reliant on another to reach the highest level of crafting. The recipes for items are easily lost in the skill tree and if you are unfamiliar with the complex interdependence of skills, it is easy to become lost, especially when recipes only have images and no tooltips or names for required ingredients, or even what the recipe is until you learn it. Most of them are obvious. Many of them are not. 

To say progression is slow is an understatement, purposely. All content within the game is player created. There are no bosses, like in ARK, that you need to amass an army to fight. The world by itself is realistic, and much as our own, boring. Players are given the tools to generate content on their own, building cities and castles, fighting wars, pillaging, crafting, etc. It works surprisingly well and starkly contrary to what happens in other survival games. Because players need other players, any village that is destroyed only makes other cities larger as those chases from their home find safer more well-guarded groups of players to join.

Terraforming is the most unique and inspired mechanic in Life is Feudal: MMO. The sheer scope of that mechanic, in the hands of 10,000+ players is as magnificent as it is terrifying. Dig a trench. Carve a mine into a mountain. Dig a giant tunnel under a mountain. Tailor the land to your needs. The prospects are limitless. The real kicker is that doing any of those things would require a labor force and a long, long time. Changing the landscape is time intensive yet rewarding.

For all the lauding I’ve done over the terraforming mechanic, it is contrasted by the definitive lack of freedom architects have. Life is Feudal is not like ARK. You cannot create walls, ceiling, rooms, all of you own design. Life is Feudal has a set number of architectural designs for players to choose from. Players cannot design their own buildings and insomuch as players can shape the land to their will, they cannot build to conform to the land. It is a limitation that disappoints as much as terraforming excites.

The animals in Life is Feudal are disappointing. Anything involving wildlife or domestication is also disappointing. If you look at the crafting trees, the Artisan and Nature’s Lore trees are large and complex. The Hunting tree is comparatively empty. In fact, leveling, Animal Husbandry which allows you to breed domesticated animals, is an actual chore in a game that is all about slow progression. To get past 30 in the skill, players have to clean chicken coops or tame animals. Taming animals is extremely hard when first starting out, especially since the only single animal you can tame for those first 30 skill levels is a swine. Wild animals are already scarce enough. That can sometimes leave the world feeling empty if you aren’t around other players.

The animals, when stowed in their respective pins or stable, cease to exists on the map. This is another frustrating mechanic that hinders immersion and the realistic feeling that the developers were going for. Chickens don’t wander around the coops. The stables, though full, look empty and the animals exists as images inside the buildings. Smaller animals like hares or chickens never appear on the map. They are parchments in an inventory. An item, unalive and ultimately boring.

Combat is a lot like Skyrim but without the magic. All weapons have optimal ranges which require practice to get used to and understanding those strengths and weakness can make combat a highly skilled matchup. Don’t use a greatsword in confined spaces or near friends. Ranged attacks take practice to get right and melee is all about directional attacks and blocks. Damaged body parts have different effects. When in a party, the leader can also use formations to have their party form up automatically like trained soldiers. This is great in theory but less so in practice as I never saw it used. I can imagine large planned battles taking advantage of this system but less so in the beginning stages of the server’s life. Combat is fun if a bit chaotic as duels rarely happen on the battlefield or during a raid. Of the hours I spent in the game, and there were many considering how slow progression is, most of my time was not spent fighting but instead crafting.

The business model for the game is one I haven’t come across often. Each character is essentially “free” but cannot leave the starter island without a ticket to the mainland. A ticket costs $10. There is also an in-game shop that offers skins, tools and weapons that don’t drop when you die, and a Crafting or Combat Power Hour that double experience gains for one hour. These power hours are limited to once per 24 hours. Premium subscribers get a power hour as part of the subscription. All of these items are available with the premium currency, God’s Favor.

Despite several of disappointments, Life is Feudal: MMO is a great non-mystical adventure. The magic comes from playing with other players, depending on them, thriving with them and despite of them, community building. The time investment required adds huge value to everything that is created. The game’s extremely slow progression was a gambit by the developers that pays off for the players. At least, it does for those who have that time to invest. I put a ton of time into the game, and still have barely scratched the surface. If your looking for a social game that’s as involving as the likes of ARK but with a medieval realistic grim world, Life is Feudal: MMO is a unique unforgettable experience.

Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.

  • Great sandbox feel
  • Heavily interdependent skills
  • Terraforming
  • All mechanics associate with animals
  • No architectural freedom
  • Progression sometimes feels too slow


Jacob Semmes