Now that Medieval Dynasty is out of Early Access, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of Toplitz Production’s vision for the open world survival RPG. Marketed as a survival game in which you can forge your own legacy through the lives you lead and those you leave behind, Medieval Dynasty is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious and in-depth survival RPGs we’ve seen in a while. But how does it hold up overall with such a saturated genre to compete with?
The hero of Medieval Dynasty is not one of your own making, but a young man called Racimir who is fleeing from a war in Europe. In the warm days of spring, you find yourself in a beautiful valley, looking for your uncle Iordan and hoping to build a new life with him. This is, after all, a roleplaying game! Racimir’s family, specifically his uncle, is surrounded by a mystery you’ll begin to unravel as you perform the odd job here and there around the region for the local villagers. When it comes to Racimir, he’s an okay character, albeit slightly generic to make it easier for the player to relate.
In terms of character customization, there really is none, and Medieval Dynasty plays it safe in order to stay more historically accurate. I found myself wishing that I could have at least picked my gender and had the capability to romance any villager. While I appreciate the dedication to historical accuracy, this is a game, and I’m sure there could have been a ton of ways for the writers to twist the story just enough to make it possible. I just wish I had the chance to become Racimira and establish my own Queendom with an average-looking lumberjack husband. I guess I’ll just have to settle for my new girlfriend who never stops reminding me that she wants to be queen someday and wipe my tears with rabbit furs until the icy winter is over.
Bits and pieces of lore start to pile up in your lap, most of which is delivered by your uncle’s friend, Uniegost. If you take the time to actually read through the dialogue, the story concept is well written. The tales of your uncle’s acquaintances and partners in crime are certainly entertaining. With that being said, there’s a lot of story and background the game dumps on you this way, which can quickly lead to that need to skip through a ton of it just to get to the quest objectives. I didn’t expect the entire game to be voice-acted, but if the main storyline had been voice-acted or even cut up into a few smaller sequential quests, it would have helped tremendously with eliminating that feeling of monotony and might have engaged the reader more in the overarching story . Even though I took my time and read through all of the text, you don’t necessarily have to take on all these quests. You can just sprint out into the wild and start building your little kingdom in the valley. Unfortunately, the valley won’t stay warm and green for long.
All the Leaves are Brown
There are four traditional seasons in Medieval Dynasty: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. By default, seasons last approximately three in-game days, but if that pace is too fast for you, you can increase it in the game settings. With every turn of the season, you lose access to the previous season’s herbs and sources of food in favor of new items you can gather to craft meals for your hungry denizens. These include mushrooms (both beneficial and poisonous), berries, and herbs for potions. You won’t be able to make much use of these in the beginning, except gorging yourself upon them for raw food’s sake, until you can unlock schematics that allow you to build alchemy huts and increase your cooking level.
Everything points towards winter where you’ll lose practically all herbs and food you could gather from the earth. With winter, you’ll need to keep your villagers warm with an ample supply of firewood, food, and water to drink. But it means nothing if you don’t have a house to sleep in during the cold winter nights.
Cabin in the Woods
The first season Racimir encounters is spring. As such, your first priority should be building a rustic cabin in the woods. It isn’t much, but it’s home. Your starter home comes with a bed to sleep in, as well as a nice cauldron and fire pit to cook in. Even if you don’t have any other villagers come your first winter, you should be fine to survive through the cold nights. Just make sure you have a lot of torches and stay near the fire, because the winter forces you to pay attention to your temperature meter. To start building your dream home, you’ll unfortunately have to be the one to start contributing to the local deforestation. Personally, I like to go a little farther into the forest to ruin the treehouses of the native birds so I can continue to bask in the nice shade the trees provide my home instead.
While chopping down trees and harvesting plants, you’ll notice you start to gain experience for a specific skill tree. Medieval Dynasty has an in-depth skill tree system that lets you customize how you want to play with every level up pip. I tend to lean towards the increased experience gain node since it allows me to gain better skills in preparation for harsher weather to come. Once you unlock other skill trees, you can begin to dive into farming with animals, planting crops, and even preparing your own orchards. Unfortunately, setting down plots for farming and orchards acts upon an already established grid system in the game, so it could potentially mess up your dream village layout. If that kind of thing bothers you as it does me, don’t get too attached to where you first place your house! Put down your home, then once you unlock it, look at where the engine allows you to place your gardens.
Girl for All Seasons
Now that you have a proper home established, you can begin to recruit travelers from the campfires at a local village. While you can’t build-a-peasant, they each have differing stats that will help you minmax the efficiency of your village chores. While you’re at it, choose your wife from an assortment of women with the personalities of a grapefruit! Oh, and most of them just want to be queen. Wooing your chosen woman is as simple as recruiting her to your village, raising her reputation bar through conversation, and giving her shinnies. Ah yes, all a woman truly wants is good conversation and shinnies. Honestly though, the conversation isn’t even really that great. All side NPCs tend to repeat the same text and have fairly robotic responses, making it less of a challenge and more of a time grind.
In addition to this bland romance system, you do have the option to pair up villagers in hopes that they spawn more little labor gremlins for you to set to work about the town. Talking to your people lets you in on a little secret: their favored work habits. So even though it may be like talking to a wall, just do it and set them to work where they’ll be happy. It makes for a happier and more productive village.
Boars over Bunnies
Regardless of what they like to do, one of the villagers is going hunting. After a time, it became mandatory. Medieval Dynasty’s sound design can be a little spotty at times (I’m looking at you silent, falling trees). But one thing they do a little too well is some of their animal sounds. After hours of killing bunnies just to survive, I had to turn to my new villagers to let them hunt down our food. There’s only so many lifeless, twitching, bunny bodies and weak cries of pain you can take before you start to feel like a monster. So, let your villagers do it!
However, one animal that is free game and I don’t feel bad about harvesting is the boar. Boars will eff. You. Up. They are aggressive, sneaky, and freaking fast. At the beginning of the game, you only have a pitiful stone spear to work with, and regardless of how good you think you are at dodging and kiting, they’re going to take a chunk out of you with those tusks. Hunting early game is one of the harder skills to level up, since a lot of the easier prey run away from you, and there’s not an easy indicator of how far you have to go until you hit that next level.
Slow but Addicting Burn
Medieval Dynasty is slow to start, and there are some instances where it could probably benefit from some more UX testing. But once things start to ramp up, it’s kind of addicting! The tip system could use a little work, as most of the time it tends to give you hints for things that seem intuitive, and other times it is lacking in guidance for those features that really need it.
For example, trying to gather water for my freaking villagers is easy enough for Racimir to go dunk his head in the nearby river. But to learn about hydrating your villagers, you’ll have to go poking around in the in-game knowledge encyclopedia. If you don’t have the well unlocked, which is a good way down the schematic line, you’ll have to pick up a bucket of water and place it in that villager’s specific storage box inside of their home (thanks Twitch chat!).
Making a Successful Survival
What does Medieval Dynasty do right? This survival RPG definitely nails that sense of urgency. Provided you leave the game’s settings as they are, dealing with the short seasons and the survival debuffs that come with them, it can get really intense, really fast. This is felt especially when you have more mouths to feed. As mentioned before, not only do you have to feed your villagers, but you need to provide water, firewood, and food just to keep your peasants alive and functioning. Even your quests are time-sensitive. Some NPCs carry quests that will go away after a few years, so if you’re interested in the lore or generating as much reputation as you can with the town, you should probably focus on those as much as you can.
Room for Improvement
What are some things the game could improve upon? After a few hours of soaking in quest text, running back and forth between the villages gets extremely repetitive and boring. The world has some gorgeous views and incredible spots to take in, especially during the early hours or trekking through the dynamic weather. But I start to feel myself nodding off when running along the roads. Sticking to the roads keeps you away from all danger and results in a boring, but trouble-free journey. How interesting would it be if you had to contend with a rogue bandit or two, or some wolves that had chased down and upended a now-broken cart? Anything to keep you on your toes and make the journey more interesting would be welcome.
While Medieval Dynasty allows you to go basically wherever you want, not letting you sleep whenever you want does seem to be an odd design choice. There’s a designated time period that you can sleep during the night to regain health. You aren’t allowed to sleep anytime before that. I am a grown adult. Let me sleep in my hay hut when I want! There also doesn’t seem to be any real consequence to not sleeping. When you stay out all night, you fade to black and end up back in your cabin, ready to start a new day. With a variety of healing herbs and potions at your disposal and no legitimate consequence to staying out all night, one starts to wonder: why have a bed at all? Does it just function as a spawn point to blip you across the map when you collapse? In a game like Stardew Valley, you become exhausted, spawn back into your home, and lose some recovered stamina as well as previous daylight. In Medieval Dynasty however, there just isn’t any apparent consequence, which unfortunately renders beds useless past the early game.
While Medieval Dynasty has its lulling moments, it can also be thoroughly relaxing and an enjoyable experience if you take your time and enjoy the gameplay. In a funny way, it reminds me somewhat of the more recent, and popular, simulation games like PowerWash Simulator with its calming gameplay and repetitive mechanics. I lost several hours just tending my land, hunting down food, and ensuring my villagers were happy and satiated. Medieval Dynasty isn’t meant to be rushed, rather, to be an experience and a personal challenge for those that want to see how long they can rule and keep the peace within their kingdom. While there are still clearly some stark improvements that can be made, I think that Medieval Dynasty succeeded in bringing something new to an already saturated and stale genre, and can be a lasting favorite, as long as they continue to make improvements and provide updates.