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Strategy Session: Manor Lords Early Access Review

Mitch Gassner Posted:
Reviews Strategy Session 0

It's happening again. A small indie developer comes out of nowhere and has everyone flipping their lid over some revolutionary new game, and you can buy it for half the price of a traditional AAA game. Except this time, there isn't some post-launch slow burn as super-streamer after super-streamer gets their chat cults all riled up. Nope, this go-around, medieval city builder Manor Lords arrived at its Early Access launch with a wishlist army over three million strong, reaching 170,000+ concurrent players on Steam multiple times during launch weekend. But with many of its features still unfinished, Manor Lords may be just a flash in the pan, at least for now.

It Takes A Village

In case you aren’t one of the over one million gamers who purchased Manor Lords on its first day in Early Access - that’s just on Steam and doesn’t count the untold number who are playing through Xbox Game Pass - Manor Lords is the newest city builder to hit the market. More Banished than Cities Skyline 2, you’ll spend your time tending crops and fletching bows as you build your realm from the ground up.

Manor Lords Crest Builder

Create your own crest, or import your favorite image

As you start anew on a fresh map, Manor Lords feels very familiar. You have a small parcel of land, a handful of settlers, and a scant amount of supplies to begin your new village. From these meager beginnings, you must eke out a humble existence, slowly growing your town one building at a time.

Resource management is the name of the game here, and the land surrounding your starting area holds all the resources you need to get started. The surrounding forests serve as your source of timber, which you'll need for buildings and fuel to survive the elements. At the same time, stone, iron ore, clay, animal herds, and berry patches all have an icon identifying where your workers can locate those resources. 

But gathering resources isn’t as simple as just marking an area on the map and sending workers to collect what you need. You must first construct a workspace for each type of resource you need. There's a Logging Camp to gather timber, the building blocks for the most essential buildings. A Sawpit can also be constructed to refine timber into planks for more advanced buildings. You’ll also need to construct a Woodcutters Lodge for a steady flow of firewood. Finally, a Forester’s Hut completes the circle of life by replanting your depleted forests.

Manor Lords Logging Camp

Logging and all of your other industrial endeavors will need workers, and your base unit in Manor Lords is the family unit. Families are assigned to a building, and each member helps gather, process, and distribute their goods at a marketplace. You can freely move families from one job to another or leave them unassigned to help distribute goods to family plots. Managing your small workforce is a big part of the early game as seasons change. There is more work than families available to do it, so families doing seasonal jobs like gathering berries can be reassigned to other tasks during the off-season.

While not helping maintain their workplace, families can also help produce goods at their home, or burgage plot as they are called in Manor Lords. A single house is built on a burgage plot as a minimum, but larger plots can hold a second house and family. If a plot is big enough, you can also add an extension to your house, which will passively produce additional goods for the village.

As you begin growing your village, your families will have needs that must be met, whether physical, like food and clothing, or spiritual, like building a church. Meeting all of a family’s needs will unlock higher-tier burgage plots, which in turn opens up more extension options. 

These extensions are where the real work gets done. Choosing a burgage extension beyond the three basic choices - vegetable garden, chicken coop, and goat shed - will promote a family to Artisans, which removes them from the general workforce as they specialize in their new work-from-home job.

Manor Lords

More goods mean more resources, which in turn means the need for more families. More families mean the need for more goods, and so goes the core loop of Manor Lords. While there is currently enough variety to keep you busy building and expanding, the total number of production options paired with a relatively simplistic economic model starts to wear thin. And as you begin to acquire additional regions, the whole process of creating new villages quickly becomes repetitive.


Manor Lords isn’t just a peaceful city-builder. Just like you have to fight fog and traffic jams in a modern-day city-builder, you will have to protect your villagers from the medieval era’s number two killer (the Black Death being number one): warfare. And although warfare is more of a side quest than a prominent feature, it can be an enjoyable diversion for a while.

External threats in Manor Lords come in two forms: barbarians and AI-controlled barons. Both adversaries must be dealt with by raising an army. Like other games, you can hire mercenaries to protect your lands or attack other regions, and your manor can maintain a small garrison of permanent troops to keep your village safe from minor incursions. Recruiting mercenary armies requires gold, and the monthly cost of maintaining a large force can quickly drain your coffers.

There’s a cheaper way to protect your village, assuming you are willing to gamble your villager’s lives in the process. Your male family members can be called upon to create a militia. This crude fighting force can be effective on the battlefield, at least once you craft or buy the necessary weapons to arm them.

Manor Lords Combat

Combat is similar to a rugby scrum

Your militia can be called into action at any time and be held in service indefinitely, but there are repercussions for doing so. While the men are away fighting, your economy will suffer while your family units work at reduced capacity. And assuming that some of your militia never comes home, that workforce reduction will remain until a new family member is found. This makes your militia a cheap, fast-action defense force, while hired mercenaries will be used for longer campaigns to eradicate barbarian encampments and defeat your AI enemy.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, combat is a secondary feature in Manor Lords. Slavic Magic has already stated that Manor Lords' primary focus is city building, and we’ll probably never see more than the minor skirmishes already included in early access. That also probably means we’ll never get more than the mob-style combat we currently have. So, if commanding large armies as they perform intricate maneuvers to control the battlefield is your cup of tea, combat in Manor Lords may not fit your needs.

Final Thoughts - Jack of All Trades

There is usually an unavoidable pitfall when a sole developer creates a game: no single person is great at everything. A master coder may not be artistic, and an artist may not be a great storyteller. That's why so many single-dev projects come out with a “retro” tag—great gameplay with a barebones story and pixel-art graphics. 

In the case of Manor Lords, it appears that sole developer Greg Styczen, aka Slavic Magic, is quite the Renaissance Man himself. When it comes to coding, I haven’t experienced a single game-crashing bug. The bugs I have encountered have been minor graphical glitches or AI issues, like a group of raiders standing in place after winning a small skirmish against my militia. 

Artistically, Manor Lord’s graphics are downright beautiful. With the camera zoomed out, Manor Lords looks just like any other city builder or RTS game, but as you zoom in to ground level, you will see that Slavic Magic has taken the time to create a visually detailed world. Forests are made up of individual trees with individual branches and leaves. The forest floor is covered in dead leaves with a much better-than-usual appearance of depth, accented with bushes and fallen branches strewn about.

Manor Lords Open Areas Forest

Open areas receive the same level of detail. Fields have tall grass and random patches of flowers blowing in the wind, while the dirt roads winding through your village and into the countryside show the signs of human travel. Houses and other buildings have a variety of appearances, and the plots are filled with barrels, crates, small outbuildings, and other clutter to give your village a lived-in look.

There is also a limit to the variety of the visuals. With much of your goods being produced at burgage plots, the overall number of building types in your village is more limited than in most city builders. And the lack of building upgrades means that most of the buildings in your village will look the same in the early stages of your playthrough as they do when you have conquered the entire map.

Speaking of maps, Manor Lords launched into Early Access with just a single map, leading to a lack of replayability. Even the three scenarios that are offered are more about difficulty settings than adding variety to the gameplay. Rise to Prospisves is a combat-free playthrough where your only objective is to acquire every region on the map. On the Edge adds in barbarian raids, but these can be staved off with just your simple militia. Restoring the Peace is the closest you will get to any real difficulty, with an AI Baron bringing his own army to the field of battle as he tries to claim the map for himself.

The lack of a story mode isn’t necessarily bad, but it limits the number of options players have to extend their playtime. Compound the lack of options with the limited number of currently implemented features, and the average player will only have 20 to 30 hours before they’ve conquered everything Manor Lords has to offer. Yes, there is already plenty of minutiae in the game mechanics to keep the theory crafters busy eeking out every ounce of efficiency in creating their perfect village, but there just isn’t enough meat on the bone for Manor Lords to compete against the best city builders on the market.

Final Final Thoughts

Manor Lords has a ton of potential. Unfortunately, we don’t score games on their potential. In fact, many gamers scorn games with potential because they aren’t patient enough to wait for that potential to be realized.

In its current state, Manor Lords just doesn’t have the staying power needed to put it into the same category as a Palworld or Valheim - at least not yet. There are just too many unfinished components to keep people playing for weeks. The development, policy, and production trees are full of skills that are still a work in progress. Combat is entertaining at best, full of small skirmishes and little control over your units (and that may never change), and although the economy model shows potential, there just aren’t enough production lines or tiers to keep you occupied beyond a few in-game years.

Manor Lords Skill Tree

TL;DR - Manor Lords is still a work in progress

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. As I already said, Manor Lords has a ton of potential, and with over one million sales in its first 24 hours in early access, I believe that Slavic Magic now has the funds to realize that potential, even if it takes another seven years to get there.

Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PC.

7.5 Good Early Access Review
  • Beautiful Graphics
  • Mnimal bugs
  • Strong foundations with high potential to be a great game
  • Too many unfinished features
  • Repetitive gameplay
  • Simplistic economy
  • Warfare is a secondary feature, and it may never be more than that

Early Access Reivew: This review is based on the Early Access launch of the game, and is not reflective of the game's status when it launches its 1.0 update.

To learn more about our approach to how we review Early Access and why we are applying scores to Early Access releases now, check out this post.


Mitch Gassner

Part-time game reviewer, full-time gaming geek. Introduced to Pac-Man and Asteroids at a Shakey's Pizza in the '70s and hooked on games ever since.