Building a Niche
The concept of letting players shape and build a game world in a sandbox environment is far from unique at this point in the game industry. While Minecraft popularized the idea with its simplistic visuals, similar games existed before and continue to exist afterwards that employ related gameplay elements. It would be a massive stretch to say Villagers and Heroes is anything like Minecraft, or even Trove, because it really isn’t, but the notion of player-controlled environments is showing up in lots of new and interesting ways across the industry.
The games that do it best though, are the ones that give you options. Forcing you to build stuff in order to survive, or tend to a farm in order to eat food – that sort of stuff is in a genre in and of itself. Games like Villagers and Heroes on the other hand, are designed to be absolutely stuffed with different possibilities. Do you feel like gathering and crafting stuff today? Maybe you’d like to do some decorating or farming. Perhaps that new dungeon is calling your name and you want to group up with people. Maybe you just want to log on and hang out. Villagers and Heroes manages to sell itself as not only a passable outlet for each of those activities, but is even able to stand tall in a market that seems to grow more and more crowded with each passing month.
From the very start, Villagers and Heroes is able to strike a perfect balance between depth and accessibility. If you go and read the Steam page, it’s immediately apparent that this is meant to be a game for a large audience and it shows. The community is the most important part of any MMO. Without players to play the game, it can’t support itself. This goes double for indie games; due to the fact that their fan bases are often so small and dedicated that they often create their own sort of micro-culture around the game itself. It may be too early to say if that’s happening for Villagers and Heroes yet, but it’s well on its way.
One of the strongest elements of the game is its crafting system. I’ll be the first to admit that I am typically not a very big fan of crafting in games – why would I want to make some boots when I could instead use the boots I’m already wearing to kick some ass? – but it’s actually appealing this time around, if for no reason other than its mere simplicity. You just walk up to a node, click it, and the stuff plops right out for you to snag.
Whether it be picking apples from a tree or fishing in the river, it works pretty much the same and Villagers and Heroes presentation manages to make it fun and rewarding each and every time. I was a big fan of how nifty everything is, right down to the fact that hovering over items will display different potential crafting recipes that involve that particular item. As I noted in my original preview of the game last year, the big concern is how the “energy” orb that drains as you perform gathering tasks will be utilized moving forward. It was never really an issue for me, but I know for people that have a lot of free time to sink into a new MMO like this could get frustrated with limitations like that.
Housing and player-driven environments are a big part of the game, albeit not required. It’s not going to knock off WildStar in terms of offering a higher level of sheer options, but it’s definitely a lot more than you’d probably expect. It’s almost like they’ve crammed a game within a game here, giving you options you’d typically only see in something more like Animal Crossing. Decorating your house is surprisingly in-depth, and the towns even go so far as having you tend to your own farms of plants and ranches of animals.
The development team seems very dedicated to updating the game regularly – something that the community definitely appreciates – and is key to keeping players of a free-to-play game happy. Now that the game is on Steam, it’s easier than ever for them to deliver large and sweeping updated regularly and quickly. And thankfully, the game does a great job of incentivizing you to keep coming back on a regular basis. Within the game, there’s a nice little calendar that rewards you for playing the game consistently, as well as completing small little achievements throughout your play session.
Generally speaking the game employs a relatively polarizing art style. Simply put, you either hate it or you love it. The cash shop can feel a bit overbearing at points and borders on pay-to-win due to the energy orb system, but as long as you play the game casually, it’s tolerable.
GAMEPLAY: 5.0 – When it comes to playing an MMO, the moment-to-moment act of playing the game is often not the most important thing, weirdly enough. It’s more about what you can accomplish over the long-term, the options available to you, etc. Combat is pretty lackluster in Villagers and Heroes, and other aspects are incredibly standard. For the most part, this game shines for its breadth, not necessarily its depth in most areas.
VISUALS & SOUND: 6.5 – This type of stuff is fairly subjective, but the game really does have a nice soundtrack. It’s incredibly soothing and nice to listen to – both in and out of the game. Visually though, it’s really hit or miss. This style is either cool, or awful, depending on your age and preferences.
LONGEVITY: 5.0 – This is hard to judge at this point, but without much real “endgame” and a lack of “PvP” it’s tough to see this game as something you can play for several hours per day over a long period of time. This is probably best kept as a casual side game for relaxing.
POLISH: 7.0 – It’s not perfect from a presentation standpoint, but I already saw a lot of improvements from just a year ago. The interface is sleek and smooth and it feels like you’re playing a big budget title, not a small indie game on Steam.
VALUE: 7.0 – It’s free, this score would be higher if it weren’t for the hamstringing nature of the energy orb, but that does limit you a bit. The cash shop isn’t too bad, so it’s totally possible to play this game 100% for free.
SOCIAL: 6.5 – While playing, everyone I ran across and played with was incredibly nice and helpful. Online though, the community is a bit more negative, but overall everyone knows what they’re getting into for the most part. The social features are fine for a game like this, but it’s just about the basics.
CONCLUSION: At the end of the day, Villagers and Heroes tries to be an accessible and fun game for everyone to get into, but it really can’t fill all of those buckets at once. If you want to play in PvP against other players, you should look elsewhere. If you want something more realistic or modern graphically, this isn’t the game for you. If you want pulse-pounding action combat, then you’re unfortunately out of luck here again. But if you want a free, fun, casual MMO that can be played with or without a group of friends with lots of different gameplay options, then this could be a good option. You can download it for free on Steam right now – give it a shot!