[UPDATE] Apparently the devs have announced they are officially abandoning the game.  It’s too bad, but in its current state it is not finished and not worth paying money for, and in fact I would discourage you from spending money on something that is officially abandoned, lest we perpetuate the bullshit that is abandoning Early Access games.   You can still read what I used to think of it past the break, though :/[/UPDATE]

Towns is another one of those “Guys we’re making a game and if you give us money right now you can totally play it while it’s in its horribly unfinished alpha state!” bids that are popping up on Steam Greenlight lately.  To be fair, it actually had quite a bit of actual game when it was released, compared to some of the bullshit that’s cropping up now (why yes, let me pay for 20 dollars for your proof of concept map with no actual gameplay elements!  At least with Kickstarter projects you have some insurance if the project goes vapourware…), but I also like to support games that are trying to do something unique so I bought in pretty early.  Granted, in this case “something unique” appeared to be “graphical Dwarf Fortress”, which was later done better by Gnomoria, but I was still excited.

I was initially pretty underwhelmed by Towns.  It was really early on and the bare basics of the game were there, in that you had people running around and they could collect wood or whatever, but there was absolutely no point to it.  Why am I building a town for these people?  Why am I micromanaging their every move lest they starve to death because they’re too retarded to pick an apple off a tree without my telling them to? (The micromanaging was really bad early on, but it’s a bit better now).  At least when I build a Dwarf Fortress I am creating something big and wonderous and there’s discovery waiting on every layer we dig to (usually involving horrible death, but anyway…).  On top of that, the Towns UI was awful, and that’s saying a lot when comparing to DF.  I got bored, wandered off, played Gnomoria and DF some more and forgot I had purchased it.

Then I remembered I purchased it and tried it again, to discover it’s received a lot of content patches since then.  What’s interesting about it now is that, while Gnomoria can be considered a graphical implementation of Dwarf Fortress (which does everything the same but in far less detail, so if you can get past the graphics why not just play DF instead?  Which is exactly what I did after playing it…), Towns has become something more that I would describe as a mix of Dwarf Fortress and Majesty.  It’s still in an unfinished state, but it’s pushed into a unique realm of gameplay and I think I would actually recommend it over Gnomoria at this point, if you’re looking for a graphical DF-style builder.

Here’s the premise: You are building a town.  I bet you didn’t see that coming.  Rather than digging a hole into a mountainside, though, you probably want to build actual buildings above ground and lay things out as if it were actually a quaint little medieval village.  The process of creating a building is actually pretty similar to Minecraft, at this point.  You lay out a system of blocks and your dudes craft and place the blocks.  The isometric layered camera is a real bitch to get used to (just like in Gnomoria… Dwarf Fortress has 2D ASCII supremacy once more…), and the UI is still ass, but there’s a lot of satisfaction in building up your town.

Beyond the town is where the game starts to take on a life of its own.  Below you are old dungeons that are full of loot-bearing monsters like slimes and spiders (at least in the early levels!).  You create your own little ominous “Here be dungeons” entrance somewhere in your world and dig a staircase down until you hit dungeon passages, and then you are free to explore and collect valuable goodies.  Build up your town to be awesome (particularly by providing an awesome tavern, of course), and it starts attracting heroes to come see what the fuss is about.  The heroes venture into the dungeon and slay evil monsters and collect loot and hang out in your town being all heroic and shit.  Until they die and then someone else comes along and snags their loot and then delves deeper and dies, and… yeah that’s pretty much what being a hero is like, I guess.  The deeper they go, the more cool resources they unearth which your villagers can snag and start using to create nifty thingers in your town.

So rather than being just a city builder like DF or Gnomoria, you’re actually trying to create a bustling adventure hub to attract people who want to seek fame and fortune.  The gameplay on the surface is roughly similar to the DF style game, but the end goal is more to see how deep you can get into the dungeons while also keeping your town a happy success.

The UI consists of three “fly-out” style mouse menus, stuck to the sides of the screen – one for actions like gathering stuff or digging, one for building stuff like walls or furniture, and one for production chains like baking food or fishing.  I play in windowed mode because I have a huge monitor and like being able to monitor the other tabs I have open, and also because the graphics really don’t warrant a full screen treatment in this game.  I don’t know if it’s because of that, but when I open a menu, it covers a huge part of the screen and obstructs my view of what’s going on.  It’s really fucking annoying.  What’s also annoying is that you can’t close the menus directly… they pop open when you click, and close when you mouse off them.  If you click twice, you pin the menu so it stays open.  I guess my muscle memory has decided that clicking a second time should close the menu, because far, far too often, I click and then sit there getting annoyed that it hasn’t closed yet, when what I’ve actually done is told it not to close.  A lot of the actions do correspond to keys, so I can get around some of the menus that way, but placing furniture and stuff is really painful.  Nothing like building 20 rooms and then having to place 20 beds by opening the furniture menu, clicking on the bed, waiting for the menu to fuck off, placing the bed… that’s one!  Open the furniture menu, click on the bed, wait for the menu to fuck off……. it’s not good, and I would venture to say Dwarf Fortress has it well beaten in the “furniture placing UI” category.  Wouldn’t that be an award show to watch?

There’s still an awful lot of micromanagement going on, too.  Early on I was really annoyed by how the villagers would do literally nothing if I didn’t tell them to.  It was just too much.  Now you can set production chains like “I want a minimum of 10 of these at all times” so if your stocks drop below that, they’ll go do it.  It improves the quality of management a lot to be able to do this, but I’ve also found it’s still a huge hassle sometimes due to lack of information.  Let’s say you want them to chop wood when you start running out of wood.  You open the production window and… there are like 8 different places to set wood.  They’re all labelled the same.  I figured maybe it’s because I had a lot of wood at the time so it was breaking them into stacks, or something… I didn’t really know what was going on, to be honest, but I just shrugged and set the first one to a minimum of 10 at all times and carried on my merry way, assuming I would have plenty of wood for all these carpentry projects.
Then I noticed no one was doing any carpentry.  It annoyed me immensely because I couldn’t figure out why, until I realized I wasn’t seeing any wood in my stockpiles.  I manually set a few trees to be chopped and they rushed off and did it, and immediately someone *yoinked* the logs and started working on a carpentry project.  Hmmm.
I’m still not entirely certain what the problem was, but it was one of these:  Either each one of those identically named wood settings is for a different type of tree (despite producing a generic “wood” no matter what kind of tree it is … but maybe it’s set like this because they’re setting it up for different wood types later), and I set mine for a tree that was not on my current map… or they only chop trees from my own little planted tree farms, and not from wild trees.  I “solved” the problem by tilling some ground and planting a big square of pine trees in it.  Now one of those identically named wood settings actually works for getting them to chop pine tress out of my little tree plantation.  Obtuse and annoying, and so easily solved by better communication from the game…

The second problem that took some getting used to, is that the overworld is fraught with dangers.  My first few towns were razed to the ground because I was happily collecting wood and apples and then some frogmen wandered through and slaughtered everyone.  Now I know that the first priority is to equip everyone with wood weapons and armor so they can handle the occasional random siege, but it was pretty unpleasant to have to keep starting over despite not really doing anything ‘wrong’ (the times I dug into the dungeon while looking for iron and my unarmed villagers were slain by denizens… those were totally acceptable losses!).  Most annoyingly, every single villager corpse turns into an angry ghost, which turns around and kills more villagers, who turn into more angry ghosts.  This is kind of cool in Dungeon Crawl but it’s kind of shitty here.  I gather you can prevent this from happening by burying them properly, but it takes awhile for everyone to stop scrambling around when there’s a werepig or whatever trying to kill everyone, and the ghosts pop up pretty fast.  Why the fuck are you killing the other villagers, go kill the fucking monster that killed you, stupid ghost.  >:(
The workaround for the ghosts is to right click the corpses and delete them, which is a functionality available for most game objects, presumably because it’s still in alpha.  It’s kind of a cheap way of avoiding the “slain by ghosts” problem though (and also prevents you from making cool armor out of the bones of your co-workers.  Alas.)

At least all of this has also given me some experience with the military system.  It’s pretty simple… pick a dude with the best fighting stats (they don’t seem to have any sort of crafting stats yet, unlike DF, but they do have “attack” and “defense” style stats) and click the “make soldier” button.  Then you can put them into a squad and order them around.  If you tell them to guard, they’ll notice when someone is getting the snot beat out of them and rush to the defense.  I also used the military squads to clear out the first floor of the dungeon in my search for ore and dropped equipment while getting things running.  Which leads to another UI facepalm.  The only way to actually control where the guards walk (in order to uncover the dungeon…) is to set them to patrol, then place a patrol point near the edge of the undiscovered areas.  Guard runs to the point, uncovers the map, hopefully sees a monster they will run toward and kill it and also uncover even more map.  Then you have set a new waypoint, then go back and delete the old waypoint.  Tedious and kind of dumb.  It would be nice if there were a “go explore this” sort of command where you could set an area for them, but I guess that’s what the non-controllable heroes are supposed to be for.

Which brings me to my NEXT bitch!!  Happiness is everything in Towns.  Your villagers need to be happy or no one will immigrate to the town, and presumably no heroes will arrive.  It’s the method of gaining happiness that I have a bitch with.  In DF, dwarves become happy when surrounded by valuable and rich objects (like an exotically carved wall or a masterfully created item or furniture), or when they “own” an object that is made out of a material they really like, and things like that.  Naturally, DF is amazingly detailed to a mindboggling degree, so it’s unlikely another game would have a system that deep.  Towns seems to use a system where each village runs periodic checks where they kind of look around them and go “Is there something cool near me?  Oh sweet I’m happier now.”  Stuff like eating and sleeping improve happiness of course, and eating at a proper table or sleeping in a proper bed is obviously going to be better.  Decorating those rooms means they look around and go “ooh a neat thing” while doing that sort of stuff and they become happier.  Sounds pretty simple and typical right?
What’s stupid is that working reduces their happiness.  So they look around them and go “Oh sweet a cool object, I’m happier now!  Oh but I have a job to do.  Now I am sad.”  Yes yes I know it makes some sort of “realism” sense or whatever but it literally means that in order to increase your average happiness, your workers have to stand around with their thumbs up their asses.  I wanted some immigrants to beef up my town after losing a bunch of villagers to a siege and read a bit about it, and one walkthrough I read said “Turn off every single job.  If your villagers are standing around in the marketplace it means the happiness is increasing and immigrants should come soon.”  There are so many things wrong with that. I ended up turning everything off (especially hauling because there are always chunks of stone lying around that they want to haul back home, despite apparently really hating it) and happiness did indeed increase… until they ran out of food and started to starve.  So I had to turn baking back on, but oops the act of baking made them all grumpy because This is work, fuck this I hate this.  So actually increasing the happiness took a lot longer because they had to deign to leave their life of leisure in order to bake a loaf of bread once a day.  I’m really hoping this system is due for a huge overhaul before they get much further.  The whole fun of a community management game like this is watching your little men run around and create things.  Having to halt everything to advance is counter-intuitive and not very fun.

All the problems aside… Towns is shaping up to be an interesting divergence from the “DF-Style” fortress builder.  The dungeon clearing mechanics are really interesting to me, especially if they add a lot of materials and rare items for our peoples to discover in the depths.  I’ve found a number of magical armor chunks so there’s a lot of potential for some straight-up roguelike style loot which could add a really fascinating twist to things.  Being able to mount and display rare items to increase the fame of your town to attract heroes would be cool too.  Right now, though, there are still a lot of little things to iron out before they get too far ahead of themselves (things like “Let’s improve the heroes AI so they’re not a bunch of blubbering idiots”).  I think it’s worth the entry price now, though, if you think this will interest you.  If the bugs and currently-crappy design put you off, it’s still definitely worth putting on the watch list to see what they can cook up.

About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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