Life is Feudal Alpha: Is It Worth Playing Yet?

They don’t teach Terraforming like they used to.

Life is Feudal wants to be a “realistic-fictional Medieval hardcore sandbox MMORPG”, give or take an adjective.

A warning before we fish for the meaning in that sea of descriptors: Life is Feudal is Early Access, a point the devs take pains to communicate, but this isn’t ARMA III Early Access. It’s not even DayZ Early Access, which was held together by duct tape and rags on release. Life is Feudal is sketch-on-the-back-of-a-napkin Early Access, and you’ll have to squint to see what the picture is.

Swear fealty at this stage and you’re buying a vertiginous £25 worth of idea. But there it is, staking a claim on the Steam bestseller list. I struck out to found my fiefdom and see how its promises are being put into play.

We’re dealing with a realistic, player-driven, Middle Ages sim in which subsistence snowballs into warring kings and a player as Pope. Its final form will be a full-blown MMO, though that’s long years off by my estimation. For now, private servers of up to 64 people are the law of the land, which explains the peculiar full title of ‘Life is Feudal: Your Own’, as opposed to Life is Feudal: That Chap Over There’s.

But we’ve seen what happens when you shove a bunch of survivors into unspoiled countryside and let them slog it out. I’ve been there, perpetrating carnage, bloodshed and rampant psychopathy. The thought of a Medieval free-lootin’ PvP sandbox resembling anything close to reality is an initially funny one.

Rote-learn the wiki before assaulting the skill pane.

Shows what I know. Life is Feudal looks to leverage a dizzyingly interdependent skill system to suppress the stab-happy. It’s most reminiscent of Runescape of all things. That “hardcore” bit in the description? Roughly translates to “bring a spreadsheet”; you’ll need it to keep track of the stats and skills.

You’re best off allying with the wiki, but here’s a layman’s explanation. You start with the skills every good peasant needs to survive: Forestry, Farming, Prospecting, Nature’s lore and Terraforming (obviously). Each can be levelled to 100, and passing certain thresholds unlocks further skills like “Construction materials preparation” or the more arousing “Warfare engineering”. But! By default, you’ll encounter an overall skill cap of 600, meaning it’s impossible for one player to master the lot.

Anyone for a quick game of Excel?

I began by testing that system on my own solitary server, opting to roleplay (witnesses were quelled) a humble woodsman on a quest for a crafting table. I snapped some twigs and improvised tools to boost my Forestry, unlocking Logging at level 30. Nice. Stripping bark and lopping trees, I opened up Carpentry, so far content in the absence of human interaction (Stranger Danger and all that). I sawed some boards and stuck ‘em together with- ah.

Wood is not a renowned adhesive. Without some award-winning dowelling, my workbench would remain a flatpack. I needed nails. But nails are a product of forging, the fourth slot in the prospecting tree. A smith requires a forge and hammer, which are the province of the forester and carpenter. And rope was another ingredient! Rope comes from Procuring, and procurers need flax, which only high-level farmers- oh my, I’m light-headed.

Sub-optimal spawning

This integral system of dependence on others addresses gnawing criticisms of crafting in general. Videogame crafting is more often a list-filling minigame than a viable vocation. Life is Feudal uses the same framework, but the connectedness of it all anchors crafting to the wider world. The potential is there to build a civilised service economy.

I’m drawn in by the very scent of this system, and Life is Feudal’s solid showing on Steam indicates others are too. It’s the sort of specialist complexity that spawns the most enduring, dedicated communities. Wurm Online springs to mind, or pretty much anything by Paradox. The snag? It doesn’t work yet.

Life is Feudal is tough to play in any meaningful way. The most dedicated might disagree with me here – it is possible for the preternaturally patient to scratch out some play time – but I see a £25 scribble on a serviette.

Well, well. Loading Screen, my old nemesis. We meet again.

Take that skill system – the selling point which binds free-for-all survival into cohesive Medieval communities. In a finished MMO I’d be giddy at the thought, but in Your Own’s private shards, anarchy reigns. Admins set their own skill caps and experience multipliers. Your place in the world might be restricted by skill cap of 600, but 3000? Welcome to the nation of You.

Nurturing a character on a server with the intended settings is prohibited by ferocious instability. I’ve yet to play an hour without a crash. I’m limited to headphones because my speakers guarantee one. I witnessed an undersea battle between a wolf and a moose in which the coup de grace was a CTD. Spawning back in, I got lodged in a tree.

I’ve started to measure loading times in ‘number of panel shows watched’. My record is one-and-a-half Have I Got News For Yous. Worse, logging into populous servers on either my main rig or laptop is impossible, whether connected to the home network or the bloke next door’s, which he, er, shares. Perhaps a Medieval metropolis would greet me if I’d sit through just one more episode of QI, but at this point I’ve seen so much telly that it’s like I’m trapped at a Microsoft conference.

Sea Wolf and Aqua Moose – foes of legend.

As a consequence, I can’t tell you whether going mano a mano with enemy combatants is fun, because I’ve yet to be allowed near any. Well, I did glimpse a hostile once, but the four fps I was rocking as my superclocked 780Ti begged for death means I can’t be certain. You see that tree detail slider sitting pretty at ‘medium’? Turn that down. Curiously, the same settings produced a passable 25-ish fps on my laptop’s punier 860M.

In the end, I abandoned my siege of the high pop public servers and embraced the Rock, Paper, Life is Feudal fellowship. There, upstanding members of our very own community confirmed what I’d been pondering – different set-ups yield wildly divergent results. Some reported not a single crash. I CTDed while they were talking. Whether you end up with something that works is one for the roulette wheel.

But in the windows where Life is Feudal wasn’t buckling, the vision behind its systems was apparent in the hands of RPS journeymen. I stood atop the foundations of Castle Horace, gazing out at a grand specimen of a smallhold, the road of which I’d ruined in an attempt to be helpful. Sorry, Quintin Shotgun. There’s intense compulsion to collaborate on such hefty, manual tasks when amid friendly faces. I found myself praying that the skill cap forces the same among strangers.

Then I got eaten by a wolf and the server was rebooted. Ah, memories.

When not distracted by social enterprise, however, that beautiful idea of a world founded on interwoven crafts isn’t quite what I’d call interactive. Observable, certainly. You can observe all sorts of things like fishing and gathering and chopping, but it’s hard to play a nondescript progress bar filling dutifully on command.

I did an experiment. To test out the terraforming, I tried to make a mine using my pickaxe and shovel. With great diligence, I selected “Terraforming > Dig a tunnel” from the menu in which all interaction is housed and watched the cast bar work its socks off. Some rocks appeared in my inventory. The landscape remained the same. Was it bugged? Repeating the process, I amassed 220 rocks before I could carry no more. Still no change. The rocks had to go, but depositing them elsewhere, no more than 30 at a time, was the cue for further craft timers.

Fourteen minutes, 47 seconds.

Fourteen minutes, 47 seconds. That’s how long my first chunk of tunnel took to exhibit corporeal form. Fourteen minutes, 47 seconds of watching cast bars marching to completion like uniquely dull ants.

This isn’t alpha or pre-alpha; it’s the first birth squeezes of an idea – an alluring, wonderful idea which could go so far as to address ingrained troubles in established genres. But it’s an idea so far from fruition that laying your mound of money on the table is an expression of deepest belief in a unknown dev team.

I pine for what Life is Feudal might one day offer, and RPS’ finest offered a glimpse of things to come, but this realistic-fictional Medieval hardcore sandbox MMORPG isn’t ready for habitation.

27 Comments

  1. Captain Joyless says:

    So the answer is no… can’t say I’m surprised at this point.

    The interlocking crafting system sounds quite sensible really. Reminds me of A Tale in the Desert or PotBS.

    • Artist says:

      Yep, yet another Bastard Online Simulation (aka Griefingsim). Also, hasnt Wurm Online already achieved what LIF aims for? Including the skill grinding…?

  2. Chalky says:

    I like the title of this article, “is X worth playing yet” is probably a healthy approach to previewing/reviewing these early access games. It’s both brutally honest about the fact that these games might be simply no good right now – but it’s also clearly implying that it may at some point be in a better state and worth it.

    I approve, and I hope we get to read a subsequent review of the game when the game has matured a bit and is worth getting.

    • Jac says:

      Not that this game can be classed as obscure anymore but really enjoy reading articles like this about games with ambition and potential that a lot of people would be interested in but likely apprehensive about buying. Very informative and an enjoyable read so yes, more please :)

  3. MrFinnishDude says:

    Man, games shouldn’t be but into early access too soon. The main thing about a game is the first impression, and these kind of unplayable contentless skeletons of a game don’t give a nice first impression, that is for sure.
    Of course you will rationalise yourself that it is still in development, but your subconscious labels it as an unbalanced shitty game with nothing in it. And you never play it again!
    People will even read articles about the game that say that you it not worth buying yet. And then show the game no interest when it randomly pops up on steam, even if it would be an alright game at that point.

    I played Don’t Starve when it was still on early beta. And it had enough content in it to keep me interested in it and check out the new updates and stuff. If it was more bare-bones when I played for the first time I wouldn’t have probably never given it a second glance.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Yes, Early Access is really out of whack. Think about it, games like Minecraft or Broforce sold based on what was available, not what was promised. Some games do sell based on promise alone but those tend to be disappointments down the road. It’s easy to imagine something awesome from reading goals, it’s hard for developers to actually deliver that awesome. And then there are the games that charge MORE for their incomplete versions than their complete ones because… Why? Do they think it’s a perk to wager your money on something that might be a disaster and play a crappy early version? Minecraft was CHEAPER before 1.0 because you’re risking money on something that might not get finished.

      Cases like Planetary Annihilation alpha/beta pricing are fair IMO because they were Kickstarter tiers and it’d suck to alienate those who took the biggest risk but their gamma pricing is something else. Why did the price drop when going from gamma to release? I guess because the game was old news by then and they had to use price drops and sales to make anyone care?

      • Artist says:

        High alpha/beta prices keep a lot of kids out, which can be very helpful. E.g. Elite – premium access was soul pleasing and kept the rabbel-rousing to a minimum.

  4. Sc0r says:

    custom exp multipliers? holy shit that is a stupid decision. It’ll zero out the value of the skill system. sure, you can set it low, but knowing you’re this slow while on other servers they just party through the levels… naah… it’ll just feel incredibly dull and suffocate the feeling of accomplishment.
    -and thus, suffocate any reason to continue playing.

  5. Golgo_13 says:

    Hey all…long time reader, first time poster here. I just wanted to post my 2 cents about this game.

    To say its early access is certainly true. lots of bugs, crashes and numerous features not yet implemented as u would expect. What is there, however, is something that really has some potential. The skill trees need work …the progression requirements seem off…warhorse training, for instance, seems an unusual prerequisite to wear chainmail armor.

    Also, as angus wrote, I have spent more time staring at a task progression bar that I would have thought possible. Some sort of alternative method for that needs to be worked out.

    My main feature request at this point though would be the ability to remove buildings that have been built. The landscape is littered with old furnaces and such that people have made to increase their skills. And the settlement that my friends and I have been working would really benefit from being able to relocate things that were placed down in haste.

    All that being said, however, for an early access game, we have been enjoying ourselves. The learning curve is a bit steep, the bugs are annoying, and the crashes irritating, but I just got a text message asking me to log on ASAP after work to make some nails so our carpenter can finish what hes building…and u know what? I totally will.

  6. Tom De Roeck says:

    Hey all. Since we have gotten the server courtesy of PingPerfect, and I am the GM on it, we can make sure to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. So dont be afraid to come and check it out, by opening the console and copypasting joinToRemoteServer(“88.150.145.79:28020″,”rps”)

    (dont bother with the server browser, it is absolutely shit)

    However, I think its quite playable the way it is now, I just hope they get more sales and their updates become more frequent. (not ala Rust)

    • AngusGM says:

      If you’re going to take the plunge, start here! This lot will treat you right. Even lured a wolf away while it was snacking on my cranium.

  7. Outsider says:

    I haven’t logged in to reply to anything here in ages, but the writing in this review had me rolling with laughter. Well done, and thanks for the update the the state of this game so far. Looking forward to seeing it bloom into something in the far future.

  8. notenome says:

    Dear sir you have made a most dreadful mistake. That big pile of dirt is castle Shotgun, not Castle Horace. Horace Bay is the other settlement on the server, similar but much worse and not as good.

    Signed,

    The Shotgun Family (Jebediah, Ichabob, Quintin and Ezekiel)

    • AngusGM says:

      I have brought infinite shame on my family o.O I would wander off into the wilderness to die a death with some honour, but I tried that already and just respawned.

      • notenome says:

        Hmph…

        Some people…

        But in all seriousness, do you plan on continuing on the server, warts and all, or are you taking a break until the game is in better shape? I feel your technical difficulties seem to present a big hurdle to your enjoyment (understandably so).

        • AngusGM says:

          I’ve had my fill for now, but boy will I be back. Nuts about the idea, just need something more sturdy before sinking significant time into it.

  9. physical0 says:

    For myself, any early access game isn’t worth playing yet because I’m not interested in paying money to test and play a buggy game.
    The game may be 98% feature complete and days away from officially launching, but that still isn’t good enough for me.

    When the game actually launches, I’ll buy it. Until then, I’ll reserve my beta tests to publishers looking for paid or volunteer testers.

  10. Harkkum says:

    This game reminds me from all those countless “real medieval” MMOs that have been around since time immemorial. I am not entirely sure why they have such an allure, but I can safely say that I have never played a good one. They all seem to have similar vantage point to what makes games interesting (i.e. “real” means endless stream of tedious tasks) and they all seem to be at an equidistant from finalised. All the best for the project and those having great time with it, I’ll spare myself and wait for that first actually working game. Here’s for hoping Life is Feudal will be that.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, the tendancy to fantasise over a miserable subsistance livelyhood is a bizzare one. You don’t even get to be a wizard.

      • berowe says:

        I enjoy the game because it breaks down advancement to the accomplishment of very simple things. I don’t see this as a bad thing, as long as you have a functioning sense of perspective. People will spend countless hours crushing candy and call it “casual gaming”– they’ll spend entire days camping MMO bosses for the chance at shiny loot. They’ll “prestige” their FPS character into oblivion, all for perceived elevation of some sort. How is this different than the hours put into erecting a simple shack or making your friend a sword?

        Modern games continue to add layers of “fancy shit to get”–and all this does, in itself, is dilute interaction and gameplay. LIF does an amazing job of requiring true interaction and cooperation. Rather than showing off your purple loot with infinitesimally varying stats, you and your friends are working together to complete massive structures, defending your territory, and relying on each other for every centimeter of advancement.

        That a writer could “review” this game without experiencing this key aspect of it is quite pointless.

        • iridescence says:

          “Countless”? Wurm Online I guess? Can you name some others? I am interested in a game like this but one which is finished with graphics from this century. I’m interested in history and find playing a peasant far more interesting than yet another “chosen one with magic powerz!!!” You can consider it perverse if you want. I don’t care :)

  11. ShounenSuki says:

    So they want it to be realistic, but they still make you use nails to build things? Nails were rare and expensive until the industrial revolution, and most wood structures were fastened with various types of wood joints. Entire houses could be built without ever even touching something metal.

    • grinxen says:

      I made a house in this game and I made it without touching anything metal. Later tech stuff requires nails I’m sure but I I’m not that far in yet.

  12. racccoon says:

    I’m all for a great idea, but our life today is just as Feudal.
    We pay & then regret or lapse away the thought we paid.
    What are paying for? an experience? no, we are basically paying to test run a person/persons new game concept or idea are we mad.
    I think the world needs to re adjust & forget buying into these slave labour concepts. So different it is, to days of old, when slaves did it for free, under duress & punishment.
    Today we pay to be slaves, we pay to work for someone, we pay to help them. Who really on this earth or with any valid mind set would go to a business & say “hey sir/madam here’s 50′ I want work & pay you for allowing me to work for you. NO ONE! but, on the internet its now the norm. Humans are real dopey fucks aren’t they!

  13. Zunn-the-Ever-Wounded says:

    There’s another game like this but it’s in Egypt. It’s really boring. It would be fun to build a castle and have a war with your mates but not if you have to live the life of a medieval peasant but without the interesting bits in the life of a medieval peasant.