Have You Played…Banished?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I got my arse kicked by the readership when I reviewed Banished and made it clear I didn’t enjoy myself at all. I don’t mind. I’m glad.

More and more, I subscribe to the idea that if someone professes to love something, what kind of critic is it to tell them that they’re wrong? Sure, I’ll quibble and what-about and point out problems they might have missed or dismissed, but I’m old and boring enough to no longer feel the fires of rage that someone dares to enjoy something I consider to be poor. (Only thing is, I do ask for the opposite to be true – if I don’t like something, I don’t want to be viciously told that I shouldn’t be expressing such an opinion. It’s OK not to enjoy something; it’s not OK to tell someone else what they should or shouldn’t enjoy, within reason, of course).

Banished is emblematic of that. I didn’t enjoy myself, because for it was a punishing grind in order to achieve only a basic level of subsistence. I suppose I want to be a bit more indulged in my city-builders, and it’s fair to say that I don’t necessarily believe that embracing difficulty in videogames is noble in and of itself. Sometimes, yes – Far Cry 2, STALKER, Souls/Bloodborne – but Banished put me in mind of doing household chores, with the full, bleak knowledge that I would only have to repeat them all again days later.

Many people disagreed with me. They adored the challenge, the sense of victory they gained from surviving the overwhelming. I was pleased. It’s lovely to see people enjoying something, especially when that something is unusual and distinctive. Unless something is openly hateful, it deserves an audience of kindred spirits. Banished is not for me.

It came close to being something I wanted, which is why I personally felt disappointed, but it was for a lot of people – people who want a simulation of making do in a harsh wilderness, not the faker fantasy of vast cash-piles and rapid technological ascendance.

Funny thing, though – I suspect I’d like it more now. My life has become such that I regularly crave an escape to a simple life in an lonely place.


  1. godunow says:

    I love Banished – it is my favourite builder by far. I have not found it difficult at all – I guess this is due a favors of RNG Gods.

    It is wonderful in how it makes you care about your villagers – population is not just a number anymore – you get to know that it was Baker’s boy who died at 4 out of cold.

    It is like Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil made into video game.

    • napoleonic says:

      This is one of the problems with Banished, though: you only care about the citizens at first. Once you have more than several dozen citizens, you can’t keep track of them all closely enough to know or care about who died. And so the game becomes less and less interesting the better you do. That is a problem.

  2. mpk says:

    I usually bounce off these objectiveless sandbox survival games, but I had a great with Banished athough, admittedly, I never went back to it after 40 hours or so of playtime.

    It took Dwarf Fortress’ violently complicated and unhelpful micro-management and simplified it, and that hit my sweet spot. Don’t get me wrong -I had my time with DF, and enjoyed that challenge, but Banished is a much gentler game, and better for it.

  3. xalcupa says:

    Also enjoyed banished, actually looking to try it again as I noticed there were a few interesting mods for it.

    The only thing to nitpick about is that there is not really an endgame. This problem though is shared with similar type games. Once you reach a critical mass it gets too repetitive. The build-up phase is what they do really well.

    • freedomispopular says:

      This is also my feeling. I love the challenge of trying to get through that first winter and then building a sustainable settlement…but after that, it’s repetitive and no longer has that challenge. It’s missing some variety or depth or…something?

    • TimePointFive says:

      I absolutely had to look at the achievements to find satisfaction in this game. I love Banished (more for the void it filled (it’s an indie survival…builder)). But the flow and narrative of the game is inherently tied to it’s player.

      Which leads to my point.

      I was at a low life no good drop out point of my life. Nothing was happening in my career nor my relationship and I had a tumor of output that was boiling. Then There Was Dwarf Fortress. And it was a Problem. It filled a distraction time wasting life obstruction fever dream to fill all out that nothingness I was craving. Me time. After I climbed out of the hole, I found myself chasing the dragon, so to speak.

      Self-imposed limitations and objectives. Obeying traffic laws in GTA. Roleplaying a Bosmer in Elder Scrolls. Attaining a bustling civilization in Banished without building farms or schools.

      This is a game that leads to dark places, to distraction and input without output. Or is it the opposite? Anyways, this is a long way of saying it’s a game of foregone conclusions and wasted time and that little Cthulu on your shoulder reminding you how pointless the time you spend on things like this will always be despite you feeling something like fulfillment.

  4. colw00t says:

    What a coincidence! I loaded up Banished earlier this week after finally wrapping up Rise of the Tomb Raider, because I was craving something more gentle.

    I read the review of Banished and I understand the problems Mr Meer had with the game, but I didn’t really feel the same way at all. It’s a challenging game to come to grips to, that rewards careful and methodical play. Once you’ve come to grips with the system it’s not too hard to break open, but in the learning phase it’s all too easy to get locked into a starvation spiral.

    Still, lovely game. Just the thing for a cup of tea, a podcast, and a relaxing evening. No shooting, no stabbing, only my four little families, their cart, and the weather. The weather is the enemy, but it isn’t personal.

    Still a marvel, in this day and age, that it’s a game largely made by one person, and it’s something like 300MB on the hard disk.

  5. kirito says:

    Any review of Banished should mention the Colonial Charter mod – it took a game that can be mastered in 15 hours, and adds enough complexity that you can no longer have it all. Charter forces you to specialize your towns, which is a lot of fun.

  6. geldonyetich says:

    Banished is a very capable city builder, made all the more impressive because it was developed by just one guy in Unity. It had a sense of detail closer to Dwarf Fortress than most city builders, and that’s a good thing.

    I will say that I lost some sense of immersion when I was watching a guy play through it on YouTube and he was commenting on the apparent lives of his virtual Banished people, and one of them ended up spontaneously switching through many careers. It made me realize that Banished doesn’t really keep good track of who’s job it is to do what.

    Maybe later patches have fixed this. But then, updates are few and far between for this game. I guess he didn’t make enough on this game to quit the day job, or maybe this is just the reality of working on a game as ambitious as Banished solo.

    • freedomispopular says:

      Yeah, updates eventually tailed off for the most part. I think he was pretty happy with it and is moving on to a new project. His occasional email updates are pretty interesting — he goes into a lot of technical detail. He’s spent the bulk of the past year or so optimizing Banished’s cross-platform compatibility and refining the setup he used for Banished so that he can use it for his next game.

      • nottorp says:

        Cross platform? What cross platform? I just checked both GoG (where i own it) and Steam and it’s still Windows only.
        That’s the sad reason I only did one playthrough – I have a Windows install but I can’t be bothered to reboot to it any more.

    • shocked says:

      it was developed by just one guy in Unity

      Nope. Banished runs on a custom engine in c++, not Unity. Here’s a blog post from 2013 where the dev describes his progress.

      • geldonyetich says:

        Ah, is there really so many people making their own good-looking 3D games in Unity that I have just fallen to naturally assuming this is the case with solo efforts? Well, all the more impressive that he managed to make the engine, too!

  7. Carra says:

    I should try it out. Banished was a good game but it’s also missing complexity and longevity. Once you figured out how to get a colony running you’re pretty much done.

  8. Sin Vega says:

    I tried to like Banished, and expected that I would when I saw it. But it was just dull and fiddly, and I never felt like I was building a settlement or struggling to survive, so much as trying to second guess which idiot villager would be next to find a way to starve to death despite the tonnes of food.

    I didn’t hate it, it just… I dunno. I didn’t enjoy anything about it, but nor was it particularly hard.

  9. guy15s says:

    Not to be mean or snarky or anything, but this review reads more like a review of your review of the game, not any reason to go back and try out the game. You really haven’t explored anything about how people continue to pick up this game and why, or how new mods and updates have impacted the game experience.

    • Sin Vega says:

      This isn’t a review. The HYP articles are pretty much what they say on the tin, not a “let’s revisit this game” thing. Half the fun is in the comments, contrary to all reason and experience with game sites.

  10. carewolf says:

    Meh. It was fun at first but the game is basically too easy. It is just way too much micromanagement to make sure everybody doesn’t commit suicide in stupid ways. It is great at that one point where you “solve” the game (constantly adjusting jobs, especially at harvest), but then the game is over.

  11. Rituro says:

    Well, isn’t this serendipitous. I reinstalled Banished earlier this week on a whim after “beating” it shortly after buying it. (Winter? I laugh at thee, winter!)

    I still think it’s a great game, though it does lack end-game content beyond finding that sweet spot of population levels versus resource gathering. That said, having now twice solidified my village’s future in Hard mode, the appeal does fall off rather quickly.

  12. hughie522 says:

    Funny, I’ve just been re-playing this the last few days. It’s certainly a game that requires slow and careful expansion of your population, lest you become overwhelmed.

  13. vorador says:

    I’ve spent almost 300 hours on Banished and enjoyed it a lot. The game is quite good to be made by a single guy, even if there’s some glaring issues like the lousy AI and the lack of anything interesting to do once past a point when you’ve covered all your villagers needs.

    At least the mods add a lot of content. Colonial Charter in particular is impressive, adding over a hundred buildings and dozens of new resources.

  14. Siimon says:

    “the lousy AI and the lack of anything interesting to do once past a point when you’ve covered all your villagers needs.”

    I put in about 15 hours in a week and loved the game, then hit a wall of boredom when I realized the AI was terrible and despite that I had covered all their needs and there was nothing left to do. It was a “so close to being great” game that ended up being a disappointment. I’ll probably revisit it again in the future, and don’t regret the purchase price as its an admiral project.

  15. BabyJoshy5 says:

    ‘Banished’ has the potential to be good, but ultimately falls short due to an all too frequent problem of constant trial and error. What I’m specifically referencing towards is the nonsensical blight of starvation. Sure starvation is a factor of life and we must learn to cope with it, but ‘Banished’ makes starvation such an impossible epidemic that—for new, inexperienced players—it is only possible to play a town for 40 in game years until your citizens drop like flies. Furthermore, after one citizens dies from starvation, the rest swiftly follow despite a food surplus. Speaking of a food surplus, even if your city has a stagnant population, your citizens are more likely to “waste” food and go into a starvation period within the next year or so—especially during winter. All in all, this isn’t a very fun game to play lest you commit a hundred hours into studying how to play an indie game that actively fights you by enacting some random bull**** out of nowhere.

  16. Konservenknilch says:

    Huh, and it’s on sale on GOG right now ;)

    Question, how does it play on low-end systems? I’m on an A10 right now, and while most games work fine-ish, simulations tend to choke on the weak CPU part.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I used to play it on my £100 laptop.

    • tehfish says:

      I used to play it on my old AMD APU laptop (E-450, which is a 1.6ghz dual-core part) Only struggled if you zoomed out fully on a large map.

      So you’ll be fine with your chip :)

  17. Roughbuddha says:

    10/10 would freeze to death again

  18. alms says:

    Just an old forum post:

    Games are better when things go wrong, presents:

    The Great Depression of ’73

    Nobody had seen it coming. In the years leading to the great crash, the citizens of Myersford had been busy building barns to store the veritable cornucopia of food they were being buried under.

    Many theories were put forward: one of the cattle pastures was inexplicably found empty, meat being one of the main exports, allowing the city to stock up on many types of cereals and vegetables, ensuring a massive and constant excess of resources, while others claimed it was the food traders’ fault instead: the city had plenty of other valuable goods to trade, but people can’t eat coal or steel.

    While population had been growing at an incredible rate, the ample food reserves were being consumed at a comfortably slow, steady pace that proved sustainable for years. Attempts were made to restore balance, but the weather turned sour, and the fields weren’t producing as much as they once did.

    It snowballed, and people started dying. Old ones, and young ones and kids as well. The quarry and mines were the first to close down, all construction hastily dropped halfway through. The trading post’s reserves were dumped into the town market which dried up like a drop of water in the desert; both the hubs of commerce, once bursting with activity, turned into desolate places, reminders of a past that now seemed a fantasy. The tailors shut down, the herbalists, the blacksmiths, one after the other.

    The graveyards filled up and bodies had to be piled up and burnt by the dozens. Despite all of the efforts, the outlook was grim: people turned to booze and soon found out there was not a drop was left to drink, taverns literally under siege. The pious sought comfort in religion, only to realize the clerics went back to work as fishermen. Tuberculosis struck and was rapidly dealt with, then it was the hospital’s windows’ turn to be boarded up.

    link to i.imgur.com

    Two years passed, two long years of seemingly hopeless toil during which no end was ever in sight, and it looked like the ever-present smell from the pyres would never go away. Some claim it never will.

    link to i.imgur.com

    And then, on New Year’s Day of 76…

    PS: all mechanics described are in the game except the corpse burning, which is just a little flourish I added.

  19. LINEZ says:

    Wait why are you comparing this game to games that were made like 10 years ago? isn’t this a community website for games? If you are comparing it to games that was made 10 years ago then the fact that you are supposedly a gamer is FALSE. So you sir are one of the biggest blog/community hoax of this time.Banished by the way is developed by one person and has multiple forums and pages of community post giving out tips and all how to last in the game. You simply just fail at playing video games in general.

  20. poliovaccine says:

    When I was a kid, and Age of Empires II and its expansion came free with my brand new Pentium iii, Win 95-powered Gateway 2000, I adored the game but always regretted that my awesome villages had to eventually be abandoned to either war or the next level, or victory ending the map. Building up the settlements was my favorite part.

    Banished is like someone just distilled that part out and made a whole game of it. I recognize its frustrations and faults, but I feel like it just answers this longstanding, deeply ingrained childhod desire for a noncompetitive, or at least nobcombative RTS. I know Banished isn’t the only game like that now (recently I’ve been getting into The Guild 2 as well, thanks to another HYP), but for awhile, in the golden age of RTSes, there really wasn’t anything like that.

    So yeah. This game scratches a very niche itch for me, but that’s why it scratches it so good. It’s that spot nobody else can quite get at…