Exile is a severe sentence, and Banished would have you remember that. Each world seed may fill the screen with sun-dappled woods and rolling hills, but you’ll soon discover these bucolic-seeming idylls are just waiting to swallow your hapless charges whole. We’ve watched settlers perish from starvation, hypothermia or, in the cases of a lucky few, old age. Either way, the slightest oversight means a flurry of low-key tombstone icons and a restart, hoping to build on your impressions of what went wrong.
Banished is a contradiction. It has the visual polish to suggest teams of 3D artists, your miniature village painted richly by the passing seasons, yet it’s the work of just one man. It’s pastorally slow paced, explicitly telling you to push the simulation speed up between events in tutorials, but carries a deceptive momentum that resists even early corrections. It’s non-combative, but embroils you in a battle with Mother Nature’s spiteful side. Winter is coming, and you need firewood.
You start with the bare essentials: some seeds, a storage barn and convicts in semi-urgent need of housing and food. Direct control is limited, too, your workers offering as little granularity as the average Sim City denizen. But the game is hands off with you as well. Shorn of a monetary economy, every construct is available from the start. And while to overstretch is to trigger a deadly domino effect, you’ll never be told when or where to focus your efforts.
That freedom extends to your objectives, in that there aren’t any. Banished is a simulation with a rich set of interlocking rules to discover, and eschews the contrivance of win conditions. Disasters will befall you regularly because of that detailed model, though, be it an infestation that makes a once-healthy orchard suitable only for matchwood, a twister, or your own greed depriving you of local resources. You’ll watch the death notifications rack up and begin again.
After many false starts and several hours, you’ll learn enough to know your continued existence means patient forethought, steady growth and tracking a lot of tiny numbers across menu panes. But the challenge of establishing a stable community makes that engaging for a time, even if it’s too easy to waste energy on a colony you doomed ages ago with a tiny error.
Banished is a rare technical achievement, pure in design and of purpose. Its many deaths almost always feel fair, and the battle up to self-sufficiency is gripping. But the absence of a long game beyond this early toil makes it hard to find reasons to settle down here, except for the views, especially if you’ve established yourself on these frosty plains before.