It was summer 2020 during lockdown when a friend of mine texted me link to a trailer for this game called Manor Lords.
What I saw was something I had only seen in my dreams. A prophecy that we thought would never come true. Childhood fantasies, but fully realized. The concept behind this game has stuck in my head since the early 2000s.
Take everything you love about your favorite RTS game and combine it with the intricacies of economic management and city building, then make them sing and dance in harmony together. The Manor Lords song sounds as good as his dance sounds, and I get so much goosebumps it looks like I used gel to pluck my arm hair.
Is Manor Lords worth the wait?
First impressions are important, and Slavic Magic, the sole developer of Manor Lords, has created something incredibly impressive. You could have told me there were 100 developers working on this project and I would believe you.
When you start Manor Lords free demo from Steam’s Next Festival (October 3-10) and enter the main menu your expectations are immediately set by a fantastic soundtrack it’s so good that I sat there for five minutes getting ready. Ok, *click click click* I created my character, made a banner that looks a bit like the Rebel insignia from Star Wars, and… oh my lord. Here we are.
As soon as I entered the game, I laughed. Not a “haha” it’s a funny laugh, an ecstatic laugh. I accidentally enlarged the camera so far that I was in the clouds. I scrolled further until a map screen appeared, then scrolled back down until I was between each blade of grass. I really couldn’t believe it.
The level of detail is unprecedented for the genre, and I can’t imagine how much work has gone into it.
Medieval gameplay in Manor Lords
The colony needs a lumber camp. We start building one and it doesn’t explode, nor does it have a three-step building animation. What’s going on? Expect…
Here is a woman with her ox dragging a log down a bumpy dirt road kicking up dust as they plod towards the future construction site.
The peasants gather the materials delivered by the master ox and begin to build the foundations. The frame then goes up, piece by piece, then the trusses to support the roof, the logs have a natural taper that creates an imperfect structure, and finally the thatched roof and some tools for the lumber camp.
Every action a peasant takes, every building constructed, and everything that happens in this world is done one step at a time. I spent the first two hours of the demo following random villagers through their daily routines and was mesmerized by their methodical process.
Attention to detail is a crucial part of the credibility and immersive experience a player has in any game, and it’s almost strange to see so much heart and soul pouring into Manor Lords. .
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Wind blows through thick forests as sunlight bleeds through tree canopy, clothes and fabrics billow in the breeze, dusty roads turn to mud puddles in the rain, snow piles up on surfaces during the winter, fires are fanned and smoke rises from homes as temperatures drop.
I realize I’m beating a dead horse here, but I can’t keep my mouth shut about all the little things that amount to a big deal.
Building the city in the lords of the mansion
Building a city and managing its population can be a daunting task with a steep learning curve in game series like Anno. Fortunately, the design of Manor Lords is quite intuitive. First, the user interface is very clean with stylish icons that give you just the right amount of information at the top and bottom of your screen.
Hovering over objects with your cursor or clicking on buildings will give you all the detail you need to succeed without being so dense that an in-game encyclopedia is required.
Like City Skylines, there is a nice colored overlay you can apply to the terrain that will show the fertility of the terrain to various crops you can grow, where the waterbeds are for building wells, and other information various such as the pollution of the city. Although not always exciting to talk about, user interface design and overall user experience are important when information plays such a central role in urban planning.
When you build your colony, there are no grid overlays or measuring tools to make everything perfect, and I like that. It might drive people with OCD crazy, but I think the most natural approach fits the game’s setting. With an emphasis on organic building, there’s a four-point building system. Selecting the first two points will indicate the front face of a structure, while the next two points will be the back. There is a snap toggle that you can also use to connect structures or to align paths or road segments together. Other buildings are pre-designed and will only require you to rotate them and place them wherever you want, so not every project will need to be sketched. As someone who likes to be creative but fears to be creative, it’s a nice and easy balance for the building process.
The change of seasons
Seasons play a major role in determining what you should do when expanding your colony. Every year is a race against the elements to plant and harvest on time, build enough houses to reduce homelessness, and enough food and firewood to keep everyone warm through the winter.
Each production building will need workers assigned to it to keep resources coming, and you’ll need to be flexible when distributing your workforce.
Eventually, you will become familiar with the cadence of time and the flow of production, and can then focus on other societal necessities such as a tavern or a church to attract not only peasants but also villagers and craftsmen.
Once your settlement becomes a well-oiled machine and you’ve etched your aesthetic wishes into the land, you’re essentially done with what the demo has to offer. Look to the future knowing that economic management and city building will fuel diplomacy, war, and many other features are incredibly exciting. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Final Thoughts on Lords of the Manor
Over the past 10 years, game demos have become rare, making Steam’s Next Fest an exciting throwback to the past.
On the other hand, for the developers, it means more delays, exhausting hours of work, and diverted time and resources to give us a test drive in their unfinished car. Be sure to give Slavic Magic a virtual high-five if you enjoyed the demo. If the quality of city building in Manor Lords reflects the RTS part we haven’t experienced yet, we’ll be sitting high and mighty as Manor Lords.