Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Distant Kingdoms is a fantasy-based city-builder that eschews the traditional modern-day city-building setting for a fantastical setting with Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, and Humans. Each race has their own unique Gods that they worship that gives some semblance of “direction.” For example, Humans worship a God that’s focused on agriculture whereas Dwarves focus more on Engineering; these differences, at the time of this writing are minimal, but if progress continues in the manner that I believe it will, each race will be far more unique. Though just released into Early Access, Orthrus Studios have been pushing out regular updates with many more to come, but what is there is engaging, interesting, and a fresh take on city-building.
In all honesty, I am surprised it has taken this long to get a city-building set in a fantasy setting; joining the ranks of games like Foundation and Driftland: The Magic Revival, Distant Kingdoms brings a nostalgic twist that others in its genre seem to lack. Throughout the 11 hours I put in as the Elves (who worship Isolus, the God of academia and progress, giving a bit of a boon to research), I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for the original SimCity, which I first played on the Super Nintendo back in the early 90s. It may be the heavy focus on grid-based building mechanics in Distant Kingdoms, but the feeling was certainly there.
Where Distant Kingdoms differs from its (possible) SimCity inspirations and instead pulls from colony-survival titles like the absolutely stellar Frostpunk and the criminally underappreciated Banished. In Distant Kingdoms you will need to manage resources like wood, stone, metal, and various food types and while wood is almost more valuable than actual gold as every building requires a hefty chunk of wood to build, I am an absolute sucker for city-building games that offer various methods farming. There is something so peaceful and heartwarming about farms that stretch as far as the eye can see, with the horizon broken only by the slow yet enchanting Windmills and the occasional chimney smoke of the various bakers the are dotting the various fields. However, placing your bakers in the middle of your farms may result in slow goods processing times, which leads into the single most important element of Distant Kingdoms… city-planning.
Similar to other titles in the genre, Distant Kingdoms is all about placement of core resources; for example, you will want your warehouse to be centrally located to your production buildings (like bakers or tree farms), but you’ll need to keep your resource gathering buildings close at hand to both the production buildings and your trade buildings (marketplace) and the actual resource gathering, and with the relatively small building areas, planning out where you’re putting these buildings is key. Then to add in an additional layer of complexity, you have various runes/magic buildings that help protect your colony, increase happiness, increase tax income, and a host of other benefits- including research.
Though a bit linear at the time of this article’s writing, research has the potential to significantly change how the colony is grown; the downside to what is currently in place is that all research is in some way, unlockable. I would love to see research options that force you to choose which way to go. For example, as Humans, if you want to double-down on grain farming / breadmaking, maybe make a branch of research that improves those farming/production types, but at the expense of say, hops farming/brewing/tavern production. This would force the player to be strategic and thoughtful in their research paths. As it stands currently, all research options can be researched, making it a very linear and relatively mindless progression concept.
As your colony grows and you begin manually upgrading your various buildings, a method/concept made popular by Ubisoft’s fantastic Anno series (but also found in most colony-survival sims), which in turn improves happiness, tax income, and will increase the number of peasants available for work (which will help with improving resource generation). I did find, though, that there are a few plateaus that are hit with each of the different races; there will be plenty of times where you will set the speed to x2 or even faster … and you’ll sit and wait. In fact, there is a LOT of waiting to be done in Distant Kingdoms as you’ll constantly be running out of wood or stone, so you’ll have nothing really interesting to do while those resources are collected. To help break up that monotony, I would love to see an option where you can zoom in on a citizen and watch them go about their daily routines- sure, you’ll still be waiting, but you’ll be able to enjoy your budding colony from a closer, more intimate perspective (while you can zoom in, it would be nice to “lock on” to a peasant or citizen, in a similar vein to how you can follow people in Cities: Skylines).
Though early in it’s Early Access phase, Distant Kingdoms has received a slew of updates and hotfixes from Orthrus Studios, who released a patch nearly every week (sometimes multiple per week) since mid-April. Though I suspect this will slow down a bit as the studio works on largely, more complex mechanics, what they’ve been pushing out in comparison to the amount of feedback they are receiving, is quite astonishing.
Given how stable and well-optimized Distant Kingdoms is, even this early in, the devs have been hard at work implementing feedback, balancing resources, and generally adding new and better features, I can only see Distant Kingdoms improving with time. Many Early Access titles launch in a rough state with poor optimization, however, Distant Kingdoms breaks from that mold and is in a good place, stability wise, and that is why I fully recommend diving into it now.Score: N/A for previews