Watching villagers work
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Manor Lords Early Access Review: The Strategy of Surviving and Conquering

Manor Lords has a strong start, but can't shake off its Early Access feeling.

Manor Lords is the most wish-listed game on Steam right now, and it’s finally making its debut in Early Access. Combining strategy with building a settlement isn’t an easy task or a quick one. I love city builders, so let’s see how Manor Lords holds up in its early version.

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At first glance, Manor Lords reminds me a lot of Banished mixed with Civilization V. You begin with a camp of tents and a handful of settlers. From here, you need to gather resources and construct buildings in order to survive your first winter, then move onto fulfilling the requirements to win in the game mode you chose.

Manor Lords — Overview

Pros:

  • Goldmine of strategy elements.
  • Multiple game modes and settings to tailor your experience.
  • Balances the best features of city builders and RTS games.

Cons:

  • Not all features or options are available yet since it’s Early Access.
  • Lack of clarity when it comes to instructions for both settlements and combat portions.
  • Slow paced, which doesn’t suit all players.

Your End Goals as a Feudal Lord

Right now, there are 4 end goals that you can choose from when starting the game: Growth, Conquest, Domination, or no end goal. Since we’re in Early Access, it’s possible that more end goals could be added in the future. However, I think this set has a goal that fits anybody’s preferred playstyle. Although I would prefer the infinite potential of not having an end goal, I tested the other options for the sake of testing.

While Growth requires you to reach the highest settlement level, Conquest and Domination center around claiming other regions and defeating lords. That means you’ll have to use the RTS combat system, which I found is still a bit clunky in Early Access. The combat system is also rather confusing when you first try it. Then, when wars are going on, most options are unavailable right now because it’s Early Access.

Tailor the Options to Your Preferred Playstyle

Luckily, there are options when you create a new game that helps tailor elements like combat and war to a level you feel comfortable with while learning. You can adjust how aggressive the AI is and if you want to add AI opponents who are off the map. If you aren’t sure about the game settings, you can use one of the premade difficulty templates that have the options of Relaxing, Default, and Challenging.

These options don’t only affect the combat and conquering portions of the game. They also impact the starting season, supplies, weather events, resident approval, and all the other settings related to keeping your settlers alive and growing your settlement. It takes a long time to construct buildings and increase your population, much less make sure you have enough supplies to survive and build a militia on top of that.

Surviving Against Nature and Other Lords

However, all these aspects created a delightfully difficult experience that had me absorbed into the game for hours, trying to keep my settlers alive as my supplies kept dwindling. Even when there isn’t a war going on, winter is a very real threat. Especially since you can’t get all the resources you need during the winter. Instead, you have to plan and prepare ahead of time. In a way, the strategy isn’t only in the RTS combat portion. It’s at the core of every part of Manor Lords.

While there are a lot of enjoyable elements in Manor Lords, it’s not perfect. It’s an Early Access game, and it feels like one. Aside from the features that outright say they aren’t available yet, there are moments that feel sluggish. Additionally, when you start out, the tutorials and messages don’t completely explain everything you need to know. Having moments of confusion from how information is relayed to me about how to build and the requirements to upgrade buildings definitely impact your settlement.

A Solid Foundation that Lacks Clarity

Homeless villagers huddles in tents
Screenshot by GameSkinny

When it comes to information about my settlement, I’d love a clear way to see how many families aren’t assigned to a job. Sometimes, I have several unassigned families just hanging around the settlement. Then, there are times when I get a notification that I can’t build anything because I don’t have any unassigned families.

So, it’d be great to see an option or screen where I can see a clear listing of my families, how many are assigned to jobs and where, how many are unassigned, and how many are needed to construct any in-progress buildings in a reasonable time. Banished is another city builder that has the difficult, rather medieval setting, and its layout for telling you how your families are deployed is a feature that would be great in Manor Lords.

Another element that I found confusing at first is the militia set-up. It’s difficult to tell how I can increase the number of people in my militia and what I need to improve my battle capabilities. But that felt like a continuous issue while playing—having to dig for how to improve various elements in my settlement so I could help it grow.

While enough time gave me a decent idea of the features that confused me so I could figure out what I needed to know, I fear that it could lead to frustration that might prevent some players from enjoying the game.

Overall, I think Manor Lords is starting strong. It’s an ambitious project that needs a lot of elements to work together, and it’s only in Early Access at the moment. I had a great time playing it, but that doesn’t mean that it has the feeling of a full, ready-to-release game yet.

If you’re hesitant to pay for it yet, waiting to see how it improves in the near future is understandable. But even in its early days, it has a strong foundation and tons of potential to grow into something that’s amazing with its own identity.

So, there’s definitely room for improvement, but there’ll certainly be many patches and updates coming in the future to continue polishing and adding to the game. In the end, if you enjoy games like Civilization, Banished, and Total War, then it’s worth giving Manor Lords a chance. For more inspiration see our articles 10 Best Strategy Games of 2023 and Top 12 Warhammer Games.

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Manor Lords Early Access Review: The Strategy of Surviving and Conquering
Manor Lords has a strong start, but can't shake off its Early Access feeling.

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Author
Melissa Sarnowski
Melissa Sarnowski has been working as a gaming writer professionally for two years, having been at GameSkinny for over a year now as a horror beat writer. She has an English degree from University of Wisconsin - Madison. While she focuses on all things horror, she also enjoys cozy games, MMOs like FFXIV and WoW, and any and everything in between.