Date: May 17, 2021
Turns out being under siege is only fun sometimes
I’m always torn on what to think when a game set in a stressful, uncomfortable situation makes me feel stressed and uncomfortable. It feels like the game is succeeding, but it also isn’t particularly enjoyable. Games are supposed to be fun, right? So, trying to review a game like Siege Survival: Gloria Victis is tricky. There’s a fair bit of fun to be had when it comes to the strategy elements of the game, and it excels at giving the sense that you really are under the pressure of a siege. Yet, when the siege was lifted, I felt not the joy of victory, but instead relief that it was finally over.
Siege Survival is essentially a 3D, medieval era This War of Mine, but with a twist. During the day, you use your scarce resources to craft food, water, and a variety of structures that let you further process resources or create new ones. At night, you send one of your people out into the city to scavenge for supplies. The twist is that you can’t just worry about the survival of your little band, and instead must constantly send supplies to the defenders of the “Bastion”, who are the only thing between you and a horde of bloodthirsty Viking warriors. This balancing act leads to interesting choices — as your characters get hungry and thirsty, they work slower, but the defenders on the wall will die without food and water… so who gets that last rat ‘n egg stew?
It’s a great concept, and it’s when you’re deciding how to use your last bit of wood or vegetables that the game really hits its stride. But the gameplay pillars supporting those interesting decisions have their issues. The UI can be incredibly frustrating at times; all of the buildings you need to use for crafting and creating resources have buttons that are always present on-screen, so putting buildings close together means a lot of accidentally clicking on the wrong thing. I found myself constantly taking workers off of their projects without intending to, or struggling to figure out which character I had selected. You also have to open a menu every time you want to see what resources you have left, which is an major annoyance in a game all about managing your resources.
The night-time scavenging is also a mixed bag. The stealth gameplay consists of avoiding guards by not being too noisy and avoiding their cone of vision — pretty standard stuff. There are also a few choose-your-own-adventure style moments you can discover throughout the city, though they aren’t very interesting. At first, it was a tense affair sneaking around and avoiding patrols while desperately searching for materials I needed, but I quickly discovered that the guards were slow and easy to avoid. Even if I was seen, all I had to do was click on the automatic “run to the exit” button and my character tended to escape with only a scratch or two.
Once the tension was gone from scavenging, it became more of a chore than anything else. There is a bit of strategy in deciding where to scavenge (the map tells you what sort of resources you’re likely to find in a given district), and there’s a few places you can trade with NPCs, which can lead to some tough decisions. Mostly though, the night-time outings just feels like a chore you have to do in order to get resources. You can equip your character with a weapon, but fighting is rarely worth it, and there’s no way to set traps, distract guards, or otherwise interact with them beyond avoiding them or killing them.
It was also disappointing to discover that you never actually get to see the results of most of your hard work. The battles (which occur every few days) rage just outside of your field of vision — you hear swords clash and men screaming, but the only part of the battle you see is the enemy projectiles that sometimes land in your little section of the castle. As with the scavenging, this aspect of the game turns into a chore, as you dutifully send your characters to collect rubble or put out fires. You can eventually repair and use a trebuchet, but it’s unsatisfying to fling a flaming ball of death and have the only visual result be a number getting lower at the top of the screen.
It took me 8 hours to finish the story, and there’s definitely a few playthroughs here for those who enjoy the first go-around; I didn’t even get close to the max possible score in my victory. Additionally, a handful of different starting modes open up once you’ve survived a week of the siege. These allow you to play a more night-time scavenging focused game, or one that leans more towards bastion support. There’s also a scenario editor, allowing players to create their own version of the game map and share it online.
Overall, the resource-management part of the game worked well. I felt like I always had a few different ways to use the supplies I’d collected, and deciding what to keep and what to send to the Bastion’s defenders was fun and challenging. If the scavenging part of the game had been more engaging, or if I could have actually seen the soldiers I was equipping use the gear I sent them, I might have even done another playthrough. As it stands, this one is worth checking out if you’ve enjoyed similar titles, but will probably be an exercise in frustration for anyone not super into management games.
Siege Survival: Gloria Victis will be available tomorrow (5/18) on Steam.