Life Is Feudal Review - A Hardcore Kind of Sandbox

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Life Is Feudal Review - A Hardcore Kind of Sandbox

December 10, 2015 1:00 PM

By: Xavier Mendel


Life is Feudal: Your Own calls itself a realistic medieval multiplayer sandbox, and simply put, it is definitely that. Life is Feudal is developed and published by Bitbox, and is essentially hardcore survival Minecraft with pretty graphics and a community whose average age can be measured in double digits. Objectively, it's a game with lots of crucial survival mechanics that fans of the genre expect in such games, like shelter, hunting, hunger, etc. Subjectively, these things aren't why people buy Life is Feudal: Your Own. They instead buy it for the community, which is significantly more mature than the big alternatives. It's a multiplayer game, and though it can be played alone, the servers are the focus.




[caption id="attachment_64303" align="aligncenter" width="587"]It is quite beautiful. It is quite beautiful.[/caption]

So, let's do a quick rundown of the features. Note, I am incredibly bad at all things, so some of Life is Feudal's features are a mystery to me. You create characters with skills ranging from swinging heavy swords to farming, structuring your character and molding it to become the avatar through which your will is pushed upon a harsh world. I made my first character a lady of some kind, gave her high farming and nature stats, and proceeded to die of starvation. Such is life. During that short life, I learned prospecting, scavenging, foraging from trees, crafting, upgrading skills, and more. Each server, including ones you make for the game's single player, can have all these things changed as well. I decreased the time it took for actions like forging to complete, as well as increasing experience gain from those actions. Still, the leveling wasn't ridiculous and I felt these options could serve as an adequate default setting for a small server of casual players.

The other options of the game are in the audio and graphics menus, of course. The audio options are basic, and exactly what you'd expect, with a couple of different sliders for different things. The graphics options are much better, with anisotropic filtering (on/off, no further options), color grading, film grain, lens flair, light rays, depth of field, soft shadows, distance sliders for shadows, grass, trees, and objects, with individual sliders for different kinds of objects, anti-aliasing up to SMAA, and individual quality settings for shadows, water, textures, and lighting. Of course, it is still missing a field of view slider. The standard FOV is about 75°, and though I've looked there isn't an easy way to adjust it in any semi-convenient .INI file either.



Although I played single player for quite a while (because Steam hates me and connecting to it is like finding a four leaf clover), I rarely ever got to a secure point before dying. Despite constant effort, I have only been able to create a few structures of any kind. Half of this blame can be placed on me for being bad at everything, but the other half should sit with the game for its bugs. The bugginess of Life is Feudal is off the scale. I can forgive the poor optimization, the weird and missing textures,  the stuttering, all that. What I can't forgive is constantly falling through the ground and dying while I'm just trying to walk somewhere. It only happens around acute geometry, so open fields are safe but hills and walls are dangerous. Standing on boxes, crates, etc is a death wish. I died four times in a row on a single server on the same box. All I wanted to do was get a picture of the missing textures, but that ultimately failed. Below you'll find a picture of the box, along with me looking at my own corpse. Spooky.

[caption id="attachment_64304" align="aligncenter" width="587"]That box has a much higher K/D than I do. That box has a much higher K/D than I do.[/caption]

The engine is just bad, there's no moving around that. Load times, even on an SSD, were so long that I could sometimes play a full game of Tetris in the amount of time it took to get to the main menu. Other times it only took a minute, though I'm not sure how that is decided. Because of Life is Feudal's 5.6GB size it may be worth it to load into RAM for users with enough memory to spare. Otherwise be prepared to play games while waiting on your other game. Now, this may not seem so bad, but for a busy adult with adult responsibilities and adult things to do, this can be a huge pain, especially since you need to restart often due to bugs that stop progression. Life is Feudal uses Torque3D, a free game engine that powers titles like Frozen Cortex and I don't recall such issues in other Torque3D games, so it must be implementation. After all, Torque3D and its developer GarageGames brought us Marble Blast Ultra, which was flawless in all ways.



Loading times aside, the poor optimization means that with an i5 3470/GTX 970 setup, you just have to deal with low FPS and terrible stuttering (sometimes approaching a full second, happening every couple of seconds). This seems to be a common problem reported among users that I've spoken with. The system requirements are vague, but specify that a Phenom II x6 processor or above is recommended. The best Phenom II x6 processor, the 1100T Black, is significantly below my current machine. To note, though, it specifies further than the Phenom II x6 CPU needs at least 3.5GHz, even though the 1100T is the highest core clocked CPU of that line with only 3.3GHz, so that whole section of information might not be true at all. While I would love nothing more than to test Life is Feudal: Your Own on an i7 5960x, 4x SLI Titan Z setup, I'm not sure if I can write that off as a business expense for TechRaptor. Somewhere, our CEO has begun to sweat and is not sure why.

While we're talking about optimization and bugs, one sticks out at the front of my memory. Whenever you start a game, or launch it, or anything like that, a noise will play. This noise is a burst of static of some kind played at maximum volume. Graciously, my headphones double as blood collectors so that my shirt isn't ruined, but I would appreciate not having my ears destroyed every time I launched it. This could be a problem with my audio configuration, but being that this is the only software I've encountered this problem on, it's a long shot. Still, worth noting. Since the bug paragraphs keep on going, let's take a quick moment to mention the server browser. You can exclude servers with max players or locked with passwords, but there doesn't appear to be any way to search servers, use tags, or do much else beyond browse. The history tab also just doesn't work. People have grown accustomed to that as it's rarer to find a server history feature that does work than one that doesn't. In my opinion it's just an aesthetic piece without any real value, like billboard foliage or Starcraft tournaments.

[caption id="attachment_64306" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Inside the capital city of Streamer's Paradise. All player made, all impressive. Inside the capital city of Streamer's Paradise. All player made, all impressive.[/caption]

Even though this review has so far painted a negative perspective, it isn't ending at the finale of that last paragraph. There's a lot of good to cover. Let's work from the smallest points to the largest so that we can have an artificial sense of buildup or suspense. First off, the building system is sort of as promised. The press kit includes videos of villages and whatnot, saying everything was built by players. True, but the building system uses prefabs for pretty much everything rather than walls. Walls, floors, and the like do exist, but it isn't exactly brick-by-brick. A good and topical comparison would be to Fallout 4's settlement building mode. I find this to be a positive thing. So long as you have the freedom to create what you wish and the tools to do whatever you want, does it really matter how an individual wall is placed? I don't need to nail together every board or build every single piece of wall, I just need the modules to make my castle. If it can keep the moose out, I'm happy.

[caption id="attachment_64307" align="aligncenter" width="587"]A player forging things as I look around the camp being built. A player forging things as I look around the camp being built.[/caption]

The first server I played on was a small role-playing community called Streamer's Paradise, which consisted of dying multiple times and running around blindly. Eventually I found my way to the capital city and spoke with users and admins alike, and was shown around to houses, castles, walls, a garden, and even a building where horses existed. I then got into a fistfight with a man who had a stone banana as his weapon. It was a magical time. Coming from my perspective, where "roleplay" means 10 year olds who shoot on sight and bunnyhop on DarkRP servers, their maturity and friendliness was refreshing. A rare server indeed. Then I joined another server, and another, and another, only to find that that initial surprise of finding decency occurred on all of them. It wasn't a trick, I wasn't flagged with some sort of "especially stupid please help" flair or anything, they were all just good servers filled with nice people.



That's what I think still makes Life is Feudal: Your Own a good purchase for anyone who's a fan of community sandboxes. If you could call that a genre, Life is Feudal is at its forefront. It has been a rare experience to find so many good communities within such a short span of each other just by clicking around to random servers on the server browser. This goes double for role-playing servers, which are either glorious or garbage with little room in between. I don't know if I'm ready to get back into game role-playing, but I'll think about it, and if I am, I know the game to pick. The players take it seriously without being too strict, and they play for fun without being stupid. They're friendly, helpful, and actually build up real communities with deep ties to one another. Few games have created such communities, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to participate in one, even for a short time.

I haven't gone in depth on many things, like the gameplay or audio, because the community multiplayer is the headline. Still, I didn't forget. The audio leaves no impression on me outside of that startup bug. It's exactly what you expect and nothing else. The loading screen music is nice, which is great because half of your playtime will be listening to it. The sound effects are alright. Just alright. That's fine, this isn't Halo and I don't expect blockbuster composers. It does what it does, it's satisfactory, and that's all that I can say about it.

[caption id="attachment_64308" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Despite being covered with blood and missing a head, he survived this. Despite being covered with blood and missing a head, he survived this.[/caption]

The gameplay is what you expect. The best description would be "passable". It functions, but the only award it will ever win is a silver medal in the Rust Lookalike Competition. It would've been a gold medal, but that would require it to win first place in something. Even things like punching, the basest form of attacking, doesn't seem to work well. Despite a long fistfight in the dark with many confirmed hits, nobody seemed to get hurt at all. Maybe fists don't injure things, or maybe our muscular Nordic warriors both bet on the other to win, but that was displeasing. Weaponry, in my limited experiences of living long enough to use such advanced technology, works in a similar way. Although damage exists, most things are about as effective as a wet pool noodle. I got the feeling that archery was the way to go, but this challenge has been so far insurmountable. Progress continues on that front, but I don't expect to get there soon.

As for why, a theme of this review has been that I'm bad at everything and can't stay alive for very long. I've never been good at survival games, even though other "hardcore" titles like Dark Souls or I Wanna Be The Guy aren't that big a deal for me. I grew up on Nethack and Contra, so gameplay challenges like that are old hat. Hunger meters, stamina, characters requiring anything more advanced than wall turkeys, these are challenges. You start Life is Feudal with some food in your inventory, but that won't save you when you're wandering around at night and walk into a pack of wolves. Even trying to give them crackers won't save you. Running doesn't do much either, as they're wolves, and even if you manage to avoid them you'll just fall through the world and die anyway.



I've been told by veteran players that once you start a village and get settled the game gets a lot easier. Life is Feudal is about community and teamwork, so that makes sense. Need bread? Don't cut down a bunch of bread trees or whatever, that's peasant work. Just talk to the baker. Want some wood? No need to go out and do all that backbreaking manual labor, just go to the town center and shout "need strong men to give me lots of wood", and you'll have options. You'll have to do work of some kind to cement your place in the community, though. Just follow up on your wood gathering by asking the respondents if there's anything at all you can do for them. Career options are limitless!

[caption id="attachment_64309" align="aligncenter" width="587"]You can't prove that isn't master chef Gordon Ramsay. You can't prove that isn't master chef Gordon Ramsay.[/caption]

So, the question every review comes to has come yet again. "Is Life is Feudal: Your Own worth purchasing?" Well it's forty dollars, with mixed reviews, bad engineering, mediocre gameplay, and many, many bugs. However, it also has an extraordinary community, good building mechanics, great multiplayer, and a wide variety of experiences to offer. Whether or not that adjusts the scales for you personally, I don't know. Objectively, my answer is no, Life is Feudal is not worth the money. It's too much of a mess with too little content to be comfortable buying. Even out of Early Access on a full release, simple things like ladders don't yet exist, which means scaling enemy walls must be done with crates and furniture. In my subjective opinion? Probably not. While the communities I've played on have been great, everything from the massive load times to the constant progress loss has ruined a lot of the experience. If it were fifteen bucks, I could recommend it, or maybe even for twenty, but I cannot recommend that someone spend forty dollars on this game in its current state. Bug fixes are coming, so maybe this will be a topic to be revisited sooner or later. I want Life is Feudal: Your Own to be great, and I know it can be. It just needs needs some tweaks and fixes to make that happen.

I mentioned above that it could be a good purchase for fans of this specific genre, and I stand by that. If all that has been said here appeals to you, go for it. You'll probably be thrilled. Some players I've spoken to have played thousands of hours, and others have fun in it daily despite the flaws. If you are a fan of this genre, give it a shot, and I hope it is a ton of fun for you. For fans of Rust, it might be a good break from a game full of psychopaths. For fans of Minecraft, it might be something more serious that you've been looking for. The bugs make it not worth the price, and subjectively it's not fun enough for me as to justify that cost. If it is for you, then I am happy for that. It's a good game with a lot of problems, and I'm glad you can look past those to have fun. If you can, you'll find a remarkable experience waiting for you.

[caption id="attachment_64302" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Every single screenshot taken in-game ends up like this. Every single screenshot taken in-game ends up like this.[/caption]

This review was played through Steam, and was received free for review by the developer. The game is available for purchase via Humble or Steam.

Maybe you disagree or think differently about it. Whatever your opinion I would be happy to consider it and others would be glad to hear your input. Let us know what you think about Life is Feudal: Your Own in the comments below!

Review Summary

Review Summary


While Life is Feudal: Your Own shows incredible promise, and has already set the bar with its community servers and playerbase, the massive bugs take it just below the point where its price tag can be justified.

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Author: Xavier Mendel |
I've been talking about games for as long as I can remember, and now I'm writing about them! Follow me on Twitter @XavierMendel for hilarious(ly bad) jokes.