By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
I’m a long time fan of city building strategy games. I played the original Sim City on our old Windows 3.1 machine, and I played Serf City (aka Settlers 1) on Windows 95. These franchises have both evolved over the years, and others have come and gone. Now Canadian based Polymorph Games has created a whole new engine, called Hurricane, with which to try to break into this familiar genre with some unfamiliar new features. It is on this engine that their inaugural game, Foundation, has been built.
Foundation is, at its core, a cute and fun little city builder. The art style is fairly unique, and I appreciate that they have made their own assets. Much of the premise of the game revolves around “organic development”, and you can see the term bandied about on their website, their Steam page, their wiki site, and pretty much anywhere else the game is discussed. What does that mean, exactly? Well, first and foremost it means that there are no rigid grids on which you must build your structures. Your territory is bound up in hex shaped cells, which you may expand as gameplay progresses, but beyond that placement is very freeform.
In fact, you don’t even place housing buildings directly on the map. Instead you use a paintbrush like tool to designate swaths of terrain as a residential district, and then the citizens you designate as builders will use resources to erect buildings within this area. You do still have some control over these buildings, however, as you can destroy them if you don’t like their placement. This is good because, to be quite frank, the AI pathing isn’t always the best, and sometimes the citizens can’t find their way into the homes that they have built, despite there being a road right to the front door. As a side note, you don’t build roads; paths naturally form by heavy traffic moving past an area, which I really liked.
You can also toggle whether or not housing buildings may be expanded to increase population density. This is important, because population, especially in the early game, booms quite rapidly. As time progresses, new citizens will move to your territory. The happier the people in your territory are, the faster they will move in. If the happiness rating of your people falls, typically due to a lacking of necessities (food, water, housing, and the ability to worship at a church), people will also leave. Though it is possible to have people leave and new people join within the same very short span of time, which is a bit confusing to me. It’s also a bit irritating, as it doesn’t tell you the job of the people who have left, so you have to try to find where you might have any holes in production.
What, you’ve only 2 families living here? Surely we can do better.
None of this is really discussed in the tutorial either. The tutorial itself is a series of extremely basic quests: “Build a town center” it tells you, without any sort of indication about how to go about doing this. Being as the game is in Early Access, hopefully this will be improved upon in the future. As it stands, you just have to sort of mouse over things and read tooltips yourself to figure your way around. Which, in fairness, isn’t the hardest thing to do as the game’s features are relatively limited.
As I mentioned, you have to supply food to your citizens. At first this is done by assigning gatherers to pick berries. However, and this is one part I found rather neat, food isn’t automatically distributed. Instead, you have to build a marketplace and assign a merchant. Your civilians will then come and purchase food from you, which will actually increase your coffers.
Ahh, serfdom at its finest. They pick the food for you, and then you sell it to them so they can survive. Excellent.
Merchant stalls are also the first of another set of features called monuments. Monuments are various structures that will increase the splendor of your realm. Splendor comes in three varieties: Labor, Kingdom, and Clergy. Labor splendor comes from marketplaces and from your lordly manor. Clergy splendor represents the glory of the churches in your region. Kingdom splendor is derived from your keeps, at which you can train soldiers that apparently be sent off to war at the behest of the King (this is an unlockable feature that I never quite reached, though).
What makes monuments particularly neat is that they are built in a modular fashion. You begin by selecting the type of monument in the build menu, and then you place each individual aspect using the Hurricane engine’s node system. Take the church for example. There is the central core, which requires that at minimum you connect a door and a bell tower to it. You can stop here and call it good, or you can add extensions. Some extensions will increase the amount of seating, while others might simply increase splendor. You can also add extensions on after the main building has been completed, which is rather nice, as this doesn’t stop the building from functioning, and allows you to add the extensions as resources are available, rather than trying to slug it all out in one go.
You can really do quite a bit with the node based module system. As long as the nodes click together, you can rotate pieces, make them taller or shorter, and then connect yet more pieces. This gives you a fair bit of freedom in the appearance of your structures, and I don’t think I’ve made two churches that looked exactly alike in the entire time I’ve played.
Housing isn’t the only types of district you can designate. You can also paint areas to be used for replanting trees, by the foresters at the forestry hut, or you can mark space for wheat fields. Your lumberjacks, stonecutters, and gatherers will also only harvest from places designated as gathering districts, though in the case of stonecutters and gatherers I’m not quite sure why this is, since these resources seem to be unlimited. Maybe in the future that will change.
I did mention that Foundation is in Early Access, and it does have a wide variety of flaws that comes with that caveat. There are quite a number of bugs that have to be dealt with, many of which result in game crashes. Also, if you unlock the fishing hut (doing so requires a certain amount of labor splendor), your fishers will walk out onto the water and stand around, rather than rowing a boat out.
Ultimately, I think that Foundation is aptly named. Perhaps you might even say it’s a bit on the nose. I feel like that’s all the game is, is a foundation. There’s no real campaign, and the game is limited to five static maps. The Steam page claims that the Hurricane engine will have full mod support, but there’s currently no Steam Workshop associated with the game. I’m curious to see what sort of quests people will be able to come up with. Currently in the game there are merely popup quests saying that you must choose between the 3 factions (labor, church, or kingdom) to help (usually in the form of food).
As a raw city building simulation though it is a solid foundation, and I feel that needs to be recognized. However, I feel the $29.99 price point on Steam is quite steep for what is currently offered, and I say this despite the fact that I was gifted a copy of the game for the purpose of this review. I also feel like the soundtrack could be a bit more expansive. The music that it does have comes from veteran sound smiths over at Paradox Studios, who worked on projects like Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, and is good, but after a few hours it feels very repetitive. The game’s lack of any sort of day/night cycle, weather effects, seasonal effects or anything else to give the game texture are all things that I hope can be remedied as Foundation moves through Early Access and into a release quality game.
This is definitely a title that I’ll be keeping my eye on, and I hope we can share some good news of updates in the future. I would say right now not to expect much out of the game, and you won’t be disappointed, but you might just want to wait for a summer sale to grab the game for the time being.
Note: A game key was provided for preview purposes.