There’s a warning about Life is Feudal: Your Own that’s seemingly built into its very title—that little play on the word “futile” that’s a tad too perfect to be an accident. Be grateful for that warning. You could end up like me, fully confident that months of sampling other survival sims like Rust and ARK: Combat Evolved had prepared you for what this medieval themed variant has to offer. But after I spent several minutes combing the beach I’d washed up on for the flint the spartan tutorial told me I could use to make an axe (along with some branches and plant fiber), I knew I was wrong. This was real. A little too real. Barely an hour in, trying to eke out an existence on the smug little private server I’d made seemed like it was a very futile endeavor indeed.There’s a lot to admire about that devotion to realism, though, particularly as it allows interactions with objects through right-clicks and menus that most of its genre cousins would shy from. When I stumble across an elm in the woods, for instance, I can yank off its branches or shave its trunk for bark or just chop the whole thing down for use in a building elsewhere. But the realism doesn’t end there—in this feudal world, you’ll find no Skyrim-style bags that hold more than an entire merchant’s shop. If I want to use that log, I’ll have to slowly haul the thing over to the site, all the while wearing a pained grimace that would make the Sheriff of Nottingham beam with pride. And then I’ll do it again. And again.Anyone who who attempts to do this alone is frankly doing it wrong. Hate people? This isn’t for you—even living as a raider requires some helping hands to cart off the stuff you steal. I suppose there are some masochists who wouldn’t mind paying 40 bucks to live like Tom Hanks and Wilson on the game’s island setting, but this is largely meant to be a game about crafting predesigned cozy cottages and manors rather than shoddy leafy huts. Much as the game itself takes its name from an intricate social structure, so does Life is Feudal itself place a heavy emphasis on cooperation and socialization. In the absence of enemies like zombies or dinos (or even many animals apart from oxen, deer, and the occasional bear), it’s other players that matter here. In Life is Feudal, it takes a village to make a village.Open world sandboxes have boomed in the past few years, with titles such as ARK: Survival Evolved and DayZ and, of course, the timeless classic that is Minecraft proving more popular than ever expected. LiF is a medieval themed take on the genre, and it is extremely complex. The tutorial is extensive, but I found myself repeating it twice before I felt I had a decent grasp on all of the elements of survival in this game.And I still ended up in the general chat with a plea for help when I forgot a crucial piece of information, such as how to forage for plant matter. There is a great deal that is barely even touched upon in the tutorial, and you must learn for yourself. As aforementioned, interacting with a simple object such as a tree or fauna gives you a drop-down list with subcategories of options, allowing you to interact with it in a particular way to achieve a particular result. LiF is, therefore, an exciting and sometimes punishing journey of discovery.
Thankfully, the community in the server I chose (out of enormous lists of servers, holding up to 64 players each) was very approachable and forthcoming with information and help. Although it is still very much a ‘survival of the fittest’ game, and any one of my fellow members would attack me if they saw fit, I had no trouble in my first few hours of gameplay. There seemed to be an unspoken understanding that attacking newbies is a pretty crappy thing to do.Find the right group, though, and you’ll find some gratification in the grind. The sluggish pace means that the construction of a mere cottage is an event worth celebrating. The vast amount of skills involved means players have a tendency to slip into focused careers when playing with others, which helps create the illusion of a bona fide working society. Does it sometimes feel like a new real world job in the process? You’re darned right it does. All the same, I found some quiet satisfaction in the knowledge that I was building structures that would help my community survive and not just clocking in hours for pay that I’d use to pay someone else. In its best moments, Life is Feudal recalls a beautiful simplicity we’ve lost in the modern world.It doesn’t hurt that the world itself is quite the looker in spots, even if it tended to bog my GeForce GTX 780 to slideshow speeds on medium settings. Still, I doubt that’s enough to keep me coming back until something, at least, speeds up in Life is Feudal, but I can’t deny that there was something deeply fulfilling about finding the myriad uses for objects around me that kept me coming back even after enduring the occasional crash and lingering bugs. For a while, anyway. Right now, having just spent an hour trudging back and forth to a tree to help build a simple chest, I’m more than ready for the Renaissance.