The makers of Rising Lords seem to have adopted a similar approach to development as I did to conducting warfare within the game itself. That is after I got my ass handed to me in my first fight because I didn’t know what I was doing. But once I wrapped my head around the combat by playing several quick battles, I jumped back into the campaign, only mustering my army once I was certain that my fiefdom’s infrastructure could support such an endeavor.
Similarly, Rising Lords sweeps into Early Access with a strong structural foundation, its level of polish high enough to prevent the game from falling apart on contact (like the poor boys in my first army). Rising Lords plays like a combination of a board game, a card game, and a turn-based strategy game, with its core mechanics and their merits shining through even in this early state.
- What is Rising Lords? It’s a turn-based strategy game with gameplay elements drawn from board games and card games. You take on the role of one of these titular lords, managing your people, your holdings, and your armies in an effort to establish your hegemony in medieval Europe.
- Played On: PC
- Developer: Argonwood
- Publisher: Argonwood, WhisperGames
- Early Access Release Date: May 27
- Website: https://www.argonwood.com/
- Multiplayer: Online and LAN, Co-op and PVP
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”
Aside from a short tutorial video outlining the basics of the campaign map, you’re not taught much about how to actually play Rising Lords. Even still, I made an effort to understand the game by playing it, to learn by doing. A few more hours of play, and I was making informed decisions on the campaign map, managing the harvests and tithes, and slowly building an infrastructure for my feudal army. When I finally marched onto the battlefield again, I did so after in-game years of preparation, and my force of mercenaries, levies, knights, and men-at-arms routed the foeman at every turn.
When you know how to build an army — a process that is much more involved and granular than something out of Total War or Civilization, for example — you begin to formulate long-term plans for arming those troops and deploying them in the field. You will need sources of wool and iron and wood for arms and armor, and horses for cavalry, and if you can’t exploit the resources of your lands to acquire them, then you’ll have to wait for a merchant to arrive and sell you those goods.
What results is a compelling simulation of managing a relatively small medieval fiefdom. One wherein your daily concerns include balancing the diet of your people with your stores of grain, taking measures like building churches or lowering tithes to increase happiness and encourage migration into your lands, while also remaining conscious of the maximum population your holdings can sustain.
By adopting a smaller scope than many strategy games, Rising Lords zooms in on concerns that would have been incredibly prevalent for people living in the Medieval Period, and you’re given a clear sense of just how disastrous something like a bad harvest could truly be.
Look to the Horizon
Of course, this praise must be taken into the larger context of the game and where its development process stands. As mentioned earlier, there need to be more robust tutorials, and perhaps a playable tutorial scenario to give a more comprehensive look at the mechanics. Other features like diplomacy and a story campaign are on the way, and it remains to be seen whether these will integrate nicely.
Currently, there are a number of visual bugs and design choices that seem peculiar, for instance, the fact that armies won’t rout completely and be removed from the campaign map regardless of the severity of their casualties. Accordingly, you have to personally hunt them down and kill them to a man. This seems awkward and somewhat unrealistic, especially if all that remains is a handful of peasants held together by the meek entreaties of their defeated lord.
It would also be nice to understand the political situation in a given scenario. Vast swathes of land belong to “the People,” without much information on whom exactly they serve. Is there a king who presides over these lands, is the monarch currently a puppet to a despotic regent, or is it a landscape defined by conflicts between petty warlords without a single centralized authority? This may seem like a quibble, but it improves the immersion and emergent storytelling to deepen the player’s understanding of the situation they’ve been thrust into.
It’s also worth noting that the improvements needed in Rising Lords have little to do with the core gameplay and much more to do with tweaks, refinement, and successful implementation of new features. That’s a great place to be while heading into Early Access, and it’s already looking like Argonwood has a precise, well-conceived contribution to the strategy genre.