There are certain categories of games that you play that others in your friend circle might have not heard about. Maybe you don’t speak about them, because you feel others will think you to be peculiar, playing games they haven’t heard about. City building games are one of those niche categories of games that have been sidelined quite a bit in the recent years, though it seems to be starting a promising comeback in 2019. The first promising offering for the year is Foundation.
Foundation is playable only in the singleplayer mode. There is no scope of an addition of a multiplayer mode for playing with multiple players cooperatively since there is a chance that such a mode will break the game. We all know what happened when SimCity tried to add a multiplayer mode and enable players to cooperatively build cities, and we also know what happened to Cities XL and its multiplayer mode. For some reason, the addition of cooperative modes seem to break these sort of games, and I have no idea why. The only example where multiplayer mode seemed to have worked well was Tropico 5, which did quite well with the addition.
The singleplayer mode allows you to customize what sort of biome you want to build upon. One can visit the seaside, the hills, or any other terrain of choice. In the Early Access build, there are five available terrains to choose from – Hills, Coastal, Fluvial, Mountain and Valley. The terrains are generated with a random seed, though I personally feel the developers can add the option for letting players choose a seed of their own.
Foundation is a medieval city-builder, with some pretty decent features. You are tasked with building a fully self-sufficient city under the King, which is a pretty tall order in itself. The game employs a grid-based region system, and you can only construct a building or assign zones for constructions in regions already under your control. You start off with a village center, eight villagers, and some resources to get started off with. With that, you need to build a city that pleases His Highness, and ensure you can live with plentiful of money in the coffers, and plenty of resources in the warehouses. For starting, it is always ideal to choose a region which has deposits of cherry bushes as well as stone, so that you can get started off with basic resources and expanding your territory while building up your resource stash.
Even in the Early Access version, there are quite a number of resources to mine and put to use. One starts off small, gathering cherries, wood and stone, and later turning these into better resources like planks, polished stone and so much more. Gold is earned from cracking the whip on the villagers and forcing them to part with a portion of their hard-earned money, or from sending the resources collected by the toil of the villagers off to other villages (yup, just like that), or simply selling it back to them for a fraction of their money. For some reason, villagers seem to have deep pockets which keep generating resources, because they can afford to pay for resources, though you may not be as fortunate as they are. Some resources are restricted to particular sections of terrain, which increases the strategic significance of region expansion. Coal and iron ore are generally restricted to hilly terrain, while plain lands are more suitable for agriculture or rearing animals. The game does not allow you to monitor resource flows, which might be a decent addition in the future.
The game employs a hybrid concept of zoning and construction of individual buildings, which combines the best of both worlds. Zoning is a feature common to simulations since it reduces the micromanagement required on behalf of the player. In Foundation, you set zones for residential, gathering, farming, reforestation, and so on. Buildings for gathering or converting from one resource to another need to be constructed manually. An interesting feature (or lack thereof) are laying roads for connecting the buildings. This seems to be an automatic feature, though I am sure I would have liked more if there was an option to manually place roads too.
Buildings are divided into three types – one type for the villagers, one type for the military, and one type for the clergy. The game also features unlockable buildings, which can be unlocked by reaching a certain population for particular strata, and with the help of several decorative buildings (which unlock splendor, which you need to unlock those buildings). Some unlockables only add decorative value, while some, like the Fisher’s Hut and the Hunter’s Hut, are useful buildings which can help extend access to a wider variety of resources. Influence is needed to unlock buildings, which can be earned via quests, or simply making your citizens move to a creamier stratum of society. You normally get a lot of extra influence which you cannot use when you move into the endgame, so influence gains need to be adjusted.
Just like in medieval times, the entire village is separated based on the strata to which they belong. There are three main strata (and another one in which all of your villagers start from, though I am not sure why they have added that). Serbs, Commoners and Citizen walk the land of the Lord, tilling it, harvesting resources, and putting in an equal hand in the economy. When at least one citizen has advanced to a higher stratum, you unlock access to more buildings, allowing you access to more tiers of buildings. One can click on a citizen to know which strata he/she currently belongs to. The game manages to play ‘divide-and-conquer’ pretty well since it also adds three factions to add to the variety. Be it the military, representatives of the Kings and Lords, the clergymen, representatives of the Gods, or common folk, representatives of no one but themselves, each faction adds unlockable special buildings and decorations that make progression easier. Citizens advance to the next tier when their needs are properly fulfilled, which can be monitored by clicking on any citizen, or through the citizen panel in the UI.
Quests are special objectives which are added to enable the player to keep up with the flow of the game. These quests are nothing but a measure of progression, and they also help fill the coffers or add influence to a particular faction. After a while, quests do feel hapless and boring, since the same quests are repeated again and again.
The UI manages to be a bit too confusing at times, and several elements inside it are not structured that well. This is especially evident when you try to construct buildings and may end up being confused with the layout of the menu. That is because buildings are divided into three types (coming back to that later) in the game, and some buildings fall under a particular type. If you fail to figure out how to build a Market, or a Church on your first few playthroughs, just try clicking on the images in the menu, which should show the other buildings available for construction. The information panel displaying information about citizens actually jumps to the citizen in question, or even to the workplace in question, but the warnings list fails to highlight, or even indicate correctly the building having problems. The UI has several issues with displaying information too, often displaying “tags” or variable names which might have been used while coding the UI, which needs to be fixed as fast as possible before people forget the potential of Foundation as a decent entry in the genre of city building games.
Foundation employs strategic depth which was quite missing in the last wave of city building games to make it the PC. Foundation isn’t “simple” in any way, and progression requires methodological planning. Start out gathering basic resources, then move on to mining and agriculture to harvest advanced resources. Unlock trade routes with neighboring cities, trade your surplus produce for resources while buying resources which your economy cannot produce (stuff like Tools, especially in the early game). Sell resources to your citizens using a Market, who sometimes tend to have bigger pockets than the folk in neighboring cities. Set up Keeps, Walls and Gates for defending the hamlet from foreign invasions (though in the current state of the game, foreign invasions aren’t really a thing). Fulfill the needs of your citizens to advance to higher tiers in the economy.
An important feature in the game is that citizens need to be manually assigned jobs and workplaces for them to work – you cannot expect them to work without being assigned specific orders. This also means one can easily shuffle roles for a citizen, shifting focus to a particular section of the economy, making micromanagement more flexible than ever. The UI displays important information about citizens, workshops, regions, trade and so much more, which can be used to monitor the condition of the hamlet. If the speed of the simulation seems too slow, there are ways of controlling the speed of the simulation from the UI or even pausing it all together.
One of the worst features of the game is the profound lack of a tutorial, that obscure focus on the strategic development in the game. If you’re starting out, you are likely to be confused as to how to earn gold (in the Early Game, it is by selling berries at a Food Stall in a Market), and even be confused about how to progress to higher tiers in the game to unlock access to more buildings (fulfill the needs of your people, when they are satisfied, they will make the climb automatically). You have to figure them out yourself, and that proves to be a distraction which can put many people off the game. Polymorph Games, you absolutely need to fix this so that people can truly marvel at the little wonder that you guys have created!
Sounds and Music
The game’s music makes one fly back in time to the ages of Lords and Kings, when people used to offer their services in return for protection. Well, I was disappointed when I opened my eyes to see that I’m back in my chair and not on a horse roaming through the lands with a valet by my side. Don’t be carried away with the music though, the hamlet needs your attention, and you often need to tend to several bottlenecks in the flow of resources by micro-managing stuff.
The sound of sheep, of hammers knocking in the blacksmith’s shops, the builders constructing buildings, the traders counting their coins, the woodcutters chopping off trees – it all feels so natural.
Graphics and Optimization
The game does look extremely pretty for an Early Access title. Sometimes, it feels really good to just sit back, zoom up close and watch the Village Center booming with business, all citizens busy with some sort of work to appease His Highness. The game has some pretty good zooming distance, which is a decent feature for a simulation (especially since players tend to observe their virtual paradise up close). The depth of field and anti-aliasing also look pretty well implemented (I have a soft corner for depth of field, so there’s that).
The game was tested on the following specifications:-
CPU : AMD Ryzen 5 2600
GPU : GTX 1080
RAM : 16GB DDR4
The game ran at 60 fps constant (frame locked) on high settings. The game does have random FPS drops to 30 fps rarely for no apparent reason, especially when one is trying to readjust the in-game camera. The only bugs that I could find were the name of variables used in the UI appearing in-game, which is something Polymorph needs to address pretty urgently, as it looks pretty unprofessional.
Foundation is a city-building simulation which adds elements of strategy and micromanagement found in very few other city-building games. With the right amount of fine-tuning, and with the improvement of existing features and addition of new ones (especially the endgame, which seems pretty blank after you unlock all buildings), it can well prove to be a buy really worth it for people into city-building games or want to try out the genre.