Windows Central Verdict
The Wandering Village launches into early access as a complete city-building simulator experience, but with plenty of room to grow. Minor bugs and quality-of-life improvements can go a long way to complete the player experience for this otherwise beautiful world that offers a unique look at the way humans impact the world around them.
+ Beautifully hand drawn
+ Simple, easy-to-navigate menus
+ Creative take on city-building simulation
+ You can pet the Onbu
− Customized difficulty could be expanded
− Needs more automation for villager tasks
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Updated 7/20/2023: The Wandering Village has launched on Xbox, received a whole new playable biome, and is available Day 1 with Xbox Game Pass. We've updated our review rating to acknowledge Early Access updates and new content, and added on a brief review of the Xbox port.
An often-used theme in illustration is the concept of flora and fauna as one cohesive unit where artists depict natural biomes on the back of a behemoth like a whale or a turtle. The team behind Stray Fawn Studio have taken that idea and pushed it to a new limit by asking players to consider a world where tribes of humans attempt to survive upon the backs of a roaming beast in their new city-builder sim, The Wandering Village.
Set atop the back of a massive beast called Onbu, players are tasked with managing the progress of a small tribe of humans as they survive the poisonous wastelands surrounding them. The Wandering Village is releasing into early access on Steam on Sept. 14, but I’ve had the opportunity to go hands-on with it before it strolls into the wild.
The Wandering Village: What you’ll like
Upon launching The Wandering Village, players are given three difficulty options to choose from. The first is entirely for new players with constant pop-ups taking over a large part of the screen during your playthrough to provide guidance and objectives as you learn to micromanage the tribe. These pop-ups will walk you through basic tasks like moving your camera as well as using researching and building your city to meet the needs of your tribe. Adept difficulty is the medium setting and is the better option for players who are already knowledgeable about how to approach a city-building simulator, and also gives the player the opportunity to adjust the difficulty to a custom level by choosing whether or not Onbu and/or the villagers can die.
On the surface, The Wandering Village may appear fairly basic as far as a city-building simulator goes. The UI is simple and streamlined, with an inventory list tucked into the top left corner, tribe stats tucked into the top right, and a build menu taking center stage at the bottom. The center menu expands to allow players to choose which buildings they would like to have the villagers construct, as well as deconstruction and a tab for quick access to research trees.
Players do need to be mindful of their building and harvesting choices, however, as the tribe they are managing is living upon the back of a beast that can and does feel when certain tasks are carried out. Small spikes jut out of Onbu’s back, for instance, that can provide stone as a building resource but causes pain when harvested. Harvest too many stone spikes, and Onbu will begin to react by shaking which can cause buildings to collapse. A good relationship with Onbu can be cultivated, though, as players can harvest mushrooms to prepare treats that are then catapulted into Onbu’s mouth to give them a treat. Later on, through the research tree it even becomes possible to pet Onbu.
Building trust with Onbu is vital for survival for both the beast and the villagers. Onbu walks around a poisonous wasteland of a planet, and it is the animal’s travels through various biomes that introduces weather and other potential events to the villagers. The overworld map can be accessed by scrolling out with the scroll wheel on the mouse and gives players a short-ranged view of what is going on around Onbu. At times there will be extreme weather, including tornadoes, or players can get a heads up that there are nomads looking to join a tribe nearby. Should the player have enough trust built up with Onbu, they can issue commands to the beast to guide it toward or away from specific events on the map. Should that trust not be there, however, Onbu will choose their own way and the player will need to deal with the aftermath.
The Wandering Village: What you won’t like
As far as city-building simulators go, The Wandering Village is fairly scaled down and manageable. This is probably due to plans for the game to launch into Xbox Game Preview in 2023, though in its current Early Access state on Steam the game only supports mouse and keyboard input. Hardcore fans looking for an in-depth city-building experience may feel a little put off but the pared-back options with The Wandering Village. In the same vein, however, there is certainly plenty of difficulty there to make the game feel overbearing for new city builders.
While there are options to turn off death for both Onbu and villagers, respectively, it would be nice to see a more fleshed-out menu to customize the types of events and scenarios that could potentially affect your game other than simply death. The ability to toggle on or off weather or poison effects can go a long way to allowing players to create custom difficulties or additional gameplay challenges. Like most games at launch, especially when releasing into Early Access, The Wandering Village does suffer from some minor glitches that can affect quality of life for the gameplay. To be transparent, my time with the game was pre-early access launch, so there may already be patches for some of my biggest complaints on the way, so feel free to take them with a grain of salt.
The most pressing issue I ran into surrounded farms and herbalists’ buildings. When a farm is built, the player must designate plots for crops around the building and then switch over from plant to harvest for the farmers to maintain and harvest the crops. Unfortunately, The Wandering Village doesn’t actually work that way. During my time with the game, farmers would simply stand by their buildings when they were set to the “plant” mode and would only plant crops once I clicked over into “harvest.” However, while in “harvest” mode they actually wouldn’t harvest anything that they planted, and I would have to sit and babysit the farms so that I could select the harvest tool separately then highlight the crops when they were ready. If I was overseeing other buildings, feeding Onbu, or looking at the map I could miss critical points when crops would be ready, and they would deteriorate all while my farmers stood by idle.
The Wandering Village: Should you buy it?
Despite some quality-of-life improvements that could improve the experience, The Wandering Village is launching into Early Access with a strong foundation. The game offers a unique take on the city-building formula by requiring that players not just keep the populace content with their decisions but also the very ground upon which they are building. The dynamic of gameplay with monitoring both your villagers' happiness and Onbu’s health can be challenging but mastering the two challenges together feels like a genuine accomplishment.
Currently Stray Fawn Studio intends for The Wandering Village to remain in early access for one year, with an Xbox Game Preview launch also scheduled for 2023. It is not unusual for games to increase in price when they go from early access to full release, so it can be a good idea to jump in early while the price is discounted. Picking up The Wandering Village and enjoying the game as it grows and builds upon its potential feels like an easy choice.
The Wandering Village—Xbox release
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The Wandering Village's initial release in September of 2022 was limited to Steam only, and even at that point the game was launched in Early Access with limited content and no controller support. It was unnerving, at the time, to fall in love with a game that had no definitive date for coming to console and without knowing if it would ever support controller. I have a disability that does not bode well with mouse and keyboard game play, but I stuck it out because I believed in what The Wandering Village had to offer.
9 months later, the game has finally come to console, and it has full controller support to go with it. Not only that, but there's been an impressive content update bringing an all-new ocean-based biome—complete with new scenarios and buildings to research—to test your survival mettle. When the ocean biome was announced I had some genuine reservations about the how the influx of water would affect the difficulty and cruelty of trying to survive in the ever-changing world on the back of the Onbu.
Water, and the collection of it, is a constant source of struggle for your survivors in The Wandering Village but the existence of a literal sea at the feet of your Onbu is not the sweet, life-giving relief you may be anticipating. The game has maintained its deceptively cruel difficulty, and even playing on the novice setting is going to give you a genuine challenge.
Despite maintaining the game's deceptive difficulty, many of the previous quality of life issues I encountered when I originally completed the game on Steam have since been addressed with updates and were nowhere to be found, thankfully, in the Xbox version. Of course, porting keyboard and mouse inputs to a controller for a city builder simulator is always the stuff of nightmares for developers, but Stray Fawn Studios have done an impeccable job of making controller navigation of The Wandering Village feel natural and smooth.
I'm so excited by the progress that has been made with The Wandering Village in less than a year, and I am hopeful that the game's Early Access/Game Preview status means we can look forward to additional biomes and updates as Stray Fawn Studios pushes closer to a full release.
The Wandering Village is a stunningly beautiful but deceptively cruel world that will challenge even the most stoic of city builder fans on both Xbox Series X|S and gaming PCs alike.
The Wandering Village | $25
The Wandering Village is a city-builder strategy game from Stray Fawn Studio where players are tasked with micromanaging a tribe of villagers atop a giant beast named Onbu as they travel across a poisoned planet. The game launches into early access on PC on Sept. 14.
Cole is the resident Call of Duty know-it-all and indie game enthusiast for Windows Central. She's a lifelong artist with two decades of experience in digital painting, and she will happily talk your ear off about budget pen displays.