by Dan Lenois
previewed on PC
Farthest Frontier, developed and published by Crate Entertainment, aims to refine the city builder genre by incorporating many of the common mechanics involved, (such as farming, crafting, etc.) and slapping on a new coat of paint to address some of the more obvious flaws. The results of these efforts, so far, appear fairly mixed.
One of the first things players will likely notice is that Farthest Frontier possesses both a visually-appealing art direction, and maintains a likewise impressive graphical fidelity. The immersion factor of building your own settlement up from nothing, into what eventually becomes a thriving and prosperous community, is highly alluring. This is accompanied by an equally wonderful soundtrack that players will find relaxing, but not mind-numbing.
The initial hour of gameplay is likely one that will prove to be a make or break test for players, as the lack of any thorough in-game tutorial can leave potential newcomers left behind in the dust, uncertain what they should or shouldn’t do, in order to help their village survive, let alone grow.
On the main menu, the developers did add a "game guide" option that initially appears to solve this problem, but upon clicking it, the game is instantly minimized as the button instead redirects you to a browser page. Having a web link on your game's main menu, directing the player to something like an official discussion form website, is always perfectly acceptable, as long as you clearly inform the player they are opening an external link. This is excusable because in said example, the game is not relying on external programs or links to convey material that affects the player's ability to play the game.
When a player starts a new game, the most they will receive, in terms of tutorial instruction, is the game directing them to build a central building, send their workers out for resources, and some basic control and keybind guidance. While serviceable for more experienced novices and seasoned veterans, it will inevitably fall short for newer players. Not having access to tutorial information in-game, but rather through a series of blog posts on a website, provides an online-only advantage, disenfranchising users with inconsistent or slow internet speeds. Also, in the indeterminable future when the game's forums are eventually discontinued, players would lose access to said information. Its exclusion from the main game makes its continued accessibility questionable.
The early and mid-game experience can be highly engaging, as the player gradually progresses, unlocking access to new buildings and other object placement options. Responding correctly to your villagers’ needs, such as ample food, water, housing, healthcare services, and graveyards for their eventual demise, will help ensure everything remains running in smooth order.
However, this is where players will likely begin to fully appreciate one of Farthest Frontier's most crippling flaws. There appears to be some form of consistent ongoing programming bug regarding the AI governing your city's villagers. Villagers will often ignore player commands, such as the priority building system, by which the player should normally be able to instruct the AI to focus on one specific task above all else. The AI will generally begin to inexplicably ignore these, once the player's town has reached some indeterminable size, at which point the AI decides that the many smaller tasks (ex. Collecting well water, cutting down trees, etc.) collectively outweigh the fewer, but player-marked, priority tasks. There were even many instances where the AI had no other active tasks, but would nevertheless remain inexplicably idle.
Combat is likewise a bit buggy. Even when the player has trained soldiers to guard their village, the AI will be largely reluctant to fight, often preferring to run away, or stand idle until directly attacked, as opposed to taking the initiative to press enemies back. Farthest Frontier likewise does not feature a fleshed-out RTS combat system, so the player is never left with the tools necessary to mount an organized counter-offense. For a game that heavily incentivizes micromanagement to the extreme, combat feels largely hands-off in nature. The lack of variety in defensive buildings, units, and other objects also contributes to this. As a result, oftentimes it's better to just let invaders pillage what they like, doing only the bare minimum to limit the extent of their rampage, rather than take the threat seriously. Repairing or rebuilding structures generally requires a limited amount of easily-available resources.
The optimization is initially fairly decent, although later-game players may notice that, as their city grows, so too proportionately do the performance demands. Having a small village containing a few dozen people is no great challenge, but once you find yourself well into the hundreds, you might begin to notice more than a few performance issues. While these issues were only inconsistently problematic on a Nvidia 2070 RTX GPU, it’s easy to imagine it proving far more impactful on a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780, or AMD R9 290, both of which being the listed minimum GPU requirements to run Farthest Frontier.
A few more bricks needed
Overall, Farthest Frontier contains the DNA of what one day might become a truly impressive city builder, once the plethora of issues, particularly those relating to the AI, and general performance, have been resolved. While the addition of new content would likewise be appreciated, there is very little, in terms of content offering itself, that Farthest Frontier needs to improve on. Fix, improve, tinker, and move on to full release, at which point, hopefully all aforementioned concerns will have been remedied, and subsequently deemed no longer relevant.
As always, follow us on Instagram for news updates, reviews, competitions and more.