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10 November, 2016

Goblins of Elderstone - Classic City-Building is Back

Goblins of Elderstone is a charming, exciting stab at a classic city-building formula. Keep an eye on this one, it could be worth more than its weight in dwarven gold.

Strategy games are notoriously hard to show off at conventions like PAX. The event is loud and crowded, and for strategy games you often need time and concentration to really become invested in the experience. It's a problem that very few developers have been able to overcome. But for that reason, I'm glad that I was able to play Goblins of Elderstone, because the experience has stuck with me. I am really looking forward to seeing more out of this charming little city-builder.

Goblins of Elderstone is one of the more charming city-builders I've played in recent memory. It pairs a low-poly art style with vibrant colours and really cutesie character models to create something that is both adorable and a little unsettling.

I say unsettling because Goblins are probably the last choice for charming or endearing races in any fantasy mythos. But in Goblins of Elderstone they're funny, strange and somewhat like your own little bloodthirsty ant farm. When you start the game, you get the chance to build the back story of your people. Through narrative choices you get to decide which gods you worship, which races you're rivaled with - the usual humans, dwarves, elves and orcs apply - as well as where you're going to settle your village. This all helps you get to know your little underlings and helps shape your story before you play.

In classic strategy/city-building style, the game is played from the top-down. You look around your map and watch the goblins construct huts for themselves and go about their jobs gathering materials, hunting or getting ready for combat. If I had to compare this to a game that you can play now, it would have to be Banished. Goblins of Elderstone has that same level of micromanagement and the looming threat of failure that made Banished so gripping. So you're always looking to provide for your citizens, keep them safe and keep them happy.

As I sat there chatting to the developers I watched a number of players lose their civilisations to curses, to combat, to starvation or to random events. It's a harsh life leading a clan of goblins. 

Really the goblins behave somewhat like children. They need to be kept happy and occupied in order to keep doing their jobs. Or else you might find your little demons running amok, infighting and robbing or killing their neighbours. They scurry about the village getting jobs done as you assign them. And you have the freedom to control them with as much fine detail as you like. But they always have some free will, and will improvise if they aren't kept busy.

Building your village is relatively simple, just clicking and building in classic strategy style. Then waiting for your little workers to build things up. But what makes this unique is that the village naturally forms itself around the buildings you construct, placing ramps, bridges and decorations for your goblins to use as they move about the town. It makes the whole area feel natural and a part of the landscape, rather than just sticks and stones thrown on top of it.

Throughout the whole game you're confronted with nicely crafted narrative moments that offer you a choice to proceed. I was given the choice by a roving priestess to sacrifice one of my goblins to her god in order to gain favour. I refused to do so, thinking that my gods would protect me. But the witch placed a curse on my town and without a healer we were all dead by winter. It was a shame, but I learnt from it and had another go. These story elements are very well written and give substance to your colony. I was told that the game is being developed with Edwin McCrae, better known as the narrative writer of Path of Exile.

Even though this was just a short part of what will undoubtedly be a much larger experience, Goblins of Elderstone has it's claws in me already. Keep an eye out for this one on Kickstarter and Steam Early Access next year.

Nathanael Peacock

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