Manor Lords dev reminds everyone that it's not a 'Total War competitor' or a 'fast-paced RTS like Age of Empires'

 A medieval city in the distance and a person on horseback.
A medieval city in the distance and a person on horseback.

Ahead of Manor Lords' early access launch on April 26, developer Greg Styczeń aka Slavic Magic wants to clarify what the city builder actually is and manage the expectations of prospective players. The game is currently the most-wishlisted title on Steam and, while this is a nice problem for any developer to have, it does mean anticipation is high, so Styczeń wants wannabe nobles to know what they're getting into.

While Manor Lords is a city builder through and through, the inclusion of real-time battles and a mode that lets you wander around your settlements has invited comparisons with games from other genres. Styczeń wants to set the record straight.

One of the games it's been compared to the most is Total War. In screenshots and quick clips, the rows of warriors charging into battle is quite evocative of Creative Assembly's beefy strategy series, but the similarities don't go much further than that.

"Manor Lords is not a Total War competitor," says Styczeń. "It's a city builder with battles. Yes, battles are there, but not as huge or as frequent as some of you might expect. The majority of gameplay is focused on city building and management."

In those rare moments when you're duking it out with other armies, you have a few commands you can dole out, but simplicity is the name of the game here. "A lot of the game mechanics focus on aesthetics of your town and resources take some time to be transported around the map," he says. "This results mostly in a more of a relaxed experience, with high intensity moments spicing up atmospheric city building rather than the game being at high intensity all the time." It absolutely is not, then, "a fast-paced RTS like Age of Empires or StarCraft".

Don't let the big map, split into different regions, make you think you're dealing with an empire management game, either. "The map has regions, but you won't be able to conquer the whole [of] Europe, nor have marriages or anything like that," he says. "The game is designed to play at a much smaller scale."

You can claim these regions and build new settlements, and then create a trade network linking them all together, which does make Manor Lords feel different from its city-building peers, but not to the point where it starts to feel like you're playing Crusader Kings.

One of my favourite features is the ability to inhabit your noble ruler and just go for a saunter, but Styczeń notes that this is just an "experimental, cosmetic bonus feature". You can't really do anything in that mode, so "it's not an RPG either". I'll admit that when I first saw this mode in action, I got some big Mount & Blade vibes, but Styczeń emphasises that it's not that kind of game.

Styczeń also explains why he decided to release Manor Lords in early access first. "It's my first serious game and not only is some stuff still unfinished, but I bet you guys will ask me to change some things you don't necessarily like." His goal is to "pursue an open development strategy" and get feedback from the players to help him refine the city builder. With that in mind, he's also decided not to release a roadmap yet. "I want to adopt the philosophy of 'listen, verify, implement'. This way I expect the first month of patches to be just bug fixes and polish. During that time, together with Hooded Horse, we’ll be collecting your feedback and then prioritizing work based on what we hear."

This all seems pretty sensible. While one of the benefits of being a solo dev can be having a clearer vision, this is a double-edged sword, with the developer focusing on features that players aren't actually that interested in. This way, Styczeń can be more agile and work on the stuff that folk are most excited about.

And Manor Lords is shaping up very nicely. I spent a few days tinkering around with it earlier this month, trying and failing to create an egg-based economy, and it's poised to become one of my favourite city builders of the last few years. The early access build locks you out of some features, like building different types of settlements or working through the entirety of the research tree, but there's still plenty to keep would-be lords and ladies very busy.