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Construction, Roleplaying Middle Ages: Sengoku Dynasty plays familiar and yet very fresh

The Dynasty games are always a little well unpolished. Especially when it comes to simulating living beings, they look pretty, but they’re not exactly bursting with life. I suspect it will be very similar to Sengoku Dynasty. It is still challenging to say whether the balance will work. Whether the inadequacies and notchy animations outweigh, or whether real fascination for the life of Japanese peasants in the late Middle Ages arises. Whether the fights work is also completely unclear. Medieval Dynasty wasn’t even half-finished when I played it for the first time and has turned out exceptionally well to this day.

With Medieval Dynasty, the German publisher Toplitz has made a real stroke of luck. The medieval world, the pretty visuals, and the unusual combination of genres struck a chord with gamers. Of course, the somewhat unique mixture was not exciting for everyone. But it’s still enough to stand on Steam with over 21,000 positive user ratings.

This makes the Medieval Dynasty the most significant success of the Dynasty series. Of course, you have to keep swimming on this wave. That’s why Toplitz didn’t hesitate and wanted to build on the success of the Medieval Dynasty. One of these starting points is called Sengoku Dynasty and is scheduled to go into early access in early 2023.

As the world’s first magazine, we were able to see for ourselves, as we did with the Medieval Dynasty, how much potential the new part has. We’ve already spent a few hours playing a very early version of the Sengoku Dynasty, and we weren’t alone.

Not alone? This is new because while Sengoku Dynasty wants to repeat much of what sets the Medieval Dynasty apart – it also aims to learn from missed opportunities. At first, Sengoku Dynasty looks like a safe bet but dares more than you might think.

A familiar gameplay framework…
But let’s start with the basics first. Because if you’ve never played a game in the Dynasty series, you should learn more about it. The Dynasty games from Toplitz have no story in common, nor do they build on each other. But they all have the same gameplay structure and regularly change their setting. The games are also often developed in parallel by different teams. That’s why Medieval Dynasty feels other than Farmer Dynasty, for example. And Sengoku Dynasty is a whole new team again.

The dynasty part usually accounts for the tiniest amount of the fun of the game. At its core, it’s always about living a simple life and founding a dynasty. Instead, it’s about finding suitable places in the open world where we can lead our down-to-earth lives.

Little by little, our village is growing. Food must therefore be guaranteed so that we do not starve. We also want to sleep dry, so we quickly get into a motivational spiral that we know from construction games. There is even a village administration with citizens who do our work. We unlock new construction projects and can produce new tools, clothes, or trade goods. The more time we spend doing it, the better our skills become. You can also expect a little roleplay here.

The medieval Dynasty was already described as survival, development game, life simulation, and roleplaying game. And it also has something of the farming simulator. At least if you spend a lot of time creating and tilling fields.

All this is now a part of the Sengoku Dynasty again. So you spend most of your time living in front of you, pursuing new construction projects, and helping a few neighbors with their problems here and there. You will never become a great hero, and you will not experience any epic adventures. That’s what other games are for. The Dynasty series is aimed at people who enjoy empathizing with the everyday life of someone who lives in a completely different time or has an entirely different calling.

in a completely different place
Different times, professions, and if you played Medieval Dynasty, now a completely different place. Because Sengoku stays in the Middle Ages, this time puts us in Japan. And as the name will tell some experts, it’s going into the Sengoku era. This refers to an epoch in the Japanese late Middle Ages, during which there was (once again) a dispute about who was allowed to rule in Japan and who wasn’t. The same period is, among other things, the historical background for Shogun 2: Total War – which rarely bodes well for peace.

A side effect was the introduction of a stand system. Thus the samurai and the peasants emerged in social roles. This is precisely where Sengoku Dynasty comes in. Our character wants to be safe from the oppression of the samurai and is looking for the legendary kingdom of the peasants. Here he wants to start a new life. The open world of the Sengoku Dynasty is a paradise, above all visually.

Because of Medieval Dynasty, there are not only meadows, forests, or fields to see here. The Dynasty series still relies on high-quality optics, which, thanks to the varied surroundings of Japan, comes into its own a little bit better. Here we can marvel at an extensive stretch of coast and the beautiful pink cherry blossoms that are carried by the wind through the area. Nice!

We especially liked the weather effects. During our gameplay session, among other things, a thunderstorm was presented over the sea, where lightning is dynamically generated and can strike anywhere. That looked very impressive.

As with the Medieval Dynasty, however, Sengoku loses a little of its optical power when it comes to depicting people and animals. They also look beautifully designed but don’t move very lifelike and hardly warp a mine. The behavior never seems natural either.

However, the animations of the Sengoku Dynasty are far from finished. The game still has a lot of development time ahead of it, and the movement sequences should be optimized. Nothing we’ve seen in this area is considered final. However, if we orient ourselves to Medieval Dynasty, you should never expect a variety of animations, as is known from open-world games from significantly larger publishers. So don’t expect a Red Dead Redemption 2 in feudal Japan.

There are significant changes…
You could put your hands on your hips with a snort and call out angrily: Wait a minute! That sounds like Medieval Dynasty, except now my farmer wears a kimono instead of a linen shirt and harvests rice instead of wheat! And you’re partly right about that. But only in part. In the conversation, Toplitz emphasizes that the Dynasty games are not intended to be asset flips where the graphics are swapped out.

And indeed, some new features in Sengoku Dynasty were not present in the Medieval Dynasty. At least not from the beginning. After all, the publisher is also learning and takes the feedback from the players to heart. Especially for the Medieval Dynasty, the demand for a multiplayer has been raised repeatedly. Because building little houses and filling granaries is even more fun for two.

For this reason, Sengoku Dynasty relies on multiplayer right from the start. We were able to try that too. The two of us walked through the starting area, and while one of us was collecting quests from the local population, the other was busy picking up raw materials. So the division of labor works. Since the game is created with multiplayer in mind, there are even features intended solely for multiplayer.

This includes special building projects that can only really be mastered with the help of other players. For example, we can build a bridge over a river if all the necessary raw materials are collected in the starting area. And that’s supposed to take way too long.

There is also the opportunity to take part in discussions in pairs. Much is still in its infancy here. A trading menu between two real people does not yet exist. For example, to exchange resources, we had to throw the desired material on the ground so that someone could pick it up. But as I said, this version is anything but finished.

Apart from the multiplayer, Sengoku Dynasty should also deliver more stories, tell its story more stringently and bring a natural combat system. Fights were never considered in the Medieval Dynasty, but they got bandits. Only that plays accordingly wooden. However, Sengoku does not want to ignore such an important tradition as the art of fencing with the katana. However, we cannot yet say whether the system will work. In the current version, there was only the option to hunt rabbits or deer with spears. And that was still quite difficult to control.

Many small changes
If you’re familiar with the Medieval Dynasty, you’ll notice a few changes. These tend to be minor adjustments, but they do have quite a significant effect on how Sengoku Dynasty feels. For example, some of these changes make gameplay a little less awkward or even more accessible. But it’s not just these significant innovations that set Sengoku Dynasty apart from its siblings.

Drinking is no longer necessary. So you can no longer wet your throat at every river, and you don’t have to. Hunger still exists and determines how quickly our life and stamina regenerate. You can make drinks like sake if you want to drink something, but they have a buff effect and aren’t there to keep us from drying out.

Also, the weight of items has been abolished. In the Medieval Dynasty, building a house was initially quite a hassle. Precisely because five tree trunks were often enough for us to crawl across the map at a snail’s pace. In Sengoku Dynasty, there were inventory slots instead. A tree trunk, for example, occupies a complete box here, while small resources such as branches can also be stacked.

Interestingly, Sengoku Dynasty also seems to prefer the chasing perspective. At least it was only possible for us while playing to explore the world from this perspective, cut down trees and build houses. One reason for this is probably the planned combat system, which is easier to develop from the shoulder view than melee combat from the first-person perspective. However, it should be possible to switch between the two perspectives. It is still unclear whether this also applies to the fights.

Keep the balance
While significant changes like the combat system, multiplayer, and the generally more exotic environment are very welcome, we still have difficulty evaluating the small changes. Because Sengoku Dynasty could be heading for a problem here. At least we see the danger of it.

Because even if simplifications like giving up drinking and getting rid of weight are very understandable, Sengoku Dynasty also looks a lot more like a more typical survival game as there are so many out there. Everything goes a little faster; everything feels less realistic. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. For some Medieval Dynasty was much too cumbersome, and I was often annoyed by the heavy tree trunks.

But that also made up a little bit of the identity of this game, and there were at least good ways to avoid such annoyances realistically. If tree trunks were too heavy for us, we had to get a horse. In the short time we’ve been there, we can’t tell if such changes mean that Sengoku Dynasty lost some of what made the Medieval Dynasty so enjoyable. But it’s a possibility.

Of course, the developers will still tweak the balance a lot before the release, and in some areas, Sengoku Dynasty was already more extensive than the Medieval Dynasty. Here, houses are made up of even more individual parts, and we even have to build the furniture in the homes individually.

Let’s see how well Sengoku Dynasty balances simplification and realism and whether Journey to Japan can captivate as many people as its predecessor.