Starvation, Sickness and Sieges
In these dire times we often feel the need for some blissful escapism from the cruel realities of life, and Siege Survival: Gloria Victis is a game that absolutely does… not provide this. It starts with a cutscene of a defeated, battered soldier crawling desperately towards the safety of a castle before being stabbed by a monstrous figure in a horned helmet. This is where things begin, with a medieval city fallen and only a single stronghold remaining for the defenders – surely to be assailed relentlessly until it falls as well.
Whereas I was expecting Siege Survival to have my player character be some sort of lord or king, deciding the layout of a castle and what taxes to levy on the common folk, I was instead put into the role of a lowly peasant. From an overhead perspective I started directing around a worker named Flint, who immediately began scurrying about the ruins, collecting useful items. Once he’d collected various supplies, he was able to store them and begin constructing things within the keep, allowing him to craft tools and cook meals.
Each character has their own needs – they require feed and drink to keep them from keeling over, and if they don’t get to rest then they’ll also keel over and have to sleep on the ground. And this is a distinct possibility since the story started off without Flint even having a bed to sleep on – one needed to be built in the keep. I met one other survivor – a widower who’d lost his family – who I was also able to control but we needed to work and rest in shifts as we didn’t have enough resources to build more than one bed!
Each night, your characters have a choice to sneak into the battered, conquered city below to scavenge for supplies and search for survivors in need of help. This is essential to do as what little you can scavenge within the keep itself will not last long. Even worse, the streets are patrolled by the conquering Ismir raiders who will batter your sneaking survivors. There’s a rudimentary stealth system where you can click on bushes and hide in them to evade the hostile view cones of approaching enemies. It’s not terribly realistic as foes can walk directly in front of your character and not spot him as long as he’s hidden in a bush. It’s pretty bare bones, but for a management simulation it was definitely a serviceable stealth minigame that added something to the resource management.
What’s most pressing after your playable characters have had their needs taken care of, is the bastion – where your soldiers live, and from where they repel invaders wanting to bring the stronghold down for good. Much like your characters, the soldiers also require food and water to continue fighting, but will also need a fresh supply of arrows that will be exhausted after every battle. Their weapons will get broken too and will need to be repaired, along with developing wounds and illnesses that will need to be bandaged or cured respectively. Keeping the troops well supplied for battles is crucial as some may die in battles if they’re not properly prepared, but resources are so scarce it can be a struggle to look after both the soldiers and the workers under your command.
Something that is a bit lacking though is any sort of command over the battles themselves. When sieges take place, there’s two opposing bars on the top of the screen representing the relative strength of the attackers and defenders and it moves around to represent the flow of the battle unfolding. However, the only thing you can control is the workers in the keep as they dodge arrows, put out fires and anxiously try to bring some last minute supplies to the warriors fighting off-screen. It’s a more anxious sort of economic management but there’s no real tactical interaction to speak of. Real-time strategy fans may be disappointed, but this lack of control over battles does fit the theme of the piece, as you’re not controlling knights in gleaming armour, but the downtrodden peasants who have to pick up the pieces after the battle is over.
Piles of diseased corpses can be burned with a torch and rubble can be removed with a shovel, and these open up new areas to be searched for resources in nightly scavenging runs. This equipment needs to be crafted though, and it’s very possible to screw yourself over because you’ve been supplying the soldiers so much you won’t have enough equipment to help you make the best of your scavenging runs. When scavenging grinds to a halt, resources can rapidly dwindle and this can send things into a bitter downward spiral. Luckily though the finished version of the game autosaves at the start of each day of your campaign so it’s possible to go back a few days if you back yourself into a corner.
As the story progressed I certainly appreciated the unique perspective you get playing from the viewpoint of a humble worker as the soldiers yelled at me to work harder so they would have what they needed to fight on. It’s a worthy reminder that the burdens of civilians in war can often be just as weighty as those placed on the soldiers.
I had played a preview version of Gloria Victis before so was eager to see how it had changed in the full review version. Luckily, it did feel a fair bit more intuitive, featuring handy graphs and charts to show all the different workstations that can be constructed and the goods they can output.
The graphics were mildly improved from the preview version, with nicer character portraits for the characters, but this is fundamentally not a pretty game. It wouldn’t have been visually impressive five or even ten years ago, but it doesn’t need to be. If anything the grimy scenery helps add to the intended feel of hopelessness and despair.
Characters you meet have their own skills. On my travels I met a scrappy trader named Rena who could fare better when bartering goods with traders found during scavenging runs. The widower Bertrand could build and upgrade various workstations in the town faster. Having a more clear indication of this was another improvement in this review version.
Even though building up the stronghold felt more accessible, I never really felt like I was building a prosperous self-sustaining economy – merely one more capable of getting through each day. Even after scrabbling enough resources to build a rainwater catcher, it was still a struggle to slake the thirst of the soldiers in the bastion and the long-suffering workers. No matter how well I’d thought I’d built up the inside of the stronghold, I always felt dependent on the nightly scavenging runs to gather just enough resources to keep going.
Those looking to build a thriving settlement full of aesthetic flourish and personality should definitely look elsewhere. This is a survival simulator, not a city builder.
Right now, there’s only one main campaign on offer, though there is a scenario editor for users to create their own adventures. Nonetheless, I am rather skeptical right now that there’ll be much lifespan left to be garnered here after the main campaign is finished. Hopefully more expansions and additional content will be on the way soon.
Siege Survival: Gloria Victis is a thoroughly brutal mix of simulation and roguelike. It’s more narrow focus may alienate those wanting a more complete management and strategy title, but may interest others. It’s only for those who want an unforgiving experience and are happy to labour not for a glorious kingdom, but for one more day of desperate survival. If you want a darker simulation title then you’ll find Siege Survival: Gloria Victis is gritty enough to clear a snowed-in driveway in Antarctica.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Ravenscourt; Developer: Black Eye Games, FishTankStudio; Players: 1; Released: March 18th, 2021;
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Siege Survival: Gloria Victis given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher