Early Access Preview: Genesia Legacy: Ultimate Domain

By Alex Connolly 16 May 2017 0

I couldn’t help but think of Thomas A. Spencer’s whimsical ‘How M’Dougal Topped The Score’ when pondering the appeal of Genesia Legacy: Ultimate Domain: 

A peaceful spot is Piper’s Flat. The folk that live around,
They keep themselves by keeping sheep and turning up the ground:
But the climate is erratic, and the consequences are
The struggle with the elements is everlasting war.
We plough, and sow, and harrow – then sit down and pray for rain;
And then we all get flooded out and have to start again.

See also John O’Brien’s melancholic ‘Said Hanrahan’, but let’s not fall down the Australian bush poetry rabbit hole just yet. Not when the Neort colonies are at stake, beset by frigid winters and drought-prone summers. Genesia, a spiritual sequel to the old and much-revered Amiga game from which Thomas Zighem’s title draws its name, is a duality of zen and mania. And very good.

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Players begin encamped on an island in the New World. Shades of Plymouth Rock, there’s nay but a scattering of huts, fields and a population of three. Though not the best showcase of colonial planning, this tiny clutch of pioneers form the cogs of Genesia’s gameplay quandary. This is, at heart, a worker placement game. A turn-based seasonal strategy, the colony must prosper in sync with the elements. Expand thoughtfully, the island will sustain its hosts. Overextend, or fail to adhere to reasonable consumption, and there will be no centenary celebrations.

Genesia’s endgame is to find seven lost gems, their whereabouts unknown across the fallen kingdom of Neort. The throne awaits the player who manages to locate all seven, which is no mean feat, given kickstarting a colony in one domain is tough enough.

Starting in a single domain on the island, you begin by assigning folk to various tasks. Trees can be harvested for logs, felled lumber to planks, rocks for stonework and so on. Food, water and heat provide a basis for colonial morale, essential for the wellbeing and future of the camp. The seasons provide their own benefits atop a worker’s gained proficiency. Henriette might have spent a few seasons working the fields, and for her troubles, gained a bonus in food production. When summer rolls around to provide the best harvest, her personal output might rise to six or so units, in place of substantially less in either spring or autumn. Colonist proficiencies become listed on their icon as well as their dynamic bio, which is a nice touch.

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You start to fill a real natural rhythm in Genesia. As the colony grows, and the pioneers begin to specialise, there’s a feeling of establishment eked from season to season. Farmers farm, foresters fell and mill, militia deal with marauding wolves, bears and enigmatic mounted scoundrels. The population grows and the camp expands.

Environmental pushback underpins everything. Heavy logging, for example, has massive implications on groundwater and soil degradation, and the flow-on to field output is obvious. Rain is welcomed, but can invite sickness on the colonists. The flow-on might be an exodus in the spring, or ailments being such a burden that the deficit to output drives a spiral only the most frugal of governors can navigate out of.

If there’s one that that is easy (on the eyes), it is Genesia’s visuals. The map is gorgeous. Verdant greens dominate the landscape in celebration of spring, followed by an equally vibrant summer and austere palette of the fall. Winter drives the landscape in an ivory realm of ice, wind and snow. The fields freeze, the trees stand bare. The art direction is top-shelf. It doesn’t rely on many moving parts; simple looped animations and boardgame-like abstracted movement are as complex as Genesia gets. If you’re looking for the busyness of a Settlers title, your ant farm satisfaction won’t be met here. But if a spritely tabletop aesthetic is what you’re after, Genesia is it.

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Just as an aside, Genesia plays magnificently on a touchscreen. Even on a lowly Asus T100, with its gutless double-gig of RAM, the game runs very nicely as a tablet experience. I largely played it in such a fashion, and would recommend anyone with a Surface or equivalent hardware to give this a go.

In tandem with the seasonal shifts, themes of harmony and equilibrium aren’t just quaint window-dressing, but the life and death balancing act of Thomas Zighem’s tidy strategy. Genesia is punitive, but never obfuscates just why your colony hit the skids. The UI is easy to parse, and though I’d appreciate a colonist database menu to browse, information never felt actively buried. The crucial pieces of a colony are listed, and they’re either increasing or decreasing. It’s a case of adjusting and hoping the weather works in your favour.

The most puzzling thing about the title is the fact the above reads like the review of a game gone gold. Genesia is in Early Access, but I’m yet to find a deficit or experience instability issues. I imagine it shall be a short stay for balancing or small additions, because as it stands, Genesia is a strong recommendation to even the Early Access-shy. There’s currently hotseat multiplayer in addition to the single player, but I certainly would not say no to a bit of asynchronous online. Sharing the Neort frontier with a few other hard-bitten volksplanters would be welcomed.

Easy to learn, hard to master, Genesia Legacy: Ultimate Domain is as advertised. Indulge me in a final snatch of Antipodean poetry, as the aforementioned John O’Brien piece caps off the colonial plight perfectly:

"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
"It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out.” 

Genesia Legacy entered Early Access on May 9th, 2017 and is currently priced at £14.99. At the time of publication, there was no information as to how long it would take to hit full release.

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