Review: Towns – The Pursuit of a Better-Looking (Don’t Call It) Dwarf Fortress

Review: Towns – The Pursuit of a Better-Looking (Don’t Call It) Dwarf Fortress
3.5
Game Name: Towns
Platforms: Windows PC, Linux, Mac, Steam
Developer(s): SMP
Genre(s): Management, Strategy, RPG
Release Date: November 2012

Developer Summary

In Towns you manage a settlement on top of an active dungeon. Instead of playing the hero who delves deep into the dungeon, how about playing the town that houses and caters to the hero’s needs?

Both the RPG and strategic aspects will be fleshed out over a series of sprawling dungeons.

Attract travelling heroes that will independently explore the dungeons below, fight off monsters, gain levels, special skills and collect the best loot they can find in order to clear the land of all evil!

Craft unique weapons, trade with exotic items, obtain randomized loot, set up devious death traps and build a settlement capable of holding back the forces that come up from the depths!

towns game from SMP - developed building

What We Think

Towns is one of a precious few games that, in some ways, strives to achieve the seemingly unachievable; Dwarf Fortress with a more approachable interface. To describe Towns simply as a better looking Dwarf Fortress, however, would be doing a disservice to the game. Towns has many unique characteristics of its own.

Despite having been released on Steam, Towns is still being developed at the moment (a fact that caused a fair amount of backlash when the game was released without a disclaimer to explain this). New features are going to be added in the future as the game approaches completion. That said, this review will focus on the game as it exists at the moment, rather than on its impressive potential.

Towns puts you in charge of a small group of people in a large randomly generated land. As with similar games Towns does not give you direct control as a strategy would; instead the townsfolk meander about until you specify tasks for them to perform. Once you’ve set down a task the townsfolk will complete it in their own time.

On beginning a new game you can choose between a set of tutorials or one of several randomly generated maps including grasslands, desert, snow, jungle and mixed. The tutorials will be the first port of call for most new players and they go from helping you set up the basics for survival to equipping soldiers and fighting.

Unfortunately the tutorials are somewhat clunky at the moment, forcing the player to open a list of instructions to refer to rather than providing more elegant on screen tool-tips. This problem is compounded by a few typos and instructions that take a little interpretation here and there. You’ll get through and you’ll learn the basics but it won’t be a breeze.

Thankfully there is a wiki for Towns and a strong community that may help to provide support for new players who need some direction. Even so, it’s a shame that a game with such a large learning curve doesn’t provide more comprehensive help for new players in-game. Once you do understand the basics things start to open up in Towns.

Building in Towns is considerably more convoluted than it is in some other games. Strategy players will have to adjust to the system, while those who have played Dwarf Fortress will manage easily. Some buildings are simply placed down but the majority of functional rooms must have items built to be placed inside them (the carpenters requires a carpenter’s bench, for example) and you can structure walls and roofs around them as you desire. This gives a lot of control over building while demanding a lot of time from the player.

In terms of making this system accessible, Towns is fairly easy to manage after a little tinkering to get used to the different tools. Trial and error is an unfortunate necessity and you’ll likely build a lot of eschew buildings before you start to get the hang of things. It does require a little patience to get into but once you do there is a surprising amount of depth.

The variety of structures that can be built is impressive and there is considerable scope for customising your town. Over time you’ll be able to attract heroes to battle the reasonably wide array of enemies wandering about the land (and below it). Mining can be a little tricky as the graphics don’t make it especially easy to make sense of the different levels. This is a shame as the simple visuals work fine for the surface world.

On the subject of graphics, Towns uses very simple but endearing visuals that carry across a decent atmosphere. This simplicity coupled with rather inanimate townsfolk can make the world seem a little static sometimes. Your people glide rather than walk around the map and fights between townsfolk and enemies are represented by the two sprites wobbling next to one another. None of this is crippling, and it is offset by the variety on offer, but the game certainly has room for visual improvement.

Difficulty is an issue that may cause new players some hassle. You can spend half an hour building only to have your population halved by a tree that turned out to be a monster. The land is riddled with irritating hidden threats like this. Even dead townsfolk can spawn ghosts near them that proceed to mutilate more of your people. Until you equip your citizens with weapons and make a few soldiers you can easily find your game coming to a nasty end. Snow levels are particularly tricky- yetis prowl the landscape and can maul a citizen to death within a few moments. It’s good that Towns features a challenge but some of these threats are unpredictable and feel unfair.

towns terraforming screenshot

Bonus screenshot!

Towns is an interesting concept, putting you in the position of the village that the heroes dwell in while they conduct their adventures. The game still feels rather unpolished and while it has some engaging gameplay there are a few problems that can scupper the player’s enjoyment. For now, despite these issues, the game has a lot to offer once you push past its tutorial and if the developers keep adding to it Towns could evolve into a very interesting title.

Towns game – Official Site

Get Towns on Steam

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

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