Medieval Engineers – Physics Sandboxes are Forever Priceless

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Medieval Engineers – Physics Sandboxes are Forever Priceless 2

INTRODUCTION:

Medieval Engineers is a medieval physics sandbox game with perhaps too many bugs and glitches for its own good. Don’t let that put you off, though; you can build castles, cities and machinery all of the medieval type, but more importantly you can then proceed to demolish all of that for the ultimate satisfaction. It’s that glorious feeling you get when you watch a building being demolished, only this time you’re the one doing the demolishing. So grab your castles and catapults and get ready for some action.

GAMEPLAY

But let’s start from the beginning: Medieval Engineers is the counterpart to Keen Software House’s other game, Space Engineers, and like its twin, it’s on Steam Early Access. This means that the game’s not actually finished yet. While that means frequent updates and much-needed bugfixes, it comes with the inevitable pitfall of being riddled with bugs and glitches aplenty. I’ve spent the last few days messing around on this one, and the game has crashed on me about five or six times. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s been even more occasions where the game has just messed up and ruined what I was creating (or destroying). That’s when the game gets really frustrating and I have to put it down for twenty minutes to take a breather. Really, games shouldn’t make a guy feel like that.

Don’t let that totally put you off, though. It’s got quite a cool physics engine that’s only limited by the power of your system. In Keen Software House’s own words: “At certain points you will probably reach the memory limit of your system and won’t be able to add more objects, but that’s the only limit we imposed.” In other words, the game can be run on fairly low-spec PCs without too much issue until you start breaking too many things. Then you might find that your frames drop quite significantly. In fact, even on a fairly decent computer like mine, too much going on results in serious frame rate drops, so don’t think that just because you have a Titan X and 32GB of RAM that you’re safe.

System Requirements aside, stuff falls to pieces if you don’t place something to support it. That’s part of, you know, engineering, I suppose. This means that you’ve got to think pretty hard about how you’re going to build a building. Constructing the ceiling first probably won’t end well. You might scoff and think that constructing a building from the ground up is simple, but trust me, you can make some mistakes. And mistakes are costly. Often annoyingly so. As your misplaced block falls, half of your great project collapses before your eyes. This usually happens when accidentally deleting a block, too. (only a single right click away!) These mistakes can end up becoming very frustrating indeed. The moral of the story is: don’t delete something unless you’re absolutely sure it isn’t going to be a horrible mistake. And that’s actually pretty hard when you can only delete something with another object in your hand so that a preview block appears in front of the block you’re trying to delete, obscuring your vision. For me, this has resulted in far too many miss-deletes and towers crumbling into dust.

The controls aren’t too bad, but Keen Software House really have their work cut out for them; placing objects in three dimensions is very difficult with a two-dimensional screen. I’d say they’ve done an average job, however, there are still times when it becomes difficult to place something exactly where you want it, often resulting in an identical outcome as previously mentioned. Then there’s the whole “deleting a block removes all objects (but only certain object types, depending on your currently held object) within the area of the cube”, which is another nightmare in and of itself. It made building a round tower particularly frustrating, where the blocks with the round edges partly take up two cubes, but when deleted, only half the block disappears (as it only deleted the contents of one cube). Again, when there’re multiple objects in one cube, issues arise.

And when issues do arise, so does your blood pressure. Buildings crumble, yes, but then the rubble is left over, which can get in the way of your construction. In Creative mode, it’s not too difficult to get rid of the annoying rubble, but on Survival mode it’s almost impossible, such that one mistake could spell the end of your entire project.

In fact, while we’re on the subject of Survival, for some reason they’ve implemented the Survival setting without really having any Survival rules. There’re no resources or restrictions; you can still build as much as you like. The only difference is you can die and you can’t fly. To be honest, that’s just inconvenient, and not much else. There is very little fun to be had on Survival mode because all you’re really surviving from at the moment is yourself. It reminds me of Skyrim: even pathetically small falls will kill you. And that means reappearing at the spawn point and running (not flying) to where you were building before.

Survival is the main game type on multiplayer, which has been very recently introduced. Despite all the demands and hype for multiplayer over on the forums, multiplayer is pretty much dead. When I looked for a game, every world had zero population. Yes, zero. There wasn’t a single player on multiplayer. I joined an empty to the world to survey the damage, and I was only greeted by a sad scene.

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Like a memorial pyre, the world had only been left with rubble and braziers strewn across the landscape. I joined a different world and after a few hours of messing around by myself, a few people actually came to join me. I even actually enjoyed playing with a few of them. Unfortunately, Medieval Engineers is very susceptible to griefers, and I also happened to be joined by quite a few of that bunch who took the liberty of destroying all my stuff before I got the opportunity to do it myself. The servers don’t really seem to have any active admins, so griefing is still an enormous issue on multiplayer, and one that players can do little to combat. I started killing them with my axe, though. That worked pretty well.

Despite this, the Steam Workshop community is moderately active. There’s plenty of user-designed buildings, machinery and even worlds to find and play with. There’s nothing more fun than downloading someone else’s tower that they’ve put so much effort into, and placing it upside down to see how it fares. Spoiler: not very well. If you’re creative enough, it’s also a good excuse to go and design something yourself and upload it to the workshop. Hey, maybe you could actually do what the game’s all about. You know, engineering?

Ha, but seriously, though, this game’s really all about destroying stuff. It’s great fun, trust me. For only £15, the sheer amount of reckless and brazen fun to be had is awesome. Right now, the gameplay is begging for more work to be done to it before it’s really good in any other regard. But the pure and senseless carnage? Man, that’s priceless.

AUDIO AND GRAPHICS

The sound fits the theme of the medieval era very well and is enjoyable to listen to. It feels very epic, and when you open the game you instantly feel excited to play. I mean, who doesn’t want to do some engineering when you’ve got music this epic playing?

Cheap jokes aside, unfortunately the music plays constantly, and after maybe twenty minutes, you realize it has looped and you’re listening to all the tracks over again. Other times, the music just suddenly cuts off and you’re left with an eery silence. Since there’s a day and night mechanic in the game, it would be cool to have different music play during the day and night, perhaps with the night being more chill than the epic music during the day. It would also be better to have the music intermittently fade in and out. Kind of like another game which involves placing blocks to build things…

The graphics are very impressive at first. The grass is more than just a texture on the ground, and the trees are actually three-dimensional. The sky is lovely and bright, and the clouds don’t look half bad. Everything feels nice when you start.

I’m not particularly fanatical about graphics, but I did find a lot of the graphics jarring after a while, when I started noticing them. Objects rendered in the distance seem to have a very poor Level of Detail algorithm, resulting in tree leaves distorting into what I can only describe as colored white noise. Distant lights appear far too bright when your eyes have adjusted to the darkness as well.

With all the physics objects in play, Medieval Engineers can already be quite a computationally demanding game, but I found that I had to reduce my graphics to medium at one point to overcome a particularly bad fps drop. Even though I have a GTX 770 and 6GB of RAM, it was still very easy to get very noticeable frame rate drops. It got so bad at certain points that I wondered whether they should have had some other limits in place. In fact the frames were so bad that I was having a difficult time exiting as the game wouldn’t register my keystrokes.

Finally, and this one’s a clincher, if you have an intel CPU combined with intel integrated graphics, don’t get this game. It just won’t work for you. There are also apparently problems with having multiple graphics cards, too. They’re known issues, of course, but some people have still purchased the game regardless and found that they can’t actually play. Luckily Keen Software House update often, so these issues should be fixed soon.

CONCLUSION

Well, this review certainly came off a lot more critical than I thought it would. Medieval Engineers is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a sandbox, and I get the impression a lot of people thought it might be similar to Minecraft. It’s still in development, though, and falls short of this ambitious idea. You’re paying for an incomplete game. To be fair, it is incredibly fun to throw stuff about and destroy stuff. Copying and pasting towers upside down is just funny, and it’s for this reason that I think the game is so worth it, and that I recommend you should get it. Yes, it has a lot of drawbacks, but they can be easily overlooked for a little harmless, destructive fun.

  • Audio
  • Controls
  • Design
  • Graphics
  • Value

Summary

- Pros: Physics sandbox. Destroy stuff. C'mon, humor the anarchist inside you.

- Cons: Just about everything else. Bugs, glitches, crashes, griefers, fps drops, ten million year loading screens…

3.4

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