The Farthest Frontier: The Final Preview
Farthest Frontier is far from the first foray I’ve made into the fir-studded forests of an unforgiving land. But as survival city builders move forward, it delivers focused depth and realism in areas that are often overlooked. While I ran out of stuff pretty quickly to keep my interest in games like Banished going, the farming and food spoilage system here makes managing and growing a colony that much more appealing.
The principle is quite simple. You’re dropped into the woods with a few medieval settlers and must survive weather, disease, starvation, wolves, bears and eventually – although I luckily didn’t encounter any – bandit attacks. Providing housing, firewood, fish and berries is the first priority. But as your population grows, your town center levels up, and the tech tree slowly unlocks, things get more complicated.
Farthest Border Screenshots – February 2022
The biggest wrinkle here is the very detailed food spoilage system. If you were planning on relying on the rations you brought with you to survive the first winter… I have bad news for you. They will usually rot faster than your villagers can eat them. Getting food is only half the battle, because you can make a giant pile of fish and berries in the hot summer months and it’ll all be an inedible mush by the middle of winter. So the tech tree is just as much about developing ways to store and preserve food as it is about getting more of it.
Even for your small starting population, survival just by hunting, fishing, and foraging is a harsh life on the razor’s edge of starvation. You’ll need to farm to support something much bigger or have some breathing room, and that’s where one of Farthest Frontier’s most interesting systems comes in. In addition to having to find a site with fertile soil for your fields, soil is also rated for its sand and clay content, with some crops preferring one or the other more. It is possible to bring the two together by the way and add them to the field if you need to adjust the composition.
Fields also have ratings for weeds and rock, which reduce your crop yield and require you to perform maintenance work that reduces the available growing time. Some crops suppress weeds but don’t provide much food. Some can be stored longer, but are more susceptible to late or early frost which could ruin the harvest. And some crops replenish soil fertility, while others reduce it, making crop rotation essential. If you plant too much wheat or rye, you will end up ruining the soil, so you should swap out a nitrogen fixer like beans every two years.
There are several ways to help your food keep longer. Meat and fish can be smoked in a smokehouse, although they tend to catch fire. I didn’t get a good clip because I was trying to, you know, keep my settlement from burning, but let’s just say there was a lot more forest here. Vegetables can be stored in a root cellar, which also helps. And optionally, you can build a cooper to stock your storage areas with barrels, which slows decay even further.
AGAINST A CURRENT
Eventually, however, you’ll have to do what most large agrarian communities have done for the past few thousand years and switch to a grain-based diet. Grains can be stored virtually indefinitely in raw form – as long as you keep them dry and have a rat catcher in use for pest control. But it also can’t be eaten raw, so you have to employ millers and bakers to turn it into flour and, eventually, bread, which adds a lot of complexity and daily work to your colony. It also does a number on the ground, so good field rotation practices become even more important. Cereals are truly a devil’s business.
It’s a really interesting and new centerpiece for Farthest Frontier’s technological progression, where more population requires a complete rethink of how you’re going to feed everyone, which creates other problems to solve. Having played many similar games where advancement in the tech tree is much more predictable and less driven by actual historical realities and interesting logistical puzzles, I was impressed.
Along the way, I also had to watch for diseases and wild animals. If your inhabitants do not have easy access to a well, they will simply swallow water from the pond and will probably catch dysentery. Eventually I had to employ a soil collector and a gravedigger, otherwise everyone would be throwing their poo and dead loved ones on the street, which is not good for public health, ultimately. Fortunately, building a trading post and selling valuable furs to passing merchants helped me afford all these new conveniences.
It looks pretty cool too. The realistic color scheme sets it apart from more stylized city builders, the buildings have lots of little details to make them feel lived in, and the changes to the lighting and ground cover in the fall and winter really help. the world to feel alive. The interface is a bit cluttered, but most importantly the farming and crop rotation screen is very easy to read and use, considering how deep this system is.
There’s still a lot more Farthest Frontier that I haven’t seen. Bandit raids and relationships with local nobles become important later, with the ability to eventually build roads and walls and train soldiers. There’s a whole third level of technology that I haven’t even touched yet, and I haven’t been able to open my pub due to a heartbreaking lack of beer. I can’t wait to see my little wild village transform into a real medieval settlement when I get my hands on the full version on August 9th.