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Preview: Goblins of Elderstone (Steam)

Survival strategy is truly an up-and-coming subgenre which blossomed in recent years. At the specific request of its developer, I shall initially post this a preview for Goblins of Elderstone. This means that I shall offer constructive criticism without publishing the verdict and rating sections. It is the Steam debut for Lost Goblin and they wisely labeled their project as an Early Access. I took my sweet time in both playing and writing about this game, since I wanted to see at least a few improvements being released in real time. I wasn’t disappointed in this regard, but be aware that there are very many features that this title has yet to implement and only mentioned while leaving them greyed out. A work in progress indeed.

The narrative is precisely the section that interests me the most in whatever genres and topics I play, yet Goblins of Elderstone has so far only scratched the surface in its case. What we do know so far, is that it shall involve the involuntary migration of a small group of refugees, looking to survive within a new outpost built and maintained by them. It isn’t quite Banished with goblins instead of humans, but I can draw some thematic similarities with Northgard, for example. Combat has not been implemented properly yet (only defending structures can be erected so far), but I still noticed that future interaction with other Goblin tribes as well as the hostile locals, has been obviously planned through both the campaign map and the barracks which will train warriors and scouts for “expeditions”.

For now, the newly formed tribe will have to grow and hopefully prosper within the established boundaries, before it can attempt to seize land or resources from adjacent territories. I noticed a centralized form of “government” which involves a monarch elected for life, whose powers are somewhat shared with appointed heads of the various guilds/factions, such as merchants, shamans and warriors. It certainly doesn’t offer the picture of a primitive or even disorganized race, such as the greenskin and particularly goblins, are being portrayed in most works of fiction I read, watched or played. Quite the opposite, since diplomacy and trade are viable alternatives to warfare and any form of aggressive behavior which only offers short-term benefits. RimWorld would be proud.

It’s a pity that at this early stage, the story is barely fleshed out. I can’t even say for certain if Elderstone is the name of the randomly generated world the tribe can inhabit or if has a more mystical meaning behind it. What I can tell already, is that a pantheon of clearly defined deities has been included and it separates the gods based on their morality scale and specific type of worshipers. A nice throwback to the Dungeons & Dragons “religions” that involved similar choices. Not shamanism, but that is more than likely used to confirm the tribal structure of the Goblin society. A tight-knit group whose survival depends on working together and without further segregation based on social classes. Any Goblin, regardless of their age or gender, can serve as either head shaman or the most humble builder and resource carrier. I liked this feature. No two individuals can be considered equals in any regard, yet elitism is just the other extreme on a sordid spectrum.

Being powered by the Unreal Engine 4, Goblins of Elderstone showcases plenty of details, in spite of its visual style which resembles the large pixel filter. This graphics engine is legendary for being a mixed bag in terms of performance in the case of indie games. Unity will always be a safer bet. A somewhat cartoonish look that might wrongfully imply that the game is more user friendly than in reality. On the contrary, you’ll witness a rather steep learning curve, yet for now I shall focus on a few aspects I really disliked. The frame rate was all over the place, no matter what resolution I opted for. Speaking of which, it took me a while to figure out that this title didn’t even scale native to my resolution. It ran at a weird setting of 2194×1234. So neither 1080p nor 1440p. I had to fiddle with its executable to get it up and running on proper 2K and a decent frame rate. You know you’re playing a 3D city builder of sorts, once you see the frame rate dropping exponentially as you fill the map with new structures. For all the screenshot lovers out there, press “P” while in-game and it’ll temporarily hide the HUD (but not the cursor, strangely).

Not much to write about, either in favor or against the sound assets since the soundtrack was adequate and the gibberish yielded by the Goblins themselves, can be seen as a nice placeholder for voice acting. Hopefully there will be a bigger song variety in the final release. Other than that, no complaints on the general sound effects.

As winter draws near, the imperatives of survival must be met. Food and timber may represent the bare minimum, yet the random factor shall also play its cruel role. I lost more than one tribe as a result of the rapid change of temperature and the fact that my villagers didn’t stockpile those aforementioned resources, either by being too lazy or if they didn’t have immediate access to a sufficiently large enough reserve. Evolution took its natural course. Or curse, if you will. Expect plenty of micromanagement, if you wish to steer the fledgling community towards survival and ultimate success. The AI can’t handle most basic tasks such as even occupying the workforce by default. You have to manually assign each and every single Goblin to whichever position you may prefer.

King and greenskin babysitter, no doubt. Since we’re on the baby topic, these Goblins seem to breed like rabbits and that is a fortunate thing. The workforce will always depend on the swift maturity of any new tribe members. Unemployed individuals shall be a rare thing, since disease will “thin out the lines” even more than the blistering cold. Building a healer’s shack or shamanistic temple should be top priorities as soon as you can turn timber into wooden planks. The economy and the advanced resource selection, hint that trade shall indeed prove to be a sustainable source of income and subsequent development. Provided that you expand slowly and cautiously, even the shifting seasonal changes won’t prove much of a challenge. It’s a trial & error effort that pays off in the long run.

A successful settlement should contain over 50 Goblins, equally distributed towards the harvesting of the resources and also more advanced roles such as religious or even the military. No one will idle though, since peons also serve as the builders. The undead hordes will be the main enemy at least until players shall be able to violently interact with AI controlled Goblin tribes across the map. Text-based events have multiple choices with diversified outcomes. I do hope more such features will be implemented, since they offer an extra element of surprise. No one said that surprises will always be pleasant, however. I enjoyed my playthrough of Goblins of Elderstone in its early stages, but the game has an obvious long road ahead and the dev team needs to provide the quality project they have envisioned, hinted at and also priced accordingly.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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