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In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Addictive town-building
  • Wild west theme
  • Specialized settlements
  • Foot traffic creates muddy paths
  • Diplomacy and trade with natives
  • Decorating my western town

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Minimal tutorial
  • Micro-managing trade
  • Un-informative U.I.
  • No general store?
  • Destroying buildings does not recover any materials or money
  • Constantly buying metal parts
  • Laborers sometimes stand around doing nothing
  • Hunters leave meat on the ground to rot
  • Reloading saves shrinks rivers
  • Bandits feel under-developed
  • Horses feel under-utilized

Overall Impression : D+
Wild West-themed town-builder
full of too much micro-management

Depraved  - cover

Developer:
Evil Bite

Platforms:
PC (via Steam)

MSRP: $20 USD

Original release date:
21 September 2019

Genre:
wild west town-builder

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
indefinite hours

ESRB Rating: N/A
MegaBearsFan Parental Rating: Appropriate for most audiences:
some violence.

Official site:
evilbite.com/depraved

Well, the NFL season has been as good as over for us Bears fans since November, which means my interest in this year's slate of football video games is waning. That means it's time once again to dive into my back catalog of Steam games. This time, I decided to boot up Depraved, a wild west city-builder that was sitting on my wishlist for years (back when it was still in early access), and which I bought during a sale earlier this summer.

Having really enjoyed Banished many years ago, I've had my eye on other historic city builders like Depraved, Foundation, Builders of Egypt, Atomic Society, and others. Depraved is probably the closest thing to Banished that I'm likely to find. It's basically just Banished with a wild west theme instead of a medieval theme.

Depraved shares a lot in common with Banished [RIGHT].

Depraved shares a lot in common with Banished. Both games are about small, relatively isolated communities of pioneers trying to get by in a harsh, unrelenting environment. Both require stocking up food, firewood, and warm clothing in time for cold winters. And both use depleting resource reserves to force players to expand out further into the map.

Where Depraved differs from Banished is that Depraved has a much greater focus on trade. Unlike in Banished (which has the player constructing one mega-settlement), Depraved keeps settlements relatively small, but allows the player to create additional satellite towns on the map, which can each be specialized for the exploitation of specific resources or the production of specific goods. Then all those small towns can trade raw resources and manufactured goods with each other. There's also small Native American tribes that the player can trade (or war) with, as well as the occasional bandit camp popping up to harass your population and rob your bank.

The other big difference is that Banished is a much better and more polished game.

How does any of this work?

My experience with Depraved suffered greatly from the lack of a robust and informative tutorial. If I recall correctly, Banished's tutorial takes the player through a guided scenario through creating a small settlement and surviving the first winter. There's still a lot of trial-and-error in Banished, but the tutorial does a good job of covering all the basics.

Depraved, on the other hand, gave me four pop up widgets explaining the basic mechanics in text, then just let me loose on the map. There's no playable tutorial at all, and additional tutorial pop-ups are few, far between, and less informative than I would like them to be. This lead to me just sort of winging-it for my first settlement, then restarting after I had self-taught myself the basics.

This is your idea of a tutorial?!

Don't get me wrong. Depraved isn't unplayably awful. It just isn't very good at explaining itself and requires a lot of tedious micro-management. If you're fine with that, then this game will be enjoyable enough. In fact, the first few hours are thoroughly enjoyable. Depraved starts off very small and simple, with just a single settlement, a dozen or so pioneers, and a few buildings. Getting the basics of hunting for food and chopping down trees for lumber is simple enough that the player can learn on the fly. It doesn't require extensive tutorials in these early hours.

The environment also isn't nearly as inhospitable as in Banished. A tornado won't wipe out your town in the first hour or two of playing, and the winters of Depraved are actually pretty tame in comparison. I'm surprised that the wild west theme didn't involve the inclusion of heat waves during the summer, but whatever.

Managing the population requires surprisingly little micro-management, aside from having to manually re-assign work areas for hunters, lumberjacks, or quarrymen whenever a certain resource node is depleted. It's a good idea to manually make sure that anybody working outside of the city boundaries is equipped with a gun in case they get attacked by a wolf, bear, or bandit. But for the most part, the citizens take care of themselves, and I was left to enjoy planning out the placement of new buildings.

As the game progressed, however, the need for tutorials and explanations became more apparent. There were a couple things that I had a lot of trouble figuring out due to a lack of a strong tutorial, and the U.I. not really presenting information clearly..

You want what I'm selling?

The most annoying struggle that I had with learning the game was trying to figure out how to trade with the native American tribes that settle around the map. There was a tutorial message explaining that I could load up a wagon with goods, send it to the native warehouse, and trade. But the actual requirements are much more restrictive than the tutorial pop-up made it seem.

It took me a while to figure out how to load goods from the warehouse onto a trade wagon.

First of all, I assumed that I should select the trade wagon, then right-click on either the trade post building or my own warehouse to load materials onto the cart. Nope. The game expects me to move the wagon close to the warehouse, then left-click to select my warehouse building, which opens up a context-sensitive menu for loading the wagon, but only if the wagon is in the correct position close enough to the warehouse, and only if the game is un-paused.

In the meantime, I tried sending the empty wagon directly to the native warehouse, hoping that I could click on the native warehouse to set up an automated trade route. Didn't work. So I sent the wagons back to my town, loaded them up with excess provisions, and sent it back to the native warehouse. Still couldn't trade.

Then I noticed that the diplomacy screen shows a list of trade resources next to each native tribe. Are these items that the natives want? Or things that they have to sell? Clicking on their warehouses, I could see that they seemed to have stock of those items. So I loaded up my wagon again, but this time filled it with items that I had excess of, but which the natives didn't have. I figured I could send them my excess clothes and firewood in exchange for their rare metals. Makes sense, right? Give them things they don't have in exchange for the things that they do have.

Natives will only buy or sell the items currently in their warehouse.

Once again, it didn't work. The native tribes will only buy or sell the items listed for trade. So they already have the things, but they want more of them? But yet they're also willing to sell those things, even though they presumably want more of it, and will pay a premium for more? It makes no sense. That's not how trade works. Trade works by having one community sell things they have in excess, but which the other community needs, in exchange for the things the other community has in excess, but which the first community needs. You don't trade for things you already have! Let alone pay a premium for them!

Worse yet, there is no way (that I could find) to set up an automated trade route with the natives. I have to manually check the diplomacy screen for what items that natives are trading, load up my wagon with those items, send it over to the native warehouse, then exchange it for the things that I want (or for cash value, since the natives rarely have both items that I want and items that I have in excess at the same time). I have to do all this every time I want to trade anything with the natives.

Natives will change which goods they
buy and sell without warning.

Even after I've done all this micro-management, the natives will periodically change what resources they are willing to buy/sell. This means that by the time my loaded wagon reaches a native warehouse, they might not be accepting those items any more, and there is no timer or indication of how long it will be before they change their trade stock. So I can do all that micro-management and work, only to get to the native warehouse and not be able to trade anyway! Maybe it changes each season? Or each year?

Trade and economic management is a pain in the more general sense as well. I can load excess goods up into the Town Hall to sell to the next trader, or queue up things to buy, which works well enough. But there's no way to automatically load excess materials or goods for sale. So keeping my warehouses from filling up with unnecessary planks and bricks requires even more micro-management. There's a menu for setting caps on how many goods you have, but even after I set caps, I didn't notice any changes to how my goods stockpiles were working, so I'm not sure what these caps actually do.

After building a train station, the player can also take on contracts to deliver goods over the railroad to earn large sums of money. Unfortunately, this system is also poorly-implemented. There's a very short window of time in which to deliver the requested goods (usually a matter of in-game hours or a couple days). The requested items are not automatically loaded onto the train station either; that has to be done manually by re-opening the train station menu and adding excess goods in units of 10 or 100 at a time.

Goods can be sold over the railroad, but there's no U.I. that tracks when these shipments are due.

This wouldn't be so bad if the active contracts were tracked somewhere on the main screen so that I know how much time I have left, and how many more goods I need to load. But they aren't. The only way to see the status of these contracts is to re-open the train station again. So that's yet more annoying micro-management. There's no warning that a contract is about to expire, and if you miss the deadline, you are charged a cash penalty. But you bet there will be a pop-up notification telling you that you were charged a penalty for failing to complete the contract!

This stuff is a pain in the ass to manage with just one town. With multiple towns sending materials and goods to each other, and multiple train stations each with their own contracts, this can all get really overwhelming and really annoying really fast.

The only automation for any of this is the ability to automate trade routes between trade posts in your own towns. This is convenient, but it also comes with its own problems. The cargo space of the trade wagons is very limited, which will likely require sending multiple wagons to remote mining towns that don't have easy access to necessities like food, water, lumber, or clothing. Either that, or I'll have to manually change which goods are being sent each time the wagon returns.

Trade routes between towns can be automated, but space on wagons is extremely limited.

Bundle up, it's cold outside!

The second thing that threw me for a loop was trying to figure out how to get winter coats to level-up my population. None of the buildings in the menus said they produce coats, and highlighting over the coat requirement in the Population menu did not explain how to acquire coats. The Tailor seemed like the obvious choice, but the tooltip description says that it creates "clothes", which is a specific type of item in the game; the description said nothing about the Tailor making "coats".

It turns out that the Tailor is the building that makes coats, and you have to select an active Tailor building and change its production output from clothes to coats. But this is literally the only building in the game (up to that point) that gives a choice of multiple outputs like this, and the fact that its output can be changed was never explained (at least not that I saw). Eventually, you can unlock a gunsmith, which similarly allows you to toggle between producing revolvers and rifles, but that is much later in the game. So I just never thought to click on the Tailor building to try to change what it was producing. Maybe if the tooltip description in the Build menu had said "produces clothes or coats", I would have figured it out sooner.

The tailor is one of only 2 buildings in the game that
can be toggled between 2 different goods.

In the meantime, I was trying to look for another building that might produce coats. Maybe the wool mill? Or maybe there's a Tanner building that I'm just not seeing in the list? I eventually just bought coats from the traders that periodically visit the Town Hall, but this also didn't work. I paid money for the coats, and they were off-loaded into the Town Hall's stockpile, but my residents simply would not collect them. I tried shutting down production buildings in the hopes of freeing up more laborers who would maybe take the coats and move them to the warehouse or claim them for themselves. No luck.

After figuring out that the Tailor could be used to make coats, I switched production, and my population finally started collecting coats from the tailor. Only then did they also start taking the coats that I'd bought at the Town Hall. Apparently, there must be a flag or something in the game's code that prevents pioneers from picking up coats until a Tailor has made the first coat. But again, there was no explanation for any of this!

In general, Depraved's use of language isn't very good. For example, the word "settler" has multiple meanings in the game. The caravan unit that builds new Town Halls to start new settlements is called a "settler". These can be purchased from the Town Hall (but are very expensive). The word "Settler" is also used to describe the upgraded form of resident. The first level is a "pioneer", and the second level is a "settler". The double-meaning of this word lead to some confusion about how to unlock certain buildings that required "settlers". I thought that buying my first settler wagon would unlock certain advanced buildings. Nope.

Needs more time to bake

I wanted to like, Depraved, and I probably spent more time playing it than I should have. It still has the same addictive, "one more season" / "one more unlock" gameplay as most other similar town-builders. I stayed up well past my bedtime several nights playing it to earn enough money to start a new settlement, or to unlock a new building, or to get past the winter. I like how people and wagons leave trails on the ground that eventually turn into muddy roads following the most trafficked paths in the town. That's a nice touch.

Horses don't do anything except sit in the stables.

I liked the token diplomacy and trade with natives, and the fact that white bandits are the "barbarian" threats that encourage the player to create defenses and hire sheriffs and gunslingers. The developers could easily have fallen into the trap of using the natives as stereotypical raiders. They can still be a threat, but only if you anger them by expanding too fast, tresspassing on their land, or hunting the wildlife in their territory.

And once I have a successful town up and running, it's fun to decorate the town with cosmetic items. There's a fair amount of such cosmetic decorations to place, but the price can really add up quickly and drain my town's cash reserves. I don't know why it's so expensive to place a bench or a stack of crates or a bale of hay, but whatever.

But there's still more annoying micro-management that I still haven't mentioned. Laborers will sometimes stand around doing nothing. Hunters will leave dead animal carcasses on the ground to rot unless you manually assign them to work the area. Nobody will bother picking up guns or horses that are left on the ground after clearing a bandit camp. I have to manually tell individual, unarmed citizens to come pick up the guns and walk the horses back to the stable. In a game in which resources are so limited, doing these things feels necessary, but the tedium of it all gets so grating.

In addition to all the tedious micro-management, there's also a lot of features that feel under-developed. Bandits don't actually do a whole lot. Also horses feel surprisingly under-utilized. Citizens can ride horses, and having a couple is a prerequisite for building a new settler wagon, but they otherwise have no utility. Horses cannot (as far as I can tell) be used as pack animals to move raw materials to construction sites. Citizens have to carry all the lumber and bricks by hand, instead of being able to load them up into horse-drawn wagons or carts. So horses just sit in the stables doing nothing for the vast majority of the game. I'll command my lawmen and gunslingers to mount horses from the stables so that they can move around town faster if there's an attack or murder, but that's the only use I've found from horses. Considering the wild west theme, I would have thought horses would be much more important and useful resources.

I reported a bug in which rivers change size after re-loading a save, preventing the placement of bridges.

There is also a weird bug in which rivers seem to shrink in width after reloading a save. This makes it impossible in many maps to place bridges. If you want a bridge, you need to place it before you save the game and quit; otherwise, you might not ever be able to build one in that save file.

In the end, I can't really recommend Depraved. There are much better town-builders out there, but there's not much in the way of wild west-themed town-builders. Maybe Wild West Builder will scratch that itch when it releases? In the meantime, if the wild west is your thing, then go ahead and pick up Depraved on a sale. But make sure you're in a patient mood when you boot it up.

Depraved fills a very specific niche of wild west-themed town-builder.

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