Back in March I became incredibly excited about Gaslamp Games’ Clockwork Empires after reading a preview piece; it promised a core system that had been developed for two years prior to moving onto actually building a game around the infrastructure they had created. Oh yeah, and Fishmen fighting redcoats because, well, why not? Perhaps, by nature of being early access, we are seeing something extremely early in its life and a little unfair to judge and perhaps it’s just too early to be available to the public. As of right now all you’ll get when you head into Clockwork Empires is a rather generic city builder set in a Victorian setting with the aforementioned Fishmen sporadically dropping in to make sure you are kept on your toes, rather than something fresh and new with a hint of Lovecraft to spice up your life.
You can see some of the in-depth personality AI has started to appear, but this is currently in small pieces of dialogue on character descriptions or icons that appear through the game. You’ll see your villagers deciding names for their own part of town – like their kitchen or the barn. You can see these quaint little touches happening and adds some fun to the constant slog to ensure your people don’t starve or are kept warm during long, torturous winters.
Clockwork Empires promises something akin to free will. Villagers will voice their displeasure at a monarch, or decide they are better served by going into the woods and joining a cult. In the most up to date build the majority of this is something you’ll have to dig to find and understand, the minutiae held in the depths of menus. Right now maybe that’s a good thing, as the few buildings you can erect won’t take you long and you’ll spend far too long micro-managing every little aspect, rather than setting the stage and letting your village grow with only the most minimal of interactions from you. This is where I’m hoping the game improves with updates, to allow you to sit back and enjoy what is actually being offered; rather than having you zoomed in all the time trying to manage the individual needs – something that, at the minute, is more of necessity than anything else – rather than spend time enjoying the world they are setting up.
The closest comparison I could come up with while playing was that of Peter Molyneux’s fictional land of Albion; I often found myself thinking of Fable landscape, as my villagers ploughed a field while watching the Fishmen climbing from the local lake to attack, as Red coats run to the rescue. It was these moments I probably enjoyed most. The actual atmosphere the game tries to create makes a nice change from most of the boilerplate world builders you run across. Clockwork Empires sets a tone and sticks to that and is all the better for it.
Clockwork Empires is still very much in its infancy, but has laid some impressive groundwork and built up a lot of promise in a very short amount of time. While I’ve probably spent a lot of time in Clockwork Empires being frustrated by silly little bugs or quirks in the gameplay, I still found enjoyment in what they are trying to do – the soul of the game, the atmosphere and the beginnings of the character AI looks like it has the potential to completely change the face of simulation games going forward. While it’s hard to recommend you pick this up immediately due to the lack of polish and actual content (The Gaslamp Games site estimates they are only 25% through development) I’d say this is definitely something you should keep your eyes on for what comes in the future. If you’re looking for something similar you’d be better served in the short term picking up Banished rather than frustrating yourself with Clockwork Empires, but would recommend that everyone check out this game on full release to see what has come of the promises they made.