The Black Death (PC) – Review

The Black Death sounds horrifying… and it is! Also known as the bubonic plague, this disease in the medieval centuries caused havoc, terror, and most of all death – with an estimate of 75 to 100 million deaths across Europe. That sounds really scary and now that experience is yours to share!

Small Impact Games & Syrin Studios have developed a game revolving all around this deadly disease for you to stay seated and try to keep yourself alive in these ages.

Before I get into all of how I feel about this game, I have to tell you that this is written when the game was in v0.34 Early Access. Developers chose to release the game this early:

“We have brought The Black Death to the Early Access community because we want players to join us in shaping this new medieval role-playing experience that offers a unique take on survival. As a multiplayer game, continuous community feedback is vital for us to enhance and evolve the strong foundations that we have built. This is your chance to get involved. Those who choose to take part in the Early Access scheme should expect bugs and potentially game-breaking issues but can look forward to a dramatic and rapidly evolving simulation of medieval life.”

Bold words, but let’s take a look at whether they actually are delivering on those promises.

Does the game live up to these bold words?

I will try to start on a positive note. The graphics are well detailed, whether it’s on any NPC you encounter, the trees, the grass, or the buildings. They look good, end of story.

That is basically for now all my positive commentary.

The problems you encounter straight away is that you have to select a server to join. If the player base was as big as RuneScape on its high days, it would make sense. The player base, you guessed it, isn’t there yet. Far from it, and so there are a lot of empty servers.

Once you enter the server, you are dropped in a world where you have no clue where you are. You are however provided with your first task, gathering cotton and chamomile to make a cotton swab for healing.

While you are gathering this, you also have to look out for your health and hunger as they decline at quite a fast rate. The gathering would not be a problem if it didn’t take me 25 minutes to get ONLY the cotton after searching around half of the map. There is no specific area to find the cotton, nor is there a tutorial to help you with things such as leveling up your skills or how to craft.

Since this is a hardcore survival game, meaning that if you die you lose all your progress, the lack of instruction is exceptionally obvious. In its current state, I imagine you must have countless of hours playtime in order to get to a decent experience and presumably other players have quit after only a couple of hours because it just takes too long.

I forgot to mention, the sound is static as can be. The vomiting and coughing sounds tend to get really annoying when repeated several times in under a minute. Maybe, if higher quality sounds could be purchased and put into the game, so that nothing feels as repetitive or annoying, in order to give decent experience these sounds could be far less grating on the player.

Development

The game is being developed quite rapidly, going from v0.31 to v0.34 including hotfixes in under 3 months – for an independent developer that is quick.

The only thing that bothers me is that they currently focus more on the top layer of gameplay, such as adding roles for kings and queens, castle building and all that, while they don’t develop the lower end of gameplay, such as tutorials or basic instructions, for an easier level of gameplay at the beginning – or keeping the number of servers to a minimum so players can interact.

It feels as if the The Black Death was rushed into Early Access with a great thought being it and full of ideas, but the actual state of the game tells you that they need people to help develop it, rather than continue on beta-testing themselves.

The Future of The Black Death

Although my current thoughts state that it isn’t playable as it is now, I do expect it to be a great game in the end. The problem for developers is time. You are always limited on the amount of time a gamer is willing to invest in an Early Access game. Looking at the Steam reviews, it seems like most players who just started out have lost interest and only a handful are trying to persevere.

My call to the developers would be to focus on the basics and initial stages of gameplay first, so that you get more people to try out and test this game, which will further the development of the game, based on surveys and reviews. Ask the players which things they want to see for at these early stages and work with them, not for them.

Is it worth it? 

The price of £14.99 is way too much for an Early Access Steam title. Reduce it by a quarter to half, and you will attract the players needed to aid development, and populate the servers, of what is going to be a beautiful game with a lot of history added to it – I like to see more of the history by the way.

Small Impact Games & Syrin Studios, seeing your website, I know what you are creating, so keep the players in the loop, work on the aforementioned issues and you have got a great game on your hands.

Note: A copy of the game was distributed by the developers for the purpose of this review.

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