Initial impressions may point to The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands being a bit simple; both visually and in terms of the early game mechanics. But those impressions would be wrong, for while it’s not a game that you’ll be playing for weeks on end, for the time it lasts, it is one that is full of depth, interest, intrigue and secrets.
The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands is not a new game; brought together by those at PlayPlayFun, FredBear Games and Xigma Games, it’s done the rounds on PC and mobile for a few years already. Those roots bleed through at all times too, and whilst that may initially be a concern, as you hope and pray that things translate to console well, you can be sure that it’s got enough about it to be a success wherever it may land. And that’s not just down to the ideas behind it, but the well considered control scheme which allows you the chance to get into a swift flow.
The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands is a simple game to explain. You play the role of a wanderer, sailing in at the dead of night, landing in a new world bereft of civilization – at least that’s what you think. With just a small hut for shelter, you awake the next morning with one thing on your mind – to survive.
From there, The Bonfire plays out, with the actions you take dictating how things evolve. You’ll start by gathering wood from the nearby forest, taking it to your shelter and utilising it for crafting. Slowly and surely your reserves will build, letting you create the titular bonfire. From there, others see the light, stumbling upon your small homestead, offering up their services in exchange for food and shelter. At least the majority of them do – you may well happen upon those who have more nefarious minds.
Gathering, collecting, utilising, surviving. That’s The Bonfire in a nutshell, rinsing and repeating actions until you are able to afford to create new elements. An iron mine, a coal equivalent that opens up a steelworks, farming opportunities, a tanner and caring for sheep all open up as the days and nights progress.
It’s up to you to allocate specific jobs to those that wander into town, making the most of their relevant skills as you do so – some may be braver than others, whilst being honest in what you do will always go a long way. But you’ll also need to help out yourself, grafting when the time comes. Whilst there are limitations on this – you are the overseer of this great land, after all – even the little you can contribute will go a long way.
As the sun rises and prepares to sets, The Bonfire is all about the harvest, putting people to work in the best possible way. But as night falls and those folk get their much needed rest – you’ll need to keep them fed, watered and happy at all times – the terrors of the night approach.
Guards will be needed in order to ward off attacks from animals and monstrous creatures; equipping them with the finest gear you have to hand is a necessity. Fail to prepare for these events and you’ll come a cropper, as The Bonfire rolls back to the previous morning in hope of allowing the opportunity for your decision making to be more on point; or at least for you to gain insight into what is needed to progress. Of course, play on that Hardcore perma-death option, and it’s here where The Bonfire will end, leaving you to rock up on Day One again. That rinse and repeat cycle is most certainly real.
It’s the day and night evolution, and keeping ahead of the game, which is key to success in The Bonfire, but as you start to grow into a well resourced little village, further opportunities await. We’re not going into full detail of what any wanderer in The Bonfire will come up against, nor how best to survive, but be sure that Scouts, Warriors and Alchemists will play as key a role in what happens as those who spend their time slaving away down the mine or in the depths of the forest. Without them, that endgame may never be reached.
Super deep in how it mechanically plays, both in terms of the visuals and controls, The Bonfire is sheer simplicity. It all plays out via a series of action tiles, tabbing left and right between them, selecting the action you wish to run, equipping gear and assigning jobs to your townsfolk, before they go about their everyday business. It works really well and even though it can become slightly more confusing as depth hits, as you look to craft unique items for various settlers before equipping them to specific units, it never takes more than a few seconds to cycle through the options available.
In fact, this is a game that is so simple to play; one of those rare gaming experiences that can be played one-handed, with little input needed on the controller, as you keep one eye on other things.
We’d hope that the ease of use would drag many in to see how The Bonfire grows, but feel that just as many may well have the love extinguished by the relatively basic visual tone. We love how it is all portrayed with the most minimal of detail, but it must be said that even though there is a ton of intricacy should you go looking for it, the aesthetics may not appeal to all. The same goes for the audio too – we hesitate to call it crude, but some of the sound that is emitted is lacking at best.
But The Bonfire isn’t interested in winning awards and acclaim for how it looks or sounds – it’s a game that is fully focused on the creation of a land and world that are – ultimately – dictated by your actions. The Bonfire is a game that will ask you ‘what if…?’, as you look for ways to build and survive. If something works, great, but if it goes wrong, you’ll be left to try different tactics and strategic calls.
In those regards, The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands is a huge success – a game that is capable of drawing you in and hardly ever letting go. At least not until you’ve exhausted multiple dozens of days and nights trying to survive out in the most hostile of lands.
The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands is available from the Xbox Store