Pioneers of Pagonia Early Access Review – Off to a Great Start

Pioneers of Pagonia puts its own twist on the genre thanks to its naturalistic approach to city layouts.

Posted By | On 07th, Jan. 2024

Pioneers of Pagonia Early Access Review – Off to a Great Start

City building, as a genre, lives on in modern times largely thanks to the efforts of indie and mid-sized studios. The genre has also seen an explosion of different styles and sub-genres that have an emphasis on planning and designing, or games focused more on the survival of a few specific citizens. Envision Entertainment’s Pioneers of Pagonia leans more towards the exploration side of things. Rather than having any sort of overt emphasis on survival, Pioneers of Pagonia instead focuses more on discovery. This is pulled off thanks to the game’s border system, but we’ll get to that when we talk about how one goes about expanding their small town into a larger city.

Players familiar with the genre won’t find anything confusing about how Pioneers of Pagonia plays. Despite an in-depth tutorial system lacking, the game feels pretty intuitive about how you can do some of the basic building and planning you’ll be required to do at the beginning of the game. You’ll start things off pretty simple. Figure out a residential district where your citizens can live, and try to fulfill some of their most basic needs, like food and water. As you start putting down hunting camps, wells and taverns, however, you’ll discover that you’re running low on one of the game’s most basic resources: wood. Putting down a lumber camp solves this problem in the short term, and you’ll soon want to further refine all of your lumber into more usable planks.

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"Players familiar with the genre won’t find anything confusing about how Pioneers of Pagonia plays."

Owing to its emphasis on supply chains for various industries rather than outright city planning, Pioneers of Pagonia’s building system is surprisingly naturalistic. Sure, there’s a grid system, but it acts as more of a suggestion than a hard rule to follow, which ultimately means that, at least early on, your cities are going to be an unplanned mess, despite still managing to function incredibly smoothly.

In a way, Pioneers of Pagonia teaches the player how it’s played by making use of the simple concepts of supply and demand. Since the game lacks a real, structured tutorial at the moment, players will inadvertently learn through trial and error how its systems work. For example, you’re going to eventually start needing stone, as well as a mason that can shape the stone into more usable blocks, leading you to ultimately send out explorers that might find you the ideal place to build your quarries. In the process, you might discover rich iron veins just beyond your borders, which means that you’re going to have to expand your borders in order to advance up the tech tree to start making use of iron.

A lot of the process of learning how to play Pioneers of Pagonia revolves heavily around trial and error. Like I described above, you’re going to notice that you need something, and then you’ll start going through your list of buildings to see what you can and can’t get right now, which in turn will lead you into figuring out how you can go about getting what you need. That’s not to say that Pioneers of Pagonia is a complete free-for-all city-building sandbox in the vein of Dwarf Fortress, however. The game provides players with small objectives that sort of act as a guided way to learn how some of the game’s mechanics work.

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"A lot of the process of learning how to play Pioneers of Pagonia revolves heavily around trial and error."

Rather than being a full-fledged tutorial, the beginner map gives you objectives that lead you into figuring out the various supply chains you’ll need to learn to be able to operate a successful settlement. The major downside to this approach, however, is that it puts too much into the player’s hands without giving them a lot of information that can be incredibly vital to building a functional settlement. It’s easy to make major mistakes as you try and figure things out, with various aspects getting messed up early on, like the layout of your early-game city. For example, I decided to get a Forrester quite early, giving me a renewable source of lumber. This had the unfortunate side effect of rendering most of my starting-zone unusable, since every bit of free space was taken up by new trees growing up, and I was left to the mercy of my Lumberjack camp to eventually clean the area up so I could put down a tavern.

In the grand scheme of things, however, these smaller mistakes don’t really affect your overall settlement too much, since the game doesn’t put too many restraints on where you keep your buildings or how far apart they are; as long as they’re in your borders and close to the resources they need to function, you’re going to be just fine. The building making provisions for my workers didn’t really care that my mining camps were on the other side of the city; they were glad to make the trek. The only thing that really got affected by the provisioners having to make a long trek is that some of my mining operations and explorers got temporarily bottlenecked, waiting for more provisions.

Which brings us to one of the game’s key mechanics: border expansions. Expanding your border, and as a direct result, the area in which you’re allowed to build out your city, is quite simple; put down a guard tower near the border and watch your little workers move the literal border further out into the world. There isn’t really much more to it beyond that, at least until you start exploring further into the procedurally-generated map and eventually meet other factions. Most factions in Pioneers of Pagonia are quite friendly, and interactions with them can range from completing small quests in the form of supply requests, to a fully-fledged trading system that requires a few buildings of its own to function, including a trading house, as well as a place for the employees of your trading house to live between their shifts.

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"The winner is decided by who has the bigger, more well-equipped army."

Not everyone is going to be friendly, however, and you will eventually start running into hostile forces. There isn’t really much you can do aside from just having a military, which in itself is an involved process. To begin with, you’re going to need a steady supply of metals and coal, which can then be turned into weapons and armor. After all of that, you’re going to need barracks to train the soldiers. The type of barracks you build will help train different types of soldiers. Things can get even more interesting once you start finding silver, since that means you can now dip into forging some magic weapons and training powerful adventurers to go out there and slay your enemies.

Military combat in Pioneers of Pagonia doesn’t really involve directly controlling your soldiers; rather, the game’s combat system just revolves around making sure you’re prepared for an eventual attack by hostile forces. This essentially means that, when it’s time for your soldiers to face off against the enemies, the two forces are just going to automatically duke it out. You don’t get to micro-manage your units with tactical formations or anything like that. Instead, the winner is decided by who has the bigger, more well-equipped army.

Pioneers of Pagonia is an interesting take on a city building game, since it revolves more around you playing with core mechanics like supply chains and industry rather than the more individual and granular needs of your citizens or even your city. You’re not going to have to deal with crime and your buildings aren’t going to spontaneously catch on fire; at best, all you really need to do is make sure that there’s enough food and water to go around, and then you can focus on what matters most in the game: the supply chains.

While it may not be like other titles in the genre in terms of its core game loop, Pioneers of Pagonia still feels like an excellent entry to the genre. It will make players care about the various supply chains for industries of the city rather than more mundane things like food and water. Given that this is an early access release, the developer will likely improve the game further but as it stands right now, Pioneers of Pagonia is off to a great start.

This game was reviewed on PC.


THE GOOD

Supply chain-based building makes for a fun gameplay loop.

THE BAD

Lack of a proper tutorial makes learning the game a matter of trial and error.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
Pioneers of Pagonia is a welcome change in a genre that usually tends to focus more on management and planning aspects rather than the supply chains a city often tends to need. While the lack of a structured tutorial might make getting into the game harder than it needs to be, thankfully, just about everything like functions of various buildings, are incredibly intuitive. This makes Pioneers of Pagonia a fun experience despite offering some friction early on.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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