Bellwright: A Hands-On Experience with Marching on My Stomach

Bellwright’s early access launch showcases its excellent survival mechanics and promises good things to come. Bellwright caught my interest a few weeks ago when developer Donkey Crew invited me to see some pre-release footage, and now that it’s launched into early access, I’ve had a chance to sit down and explore the forests of Karvenia myself. While it’s still very rough around the edges, Bellwright has the potential to be something great: a mature, medieval Palworld with Mount & Blade-style battles.

Survival games can be quite difficult for beginners. Here, you can check out the best survival games for those that are new to the genre. Bellwright is a very slow burn; the first several hours will be spent getting your camp built up to more than just a humble tent and cookfire.

In many games this would be a drawback – who wants to spend an entire session just setting up to be able to play the game properly? – but Bellwright has clearly mastered the flow of survival gameplay. The same goes for quests.

NPCs in towns and out in the wilderness all seem to need something from you, but you’ll rarely be able to say, “Oh, I conveniently have just the thing!”

Most quests are strategically placed to encourage you to expand your operations; a craftsman wants a pair of deer antlers, so you’ll need to learn to make bows so you can hunt the skittish creatures. A herbalist needs garlic to mix up a medicine, so you’ll need to figure out where it grows or develop your settlement to the point where you can grow your own. I still haven’t caught so much as a whiff of garlic myself.

Followers that you recruit to your cause will spend their time working the various buildings that you’ve set up; foraging goods, weaving cloth, and forging weapons. Each newcomer needs housing and food, but many hands make light work. By the time you’ve recruited two or three, you’ll be able to leave a lot of your day-to-day operations in their hands while you go out exploring in search of new opportunities.

Managing their orders can take a little bit of fine-tuning, as the workers prioritize and produce exactly as they’re directed. It’s easy to end up with an overabundance of roasted mushrooms, or to return to camp to find tasks undone because you forgot to have extra ingots smelted. Once you’ve got the numbers down, though, your settlement can run entirely on its own with little input from you.

Despite its excellent survival mechanics, Bellwright markets itself on mid-to-late game features that you won’t see until you’ve developed a thriving settlement and befriended the villages dotting Karvenia’s landscape. The game’s story is one of revolution and vengeance; returning from exile after ten years, your character is bent on raising an army and overthrowing the tyrannical queen. The game’s combat looks good but feels a little janky in its current form, probably because eventually you’ll be doing little of the fighting yourself.

Just as your settlement will become self-sufficient as you bring in more followers to gather supplies and craft items, battles in Bellwright are won or lost by commanding squads of troops. I’ve been able to rout a few small-time bandit camps, but I’m nowhere near the strength needed to take the fight to the local baron yet. In fact, the first time bandits decided to retaliate by raiding my camp, they gave me and my followers a thorough stomping.

The real test of Bellwright’s ambitious goals will be in how smoothly the transition from survival game to feudal rebellion sim is handled; if, when the game launches, players end up feeling like Robin Hood or Joan of Arc, it will have proven a success. From a technical standpoint, Bellwright offers lush environments full of plants to harvest and animals to hunt. As a card-carrying member of SAG-AFTRA, I hope those AI lines are just placeholders until it comes time to record actual dialogue with paid actors.

Bellwright is a game with lofty goals, and based on my time with it the developers seem fully capable of seeing them through. It might take time to get to the meat of the game, but it can be played at your own pace since even playing one or two in-game days at a time lets you make meaningful progress. I can only imagine that finally overthrowing the queen will be one of the highlights of my gaming year when the full version launches.

In the meantime, though, I’ll be hunting for garlic.

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