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Ex­ile is a se­vere sen­tence, and Ban­ished would have you re­mem­ber that. Each world seed may fill the screen with sun-dap­pled woods and rolling hills, but you’ll soon dis­cover these bu­colic-seem­ing idylls are just wait­ing to swal­low your hap­less charges whole. We’ve watched set­tlers per­ish from star­va­tion, hy­pother­mia or, in the cases of a lucky few, old age. Ei­ther way, the slight­est over­sight means a flurry of low-key tomb­stone icons and a restart, hop­ing to build on your im­pres­sions of what went wrong.

Ban­ished is a con­tra­dic­tion. It has the vis­ual pol­ish to sug­gest teams of 3D artists, your minia­ture vil­lage painted richly by the pass­ing sea­sons, yet it’s the work of just one man. It’s pas­torally slow paced, ex­plic­itly telling you to push the sim­u­la­tion speed up be­tween events in tu­to­ri­als, but car­ries a de­cep­tive mo­men­tum that re­sists even early cor­rec­tions. It’s non-com­bat­ive, but em­broils you in a bat­tle with Mother Na­ture’s spite­ful side. Win­ter is com­ing, and you need fire­wood.

You start with the bare es­sen­tials: some seeds, a stor­age barn and con­victs in semi-ur­gent need of hous­ing and food. Di­rect con­trol is limited, too, your work­ers of­fer­ing as lit­tle gran­u­lar­ity as the aver­age Sim

City denizen. But the game is hands off with you as well. Shorn of a mon­e­tary econ­omy, ev­ery con­struct is avail­able from the start. And while to over­stretch is to trig­ger a deadly domino ef­fect, you’ll never be told when or where to fo­cus your ef­forts.

That free­dom ex­tends to your ob­jec­tives, in that there aren’t any. Ban­ished is a sim­u­la­tion with a rich set of in­ter­lock­ing rules to dis­cover, and es­chews the con­trivance of win con­di­tions. Dis­as­ters will be­fall you reg­u­larly be­cause of that de­tailed model, though, be it an in­fes­ta­tion that makes a once-healthy or­chard suit­able only for match­wood, a twis­ter, or your own greed de­priv­ing you of lo­cal re­sources. You’ll watch the death no­ti­fi­ca­tions rack up and be­gin again.

Af­ter many false starts and sev­eral hours, you’ll learn enough to know your con­tin­ued ex­is­tence means pa­tient fore­thought, steady growth and track­ing a lot of tiny num­bers across menu panes. But the chal­lenge of es­tab­lish­ing a sta­ble com­mu­nity makes that en­gag­ing for a time, even if it’s too easy to waste en­ergy on a colony you doomed ages ago with a tiny er­ror.

Ban­ished is a rare tech­ni­cal achieve­ment, pure in de­sign and of pur­pose. Its many deaths al­most al­ways feel fair, and the bat­tle up to self-suf­fi­ciency is grip­ping. But the ab­sence of a long game be­yond this early toil makes it hard to find rea­sons to set­tle down here, ex­cept for the views, es­pe­cially if you’ve es­tab­lished yourself on these frosty plains be­fore.

Ban­ished of­fers up de­light­ful vis­tas and in­tri­cate towns, but rep­e­ti­tion is ev­i­dent in larger struc­tures, with one church look­ing much like any other. It’s a rare tell of the game’s ori­gins, one off­set by the shift­ing coun­try­side

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