Back when I was but a teenager – which wasn’t quite the middle ages, but was some time ago – I attended a medieval-themed fancy dress party. As was befitting my social status at the time, I went dressed as a humble peasant. Yes, I was precisely that popular, but becoming a peasant for an evening involved an outfit that was little more than a potato sack. It wasn’t a good look – I’m very thankful social media wasn’t a thing at the time, really. It was cold and uncomfortable, and I spent a fair amount of the evening looking for something to drink, because, well, I was a teenager at the time, and even grotty peasants deserve a little respite from time to time. My mild suffering that night came back to mind as soon as I started playing Siege Survival Gloria Victis. It’s a peasant-centric strategy game with light stealth elements, but unlike my party, it’s not in the business of giving peasants any respite at all.
With a name like that, you might be forgiven for thinking that it was going to be a deep medieval-themed strategy game where you took on the role of a mighty monarch, seeing off waves of invading troops in epic battles. Instead, Siege Survival Gloria Victis takes a more realistic approach of what being in a medieval castle under siege would actually have been like, from the perspective of the peasantry. It’s somewhat like what would happen if you took This War of Mine and set it about 500 years earlier, in essence.
Most of Siege Survival Gloria Victis revolves around resource management as you quite literally scramble to not only survive, but also craft the necessary tools to help the soldiers keeping the enemy at bay alive. It’s not enough to make meals to keep your sole survivor – soon joined by others if you find them – alive, because you’re also responsible for feeding, clothing and supporting the troops that are keeping the besieging forces from breaking through and doing what the soldiers of that era did.
That means a very careful and often brutal balancing act of giving the troops the actual food while you make do chewing on a few weeds and drinking foul water to survive. Balancing all of this is tricky, and in the early going it’s not going to be unusual to see your poor peasants collapse from exhaustion wherever they work. If they’re lucky (or perhaps not) they might get up again the next day.
Siege Survival Gloria Victis is deliberately grim, and that’s supported by the ongoing story, told in a light visual novel style that details the desperate fight for survival as you slowly and achingly build out a light economy of food, repair supplies and new building types.
The courtyard you spend the strategy section of the game in isn’t big enough to supply your needs, and this is why each night you’ve got the option to head out to the wider city to scavenge for supplies and avoid enemy guards. It’s a vital step, but one that will leave the chosen starving peasant exhausted for the next day, so resource management – in this case, human resource management – also applies.
The switch to the city sees you jump from strategy/management into a very light and honestly not terribly engaging stealth exploration game. There’s plenty of resources out there to gather, as well as a few light key and resource-based puzzles to make your way through, but none of it is all that satisfying. Guards have set cones of vision in the classic style, but they’re amazingly stupid otherwise. You get hiding zones to drop your peasant of choice into, but you can equally just walk behind a guard, and as long as you don’t go through their field of view, they’ll ignore you, every single time. That’s good, because if you’re spotted they’ll fire on you, injuring you. You’ve then got the choice of whether to use precious bandages and medicine to treat those wounds – remember, the soldiers need them on an ongoing basis – or to let them waste away for a few days. Siege Survival Gloria Victis does not pull its punches in any way, almost gleefully letting your peasants keel over and die when their time is up if you don’t keep them fed, watered and healthy, or throwing you to a game over screen the moment your troops get too disheartened and flee the keep. I do love the theme behind Siege Survival Gloria Victis, and there’s a germ of an excellent idea here around strategy/survival from a peasant’s point of view, but the execution never quite cracks beyond middling status.
The resource gathering and build days are fair, broken up by battles that will see flaming arrows, boulders and even rotting animals flung at your peasants, but you can often be left struggling for your next step unless you’ve carefully planned ahead. Often that’s not obvious, so you only learn through grinding failure. The same failure states apply to the nightly city raids, only in a less exciting fashion, and the whole game also relies on a single narrative thread. Once you’ve worked your way through the game’s story, you’ve seen its entire narrative play out, and all that remains are options to play just the day/night cycles or use the game’s scenario editor yourself.
Variety in stories and settings could have gone a long way to making Siege Survival Gloria Victis a more compelling game. As it stands, while those who enjoy a mix of strategy and deliberately melancholy narrative threads may find it engaging for a while, it’s all a bit too uneven to really recommend.