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Bellwright Early Access Review – Promising Village Survival

Bellwright is a village building survival RPG developed by Donkey Crew and published by Snail Games USA and launched on Steam early access on April 23, 2024. This title throws you into the unforgiving world of Karvenia, where you take on the role of a man wrongly accused of murder. Stripped of your former life, you’ll need to build a rebellion from the ground up, one straw hut at a time. This is already a fantastic game in early access, especially when playing co-op with Justin, and I’m excited to see it evolve over the lengthy early access period.

Framed for the murder of the prince and sentenced to death by the Crown, you’ve been living in the shadows ever since. After barely dodging an attempt on your life, you find the assassin’s contract that raises many questions – was it just misfortune that you were framed? Or is there more to it? Determined to find the answers, you journey back to the very place you escaped. As a result of this, you need to build trust with local village elders and their people so that you can work with them and gain notoriety to get to the truth behind the prince’s death. An awesome feature that I haven’t seen in a game is that when Justin was speaking with the elder and I was tending to the village, the conversation text was shown on my screen, and my quests updated as Justin got the next one. This is brilliant because we can be independently working but still work together towards our common goals – love it!

In Bellwright you are tasked with setting up your own village and gaining resources and items to gain favour with the village elders. You start small, scavenging for resources like wood, stone and flax, construct basic necessities like a sleeping hut, campfire, research bench, workbench, and even an outhouse to dispose of your items. The outhouse was a particular delight as it meant you don’t have to drop random bags of stuff on the floor waiting for them to decay like in other games. As your own village grows and you slowly earn the trust of the neighbouring elder, you’ll unlock a wider variety of structures, from bakeries and blacksmiths to fortifications and training grounds. However, be mindful that as your village grows, you gain increased threat to raids from bandits, so it’s an interesting balance of expanding but also ensuring you can defend if required.

More importantly though is that you will be able to recruit settlers to work for you. There are three types of settlers you can employ – worker, guard and companion – but initially you start with a worker to gathering resources, researching and creating items for you. This was brilliant because it left Justin and I to build more advanced structures, set traps for food and hides, and turn in quests for the elder to unlock more advanced items and buildings. Guards will protect your village from raids, while companions can join you on hunts and fight with you. Eventually we were tasked with taking out some wolves and came across some bandit camps and so got a taste of combat. You can also set them prioritised tasks they will complete in order of preference which is awesome. Inventory management was strange though. In our packs, each thing we looted took up 1 square, so if you loot 10 pieces of wood, it takes up 10 inventory slots. Whereas put those 10 woods into storage chests and they stack. I hope this is fixed so inventory stacks in our packs which would cut down on the amount of running around we have to do currently.

The combat system in Bellwright is skill-based where you need to use directional swings for attacking with your weapon, as well as directional blocking with a shield. Eventually through early access updates, we will eventually be able to build up an army of soldiers and move them in squads and formations, equipping and training them as you see fit. Fighting alone was tough, but when Justin and I worked together with one of us flanking the mob or bandit, we were much more effective. We largely tried to avoid combat though unless a specific quest or item was required as we were just enjoying exploring, hunting animals and building up our village.

The open world itself is vast and visually impressive, boasting diverse biomes that range from lush forests to rugged mountain ranges. The view distance is incredible, and I loved seeing the glow of a fire in the distance at nighttime, sneaking over to see what was there. This same glow also helped me navigate the darkness to get back to our base village. Speaking of sneaking, some animals like stags will detect you running at them, so you will need to crouch down and find different angles of attack to sneak up on them. The game did perform rough for my PC, and I crashed a number of times, however with some tweaks I found a good middle ground in performance, whereas Justin just had to turn foliage down and his game ran well on high settings. No doubt performance will be enhanced as time goes on with future updates.

The game’s research tech tree is massive with clear pathways to take in order to research and unlock specific things like weapons, armour, and the materials required for those. The map is huge with plenty of points of interest and bandit camps to investigate. Some locations have npcs you can buy things from, such as specific skill books so you can gain experience in specific skill lines. This is only the beginning and the game feels fulfilling already. Donkey Crew has indicated Bellwright will be in early access for up to 3 years. Over this time, they plan to introduce dungeons, unique landmarks, a greater variety of hostile creatures, horse riding, large-scale sieges, and a more complete storyline.

Despite being in early access, Bellwright offers a fantastic core experience with deep village management, a decent story to follow and gain favour with elders, and the groundwork laid for an engaging open world survival game. There is plenty for you to do either solo or co-op, and the blend of village building, RPG elements, and villager management creates a highly engaging gameplay loop. Donkey Crew seems committed to refining and expanding upon this potential over the early access period of the next couple of years.

This review utilised keys provided by Outrageous PR and Bellwright is available now on Steam early access.


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