Despite my love for large-scale simulation games like Cities: Skylines as an adult, I was not a SimCity player growing up. Instead, I was drawn in the direction of the more manageable SimTown. The zoomed-in town management, where you can micromanage every aspect of your citizens’ lives without the large confines of SimCity, always appealed to me more. Perhaps that’s why Outlanders, a simple yet challenging settlement builder, has made an impression on me on two occasions now on both of its platforms.
In this small-scale management simulation, you step into the role of leader of a troubled settlement in dozens of scenarios. Some task you with fixing a wrecked boat so you can escape the island, while others challenge you to learn the game’s farming mechanics or build a giant sculpture out of bread. Don’t be fooled by the simple visual style; These scenarios increase in complexity as you unlock more structures and jobs, such as farms to grow crops, bakeries to produce bread, and breweries to gift beer to your followers.
Every time a new structure was introduced, I struggled to add another moving part to the equation, but eventually, they became just another part of my growing toolbox, providing a better simulation experience. This toolset comes in handy in Outlander’s sandbox mode, which lets you customize the biome, map size, starting stockpile, natural resources, and lots of other variables before building a settlement without having to worry about objectives or restrictions.
Outlanders rather goes hand in hand with its simulation mechanics. Your followers act autonomously, but you, as the town leader, assign job roles and priorities to them. Because of this, I was constantly moving followers around to adjust and adapt to the needs of the community. Sometimes, I was in dire need of wood, so I put four men on woodcutter duty. More often, though, it’s the lack of food that my settlements do, so grazing and farming remain my focus.S. I like to calculate in which of these areas one should invest workers as foraging provides immediate food but depletes quickly, Whereas farming takes time to develop from seed but is renewable. You need to not only co-exist with nature, but also learn how to keep its resources from being depleted before you have the means to replenish them. Failing at this seemingly simple task almost every time results in the death of your civilization.
If all else fails, you can issue orders to your followers, such as rationing food.r “hands-off” decree To ensure that no child is born. You can also go the other way to encourage population growth or ask people to do less work to increase happiness. These decrees go a long way toward fixing your problems, but they also have unique effects on happiness, productivity, and other areas. I enjoyed walking a razor’s edge in using these decrees to optimize my settlements.
Each scenario includes a primary objective that needs to be completed for success as well as an optional mission; These side goals add an extra wrinkle of challenge, such as completing the main mission without exceeding a certain number of followers, keeping your followers home and happy, or collecting enough resources to repair other structures after a storm. To accumulate I always tried to meet these objectives, and I was often successful, but they serve as little more than trophies on my shelf, so outside of a sense of accomplishment, I feel bad if I miss some of the side goals. Heart was not broken.
I like that Outlanders doesn’t have many random elements. No tornadoes come to ruin your best laid plans, no droughts come to destroy your crops, and no invaders come to raid your stores. It’s all about planning and managing resources within the scenario you’re given. Every failure was my fault. This led to several angry outbursts as I watched helplessly as the plight of my settlement spiraled out of control due to poor planning; It only takes a few followers to die – whether of old age or hunger – for the well-oiled machine to crumble. In one instance, my 16 adult townspeople were perfectly spread out, but when one member died of old age, I had to reallocate one of the plants to fill the vacant wood space. Sadly, this caused a chain reaction where not enough food was gathering, and before I knew it, four followers were starving, and the spiral had begun.
Although I’ve had several settlements quickly meet their doom thanks to the skin-of-your-teeth initial conditions, I always stuck with it, taking the lessons learned to the next attempt. I’ve never liked trial-and-error gameplay, but Outlanders never feels improbable – just unforgivable. Soon, you’ll start to see warning signs of these problems on the horizon. I started anticipating each of my settlements before they fell, which helped me prevent many of them. This advancement – not just in the game mechanics but in how you approach gameplay and the domino effects of various in-game actions – is ultimately what kept me coming back for upwards of 20 hours on both PC and iOS.
Although Outlanders has been available on iOS through Apple Arcade since 2019, the PC release has become my favorite way to play it. I still sometimes have difficulty selecting the right setter or structure in a crowded area, but not nearly as much with a mouse as I do with a touchscreen. In addition, the widescreen format suits the gameplay and art style, and the well-translated navigation keyboard controls feel more intuitive than the Apple Arcade version, which is surprising, considering how well that version came out before the PC release. Either way a great way to play this solid sim, but if you have a choice and portability isn’t a concern, the PC version is the clear winner.
Although there were times when I saw my followers drop like flies, I loved how each scenario challenged me to balance all these factors to accomplish a set of goals. Outlanders can be challenging and frustrating, but I rarely feel overwhelmed. Outlanders doesn’t quite deliver the kind of big-city simulation many associate with the genre, but its small-scale approach appeals to the action-oriented part of your brain, creating an intensely satisfying experience that keeps me coming back time and time again. Brings back the bar.