Ishtar Games management sim, Lakeburg Legacies, has often been branded as the ‘medieval Tinder’ game due to its swipe-right dating sim mechanics that pairs the worst people you know together. With a reputation like that, who wouldn’t want to jump into a medieval world full of drama and the odd romantic adventure?
Only, there isn’t much adventure or drama to be found in Lakeburg Legacies. One of the first things that you’re introduced to is a randomized character who, whether they want to or not, will be spending the first few years as Lakeburg’s lumberjack, toiling away to help create wood and other resources to build up your town. After all, if you’re going to build a bustling town, then you’ll need to start small. For me, this main character is called Arthurus Dinan, a well-mannered but greedy 18-year-old who wants nothing more but to shag his way through the entire population of Lakeburg. Unfortunately for him, he is the only fella here, so he’ll have to make do with his spouse for a few years instead.
With Arthurus — and the rest of the citizens that eventually make their way to Lakeburg through the game’s recruitment system — I first need to find him a home, and later a spouse. Citizens are able to have jobs regardless of whether they have a roof over their heads or not, but if they are homeless, then that will obviously affect their mood, which will influence the amount of resources they produce. Depending on what setting you’re playing, or whether you just want to have a chill time or not, it’s entirely up to players if their citizens being homeless is worth the risk of getting a ton of resources. After all, certain choices may lead to character death and, as the years tick on by, the monetary rate to recruit characters outside of Lakeburg increases to a substantial sum.
Once I find Arthurus a home and a job, the next thing is their spouse. Believe it or not, marriage and romance is wholly different from one another in Lakeburg Legacies and to do one isn’t the exact same as the other. For marriage, players will need to head to the matchmaker and ask her to find a perfect partner for their character. How good a relationship is will be marked by ‘Affinity’, which takes in mind your character and your potential partner’s likes, dislikes, as well as their traits. If you happen to like this match, the lucky couple will head off to their first date.
I hope you remember your character’s and partner’s likes and dislikes, because you’ll be given three different opportunities to answer questions/scenarios that will influence how well the date does. If you get an answer right, you get a love heart, and if you get an answer wrong, you don’t. If by the end of the date you don’t have even one love heart, the marriage won’t go ahead. But if you do… Well, congratulations! You and your partner are now officially married and can start making babies. This is called Lakeburg Legacies, after all.
Despite being set in a medieval setting, Lakeburg Legacies is happy for your characters to get married and have children no matter if you’re in a same-sex relationship or not — no strings attached. Crusader Kings 3, eat your heart out.
However, despite relationships apparently being important in this game, it’s only really conveyed through the production of hearts – a currency that you can use to have characters greet one another, force them to have children, gift each other stuff, or get divorced. While you are able to get event triggers and ridiculously small text at the bottom right of your screen (via your journal) telling you what’s going on in Lakeburg, the former happens very rarely (though to be clear, I have been told this will be fixed by launch) and the latter doesn’t feel as though it’s telling you anything but relationship updates. What makes this worse is that none are particularly interesting. Arthurus, our little man harlot (which I say in the most affectionate way possible) managed to sleep through the whole town and even bedded the Queen, but did anyone actively care? Nope! Sure there may be some enmity between Arthurus and his lover’s spouses (including his own) which affected production, but I expected some level of consequence. Arthurus getting beat up maybe, or a divorce, or even worse, multiple bastard children. Instead? Business as usual folks.
This lack of fun dynamics within relationships even goes to family members. I was 30 years into my run when I realized that Arthurus doesn’t have a relationship with his children and that neither of his children has a relationship with one another. Siblings aren’t even included on their inheritance board, with the game only putting emphasis on your parents, grandparents, and children. On one hand, I get it, you’re here to produce kids and make Lakeburg the best thing since sliced bread, but on the other hand, there’s only so much fun to be had from a focus on producing resources. There needs to be some sort of interaction between your citizens to make resource and strategy feel worthwhile. Perhaps when the game’s events get updated to trigger more often it will help set a more synergetic relationship between resource gathering and relationship building.
Even as I continued to play throughout the in-game years, the drama that was to be found in Lakeburg Legacies was at a minimum and a part of us couldn’t help but wonder if our expectations was set too high. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the problem was this: tonal whiplash. Despite presenting itself as a cutesy, cozy management game, Lakeburg Legacies deals with very real, very hard topics. At one point, my apprentice mason Pavetta ended up being stuck in a master/slave situation with Theodore, her mentor. As their relationship continued to deteoriate, all I could hear was the whimsical, fairytale-like chords of the game’s music continuing in the background. I’m not sure if an event was supposed to trigger there to help Pavetta get out of their situation, but even if it had, it wouldn’t fix the problem that I feel is the heart of this game’s issues: it just doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a sentimental resources dating sim game, or is it just about production with the more social aspects tacked on? There’s something to be said about going against the grain, and for that Ishtar Games should be commended, but it just doesn’t work for Lakeburg Legacies.
But, for those of you already looking to click off and head onto another game, let us still just say something a little more positive: Lakeburg Legacies still has its awesome moments. As you progress throughout the game and continue to build different lots that’ll make your kingdom (or queendom) thrive, you’ll see the game start to shape into something very special. Strategizing which character will go where, and why is great. I’m not a genius when it comes to strategy, but when your production begins to sky rocket because of your people, then it feels good. Even pairing people together based on their likes/dislikes/traits is interesting, because sometimes you’ll need to pair people who have an awful relationship with one another just because you’re in desperate need of a builder that year.
In many ways, Lakeburg Legacies proves itself to be a great game, but it’s mismatched identity is ultimately what lets it down and is why it feels so debilating when it trips and stumbles. There is such incredible potential to be found, and it was one of the games I was most excited to play this year, but unfortunately, its highest highs fall in comparison to its lowest lows.
Lakeburg Legacies is available to play now on PC via Steam.
A copy of Lakeburg Legacies for PC was provided to Gayming Magazine by the developer.