Bellwright impressions: still a long way to go

Featuring great survival automation, Bellwright falls short when it comes to combat
Bellwright
Bellwright / Donkey Crew

Bellwright is yet another survival crafting game with automation as its selling point, joining Palworld and The Forest 2, in their mission to scrub out the boring parts of the genre. You’ll chop down plenty of trees and pick up plenty of rocks, but once you’re set up, your AI helpers will do most of the donkey work for you, from gathering to building, hunting, and even cooking.

What makes Bellwright stand out is that it is as much a town builder as it is a survival game. You find a piece of land and plonk down a couple of tents, grow in fame at nearby towns by completing fetch quests, and steal their villagers to grow your own settlement. Progress is slow, but every new piece of research and every building you erect feels significant. Every minor tweak you make to AI priorities works toward your goal.

Bellwright settlement
With a focus on settlements, Bellwright is as much a town builder as it is a survival game. / Donkey Crew

There’s still a little clumsiness with those villagers, but this is early access. If there’s no wood, they won’t cook, which means they won’t eat, which means they won’t do anything. When they do cook, they eat it immediately and you never end up with a large surplus of food, which I found quite frustrating. But once those issues are smoothed out, Bellwright is probably my favorite take on survival automation so far. 

When you walk into your settlement at night, cresting a hill and seeing the fires burning, the torches glinting, your people milling about and doing their tasks, you feel like you’ve really made your mark on this world. And it’s beautiful in a generic, naturalistic way. 

Where it falls apart is the combat, which is like baby’s first For Honor. It’s great on paper. You can swing weapons in any direction and block in any direction with a flick of the mouse, but it feels like a system designed for duels in a game where almost every combat encounter is just five or six enemies running directly at you unrelentingly. You can raise an army from your village, but they’ll probably be useless until you can kit them out in full gear.

Bellwright combat screenshot
Bellwright's combat system seems designed for duels in a game where most encounters feature more enemies. / Donkey Crew

As it stands, the best way to deal with enemies is to kite them with a bow and arrows. Or to climb on top of something — they can’t climb — and pepper them with arrows. Not what the developers intended, I’m sure, but it’s the only way to avoid the poor melee combat and enemy AI. 

My biggest frustration with Bellwright in its current form is at the end of tier two technology. To unlock the third tier, you need to liberate a town from the heavily armored brigands. Taking out the ones in the town itself is easy enough, but when they send a party to reclaim it, you’re tasked with killing ten or so soldiers before they touch a bell tower you have to erect. If they happen to get close to it, they just blink it out of existence with their minds and retreat back to base, forcing you to start again. 

Bellwright screenshot featuring deer hunting
Hunting deer in Bellwright. / Donkey Crew

If you look at the community on Reddit, people have taken to building a triangle of fences around themselves, which the enemy can’t pass, and just shooting them with arrows from there. What should be an epic showdown with two armies, Mount & Blade-style, becomes comical and irritating.

These issues make it hard to recommend Bellwright in its current state, but I’m holding out hope that the developers keep at it. There’s a lot of promise here, and they’ve managed to launch a game with its own unique identity in a genre saturated with copycats. If they can expand the settlement building options, add some fortifications, and overhaul combat, Bellwright could be a winner.


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Kirk McKeand

KIRK MCKEAND

Kirk McKeand is the Content Director for GLHF.  A games media writer and editor from Lincoln, UK, he won a Games Media Award in 2014 in the Rising Star category. He has also been nominated for two Features Writer awards. He was also recognized in MCV's 30 Under 30 list in 2014. His favorite games are The Witcher 3, The Last of Us Part 2, Dishonored 2, Deus Ex, Bloodborne, Suikoden 2, and Final Fantasy 7.  You can buy Kirk McKeand's book, The History of the Stealth Game, in most bookstores in the US and UK.  With a foreword written by Arkane's Harvey Smith, The History of the Stealth Game dives deep into the shadows of game development, uncovering the surprising stories behind some of the industry's most formative video games.  He has written for IGN, Playboy, Vice, Eurogamer, Edge, Official PlayStation Magazine, Games Master, Official Xbox Magazine, USA Today's ForTheWin, Digital Spy, The Telegraph, International Business Times, and more.  Kirk was previously the Editor-in-Chief at TheGamer and Deputy Editor at VG247. These days he works as the Content Director for GLHF, a content agency specializing in video games coverage, serving media partners across the globe.  You can check out Kirk McKeand's MuckRack profile for more.  Email: kirk.mckeand@glhf.gg