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Pioneers of Pagonia is Germany’s apology for Gollum

We are very sorry, so please accept this wholesome indie gem
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Writing as one of “ze Germans,” we do have a lot to answer for, historically, and Daedalic Entertainment added to that pile of shame this year with the release of Gollum and creating a new standard measure for “how much of a disaster is this launch?” in the process. While some things can never be properly atoned for, I think we have just the right thing to make up for the abuse of Tolkien’s legacy – on behalf of all Germans, I’d like to introduce you to Pioneers of Pagonia.

Pioneers of Pagonia is a chill city-builder from Envision Entertainment, an indie studio led by the creator of The Settlers, Volker Wertich, that went into Early Access this month and is selling like hot cakes: Over 100,000 copies were purchased in the first week after release.

Artwork of a small town in a fantasy world.

Pioneers of Pagonia has you explore and settle newly-discovered islands.

Describing it as a spiritual successor to the early The Settlers games is perfectly apt: Your entire focus is to get production chains online, expand your territory, and grow your population. While there are some light real-time strategy and combat aspects, such as the need to defend against thieving bandits or hostile creatures (like Dwarf Fortress-esque werewolves that come in and infect your citizens), Pioneers of Pagonia is a peaceful and relaxing experience that centers on the economy. You can watch your people bake bread, smelt ore into bars, or hew bricks for construction in real time, observing the full process from start to finish – the animations for all of these processes are lovely and detailed.

Logistics are the biggest challenge in the game: You want to make your production chains as efficient as you can by planning out your production districts, constructing storages in the right places, laying out an efficient road grid, making sure you’ve got enough tools to supply your workers with, and so on.

Developer Envision Entertainment is marketing the game with the German term Wuselfaktor, a word that is difficult to explain in English – it essentially describes the hustle and bustle visible on the screen when there’s a myriad of things going on at the same time. Just like the claim that Pioneers of Pagonia is a spiritual successor to The Settlers, this isn’t simply a buzzword, but very much true: You’ll have hundreds of citizens running around your town at the same time, transporting wares, patrolling the streets, working at production buildings, or simply enjoying a well-earned meal at the tables outside of the tavern. It’s immensely satisfying and wholesome to watch.

Pioneers of Pagonia screenshot of a busy town.

Pioneers of Pagonia is all about enjoying the hustle and bustle of your people.

Aside from a few hostile forces, maps will contain AI towns as well, which you can trade with. By fulfilling delivery tasks or other missions for them, you can increase your diplomatic standing and ultimately absorb them into your citizen body, eventually winning the game this way – or you just play in sandbox mode, exploring and settling on an uninhabited island without having to care about anything else. It’s a bit comparable to how German board games are generally designed: There is very little in terms of direct confrontation. Instead, competition is presented in economic and diplomatic terms and is embedded into cooperation.

Maps are procedurally generated by the game based on several parameters you can tweak, giving you unlimited possibilities. Seeds can be shared as well, allowing you to play the same maps as your friends or explore especially cool islands generated by someone else in the community.

Pioneers of Pagonia still feels a bit “Early Access” around the edges (the UI could use some work, some of the systems may need deepening, and more content is always good), but it’s still early days for this very promising title, which sends me straight on the road towards nostalgia as a fan of the first four The Settlers titles.

Pioneers of Pagonia smelter.

All production processes comes with detailed animations you can observe at your leisure.

If there’s any criticism I have to level at it, then it’s probably about the theme – it’s got this very charming The Settlers aesthetic going on, but it feels a little too much like a generic fantasy setting. I always really liked the historical theming of The Settlers – taking The Settlers 4 as an example, having Romans, Vikings, and Mayans all being present in the same game is just really fun and I would have loved to see a continuation of that. But that’s a minor gripe compared to everything that stands out positively.

With massive content updates that will add depth to some game systems and expand the number of available resources as well as brand-new features like a co-op mode on the horizon, Pioneers of Pagonia is looking towards a bright future.

Since this is a first impression from an Early Access release, I won’t score the game  yet, but let’s just say that I very much agree with those “Very Positive” ratings on Steam at the moment and would recommend genre fans to pick it up despite it being an Early Access title.