Manor Lords Early Access review: A city-builder that will settle your heart

Even in an early state, Manor Lords oozes potential
Slavic Magic / Hooded Horse

Manor Lords, currently on over three million Steam Wishlists and slated for Early Access release on April 26, 2024, is one of those very interesting cases in which everyone seems to project their own imagination and wishes into a game, regardless of what the creator says it really is about.

So what isn’t Manor Lords, then? According to solo developer Slavic Magic, “Manor Lords is not a Total War competitor” or an “empire management-style grand strategy game” or “an RPG” or “a competitive, fast-paced RTS like Age of Empires or StarCraft.” These statements aren’t the words of a man getting cold feet after overpromising things – they needed to be made, because everyone seems to have seen a few images from the game over the last few years and let their imaginations run wild based on them.

Yes, there are formed blocks of medieval soldiers fighting each other. That looks and feels like Total War – but that tiny fraction of its gameplay doesn’t make it a Total War competitor.

Yes, there is a regional map with provinces you can settle, some of which are under the control of your rivals. That doesn’t make it a Paradox title in which you embark upon world conquest.

Yes, you can switch to a first-person perspective to wander around your town and immerse yourself in what you’ve built. But you won’t swing around a sword like in Mount & Blade.

I don’t think I need to explain why the dev has said it’s not a classic real-time strategy game, either.

Manor Lords screenshot of a small skirmish.
Battles in Manor Lords are far more skirmish-sized and rare than your typical Total War combat. / Slavic Magic / Hooded Horse

What is Manor Lords, then? To keep it simple, it’s an immersive medieval city-builder with some combat elements. You could call it a city-builder-cum-RTS hybrid, if you want to stick to genres.

What you’ll spend most of your time doing is building settlements, developing logistics, making sure there’s enough food and fuel, and facilitating trade to increase your domain’s wealth. Think of games like Anno, Banished, or the early The Settlers entries for a more apt comparison – forget all the games centered around combat.

That isn’t to say that Manor Lords’ combat is an afterthought. In fact, I really like how it’s been implemented, sticking to the same authenticity that informs the rest of the game. Morale is a deciding factor in battle with aspects like terrain, unit cohesion, and approval of your rule each influencing a unit’s effectiveness in combat. Different stances give you a high degree of control – you can have units hold their position, increasing their defense, or order them to break through the formation of their enemies, which is a high-risk, high-reward maneuver. Archers don’t mow down soldiers wearing armor and shields, because this isn’t Hollywood and equipment makes a difference. 

Manor Lords screenshot of troops waiting at a small river.
Your militia will need to be raised from your workforce, with all the economic implications that brings. / Slavic Magic / Hooded Horse

Though you can hire expendable mercenaries, your militia is actually drafted from your settlers, which means that for the time they’re on duty, they can’t do their regular work – and should they die, they leave a hole in your economy.

As such, your military is intricately intertwined with the prosperity of your town and the success of your city-building efforts.

In Early Access, the framework of combat is present right from the start. Some details – like in all other areas of the game – will still be missing. Your lordly retinue, for example, can already be customized to your personal tastes when it comes to looks and equipment. However, their skill trees – which will make them an even stronger force on the battlefield – are still unavailable.

Even though the combat element is small in the grand scheme of things, it tells us a lot about Manor Lords and what Slavic Magic wants this game to be – it’s full of attention to detail, relies on history wherever it can, but finds great compromises between authenticity and fun. This is what makes every element of the game so immersive – a feeling supported by the great visuals and fantastic soundtrack.

Manor Lords screenshot of a small town.
Look how pretty and peaceful this village is. / Slavic Magic / Hooded Horse

Like in The Settlers or Anno, each resource and product is tracked – there is no teleportation. They need to be physically transported from A to B to C, so logistics are crucial. Most games don’t bother with livestock outside of farms or pastures, but Manor Lords shows how important animals like oxen and mules were for people by incorporating them into logistics.

Another small, but very cool and important detail: backyards. Though there are production sites for many resources and goods, some stuff needs to be crafted at workshops in people’s homes. For example, there is no dedicated building to make warbows. Instead, you need to design one of your residences large enough to house a workshop in its backyard and make the family that lives there into bowyers. Backyards can also contain chicken coops or vegetable gardens to provide additional food sources and add that factor of self-sufficiency a game about medieval city-building should feature.

Manor Lords is generally a slow-paced game, giving you time to breathe and take it all in – I’ve often found myself just observing my people go about their daily work, taking screenshots.

There is still some more active micromanagement you can do, for example when it comes to assigning your families to different jobs if you’re struggling with manpower. Those farmers will only laze around over winter anyway, right? Let them make some charcoal instead to stretch your fuel supplies.

Manor Lords screenshot showing the upgrade possibilites for a house.
Manor Lords' UI is looking great and is, most importantly, practical. / Slavic Magic / Hooded Horse

Manor Lords’ UI makes it very easy to keep on top of things, giving you a good overview of where your current supplies stand and how long they will last. Sometimes, the game makes it a bit difficult to find the information you’re looking for, especially as you can never be sure whether some features or resources mentioned somewhere are already implemented or still to come – but I imagine that problem will sort itself out over time.

Which brings me to the second big caveat after the identity question: How Early Access is it? On a technical level, it doesn’t feel like Early Access at all. Aside from some typos, missing icons, and villagers sometimes wandering through fences, Manor Lords looks and feels finished. 

On the content side, things are a bit more obvious. What you can do in Early Access is build several towns across a single region featuring randomized starting resources, giving you some replayability. There are already tons of resources and goods in the game to acquire, so there is no lack of content in this regard. But things like policies and town development – a skill tree allowing you to specialize settlements, in many cases giving access to new resources or products – are still heavily limited. 

The developer recently wrote: “I think the game should find a way into the hearts of players who expected Manor Lords to be what it is, a realistic, organic, authentic city-builder with real-time battles.” I’ve got double-digit hours in Manor Lords now, and I’m still having fun – it certainly found a way into my heart.

Though not content-complete, Manor Lords feels like an incredibly fresh take on city-building, borrowing mechanics from other genres and fusing them authentically with history to create something unique and special. Its mechanical foundations could not be more solid, so all this game needs to fully unlock its immense potential is more time and meat on its bones.

We aren’t scoring Early Access reviews, so all I’ll say is that I highly recommend this game even ahead of its full launch, if the developer’s vision speaks as much to you as it does to me.

Score: Recommended

Version tested: PC

Marco Wutz


Marco Wutz is a writer from Parkstetten, Germany. He has a degree in Ancient History and a particular love for real-time and turn-based strategy games like StarCraft, Age of Empires, Total War, Age of Wonders, Crusader Kings, and Civilization as well as a soft spot for Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. He began covering StarCraft 2 as a writer in 2011 for the largest German community around the game and hosted a live tournament on a stage at gamescom 2014 before he went on to work for Bonjwa, one of the country's biggest Twitch channels. He branched out to write in English in 2015 by joining, the global center of the StarCraft scene run by Team Liquid, which was nominated as the Best Coverage Website of the Year at the Esports Industry Awards in 2017. He worked as a translator on The Crusader Stands Watch, a biography in memory of Dennis "INTERNETHULK" Hawelka, and provided live coverage of many StarCraft 2 events on the social channels of as well as DreamHack, the world's largest gaming festival. From there, he transitioned into writing about the games industry in general after his graduation, joining GLHF, a content agency specializing in video games coverage for media partners across the globe, in 2021. He has also written for NGL.ONE, kicker, ComputerBild, USA Today's ForTheWin, The Sun, Men's Journal, and Parade. Email: