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Lakeside – Early Access Review

City Builders that say they’ll be calm and relaxing have a difficult idea to balance. In order to be a city builder, you’ll need to balance resources and ideas. Can that be purely calming? Lakeside immediately puts you at ease with its cozy pixelart but once you get into the gameplay loop, you might find yourself more than a bit frustrated.

Whilst it looks beautiful, the UI and zoom settings cause chaos to try and select and view things. It gets confusing.

Building your city on a lakeside sets you up for a few gameplay mechanics. Firstly, each hillside is three rows deep – one on water and two on land. Certain buildings can be placed on water, most on land. The hill is slightly different each time and so you’ll have different spacing to place buildings down on but ultimately its the same space you get to play with. In order to bring more residents you’ll need to place down certain buildings such as water mills or bath houses to expand the population cap. When you do so you’ll need to get housing down quick as otherwise everyone will die from homelessness. Food is the other key resource as otherwise people will starve quickly too.

Farms produce food which you need to stock up on. Wood from forests can be chopped down but water supplies regrow them quickly. Stone can be mined from quarries and initial stone pillars. Metal can be made or bought through exchange buildings. Gold can be made from resources or found in text expeditions too. Lastly culture can be generated from certain buildings and when you reach 100 culture points you unlock upgrade buildings to choose one from three random choices. These can be new buildings entirely up upgrades to existing buildings. There is a puzzle element around how you fit everything you need into the small space in Lakeside and so balancing upgrades that give you more of something without using more landspace is often quite valuable. Upgrades unlock quite quickly and the random nature of it means you don’t always get the buildings you need to progress, leaving you in a bit of a dead end.

When you get an upgrade you get a choice from a semi random selection of three. Everything has consequences so choose wisely.

Whilst being set in a calm environment, Lakeside spends a lot of time causing UI annoyances. The mouse controls and UI get confused often, moving your view of your town around as you move the mouse to click on UI boxes. The fact you can’t view your town in one shot and are forced to zoom in to a highly pixelated graphics is frustrating too. Often you can’t click on the right thing either as if the detection boxes aren’t lined up with the visuals. The most annoying thing though joins up with the disasters game mechanic. Lakeside randomly generates floods, earthquakes, fires and plagues. Some of this is tied to the buildings you have and their frequency can be reduced. However earthquakes are regular and they destroy random buildings. The problem is, you don’t know what, where and how to replace them so you have to remove and rebuild them. Often these are vital buildings in your tiny ecosystem so if a water mill goes, your population cap drops. Farms or storage goes, loads of people die of starvation almost immediately. Realistic? Yes. Calm and relaxing? Not at all. This balance just feels at odds with itself and left me feeling a little confused.

In early access there’s one scenario and I completed it, whilst getting very stuck in 2.5 hours. Lakeside promises other scenarios will come and that’s required. The creative mode gives you all the buildings to build a pretty Lakeside town but gives little else other than screenshot memories. I like the bitesized ease of Lakeside when things unlock in the right pattern but the UI needs fixing and more details on disasters provided before this feels like a chilled and engaging city builder. It also needs more space to play with too – even if its gated at population caps.

Review copy provided by developer. Review based on early access launch build.

Final Thoughts
A decent start for a light and tight city builder. Needs some UI polishing and better breadcrumbs to explain itself though.
Light puzzle elements of building placement to make as much use of the limited space as possible is an interesting twist.
Building world wonders is a nice end goal.
The resource management is tied to seasons, buildings, natural events and external factors from neighbouring towns. It feels very well thought out.
Can make fast progress if the unlocks land right.
Pixel graphics look nice but get very blocky and less flattering up close.
UI issues alongside mouse zooming causes control frustration.
Some things are unexplained and the lack of help to see what buildings have been destroyed is annoying.

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