Bellwright gets a release date, merging simulation & strategy in an ambitious way

Bellwright gets a release date, merging simulation & strategy in an ambitious way
Images via Donkey Crew

Written by 

Joshua Boyles


11th Apr 2024 14:30

2024 has been a massive year for fans of survival games. Palworld spiced the genre up with Pokemon-themed companions, Enshrouded played its part in bringing a few new ideas to the table, and Sons of the Forest finally hit its landmark 1.0 release date just a few weeks ago.

The dust hasn’t even settled before yet another survival game is about to hit the streets, with Donkey Crew’s latest title Bellwright today announcing that it’s hitting early access on April 23. With such a crowded market, the question remains of how this game expects to separate itself from the crowd. The answer lies in its design, with an ambitious melting pot of strategy mechanics, melded symbiotically in a classic survival structure.

I spent an hour watching a live presentation and Q&A session with the developers - here’s how the game is shaping up.

Match made in heaven

Bellwright key art showing a medieval village
Click to enlarge

Like most other survival games, Bellwright has you starting out with essentially nothing. Dropped into a map that’s 25 square kilometres big and resembles medieval Britain, you’re left to fend for yourself, harvesting materials, harvesting animals, and undertaking other vital activities for survival.

There is a story to Bellwright, although we were just given the broad strokes in our preview. After your reputation is disgraced, your mission is to overturn the corrupt Queen sitting on the throne. Her armies have amassed several outposts across the land, and it’s up to you to build up your own settlements and amass a rebellious army of your own.

This is where Bellwright looks to separate itself from the crowd. Typical survival mechanics are crucial, but they’re supported by a network of strategy systems that you’d normally see in the likes of Total War. Once you’ve built up a small settlement and recruited a couple of NPCs, you’re free to command them as you please.

From here, a lot of the usual busy work in games of this nature becomes automated. Don’t fancy harvesting trees for three hours just to build a town hall? Put a few villagers to work and they’ll have the job done in a jiffy. Well, a few days - things do still move reasonably slowly to keep the game’s pacing in check.

This automation even extends to combat. While you can engage in battles yourself with a skill-based system reminiscent of Mount and Banner, you can alternatively order your army to do your bidding. Helpful UI elements appear at your command, showing exactly where you’re ordering your troops to attack and retreat to.

Tis but a scratch

Bellwright key art showing combat
Click to enlarge

I think what excites me the most about Bellwright is that it seems extremely forgiving compared to other games in the genre. That’s exemplified in the death penalty, which is almost non-existent. Upon death, you’ll respawn nearby with all your equipment and items retained, with only a marker on the map to chronicle your demise.

Donkey Crew explained that it had experimented with death penalties, but ultimately didn’t find that it was a fun or rewarding experience with the feature included. That’s likely why there’s a lenient fast travel system in the game too, which lets you travel seamlessly between discovered signposts - or ones you’ve crafted yourself.

Survival games that I’ve played in the past have incorporated so much busy work that they quickly become a long to-do list rather than an adventure where I feel like an active participant. Bellwright seems like it has the right chemistry of genres to combat this, with the entire game almost playable in full strategy mode if you like.

Writing on the wall?

Bellwright key art showing open world gameplay
Click to enlarge

There are a few areas that players may be concerned about from the off. 

At least at launch, all NPCs are set to be voiced by AI in place of real voice actors. This isn’t a new concept - we’ve seen THE FINALS pull off a similar stunt, albeit with backlash. Donkey Crew provides valid reasoning for it, saying that the AI voices are only placeholders while the game is in early access and that the team fully intends to replace all character voices with professional voice actors by the time Bellwright launches into 1.0.

Speaking of 1.0, I asked the team how long it expects the game to spend in early access. I was told that if everything goes to plan and for all of their ideas to be implemented, they’d expect Bellwright to spend around 3-4 years in ongoing development. This was said with the caveat that the team didn’t want to overpromise too much, but there’s no getting around the fact that 3-4 years is a big chunk of time to spend in an unfinished state. 

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There’s reason to be sceptical of the game ever getting finished, too. The Polish developer previously came under fire for how its last game, Last Oasis, ended up. That was yet another ambitious survival MMO game that launched in 2020 but is still listed as in early access today.

Donkey Crew confessed that its last game didn’t go exactly as they had planned but that it “made the best decisions based on the information that [it] had”, and that it’s “working hard to earn that trust back” from players.

Time will tell whether Bellwright is the turning point Donkey Crew needs. From what I’ve seen so far, Bellwright is an especially ambitious project with strong foundations and plenty of gameplay pillars to build upon. The ball is now in Donkey Crew’s court to stick with it.

Bellwright is launching in early access on April 23, 2024.

Joshua Boyles
About the author
Joshua Boyles
Joshua is the Guides Editor at GGRecon. After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Broadcast Journalism, he previously wrote for publications such as FragHero and GameByte. You can often find him diving deep into fantasy RPGs such as Skyrim and The Witcher, or tearing it up in Call of Duty and Battlefield. He's also often spotted hiking in the wilderness, usually blasting Arctic Monkeys.
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