Stonehearth‘s alpha was released today, squeaking in just under the wire to make its Kickstarter-promised December 2013 deadline. The game is alpha in every sense of the word in that it’s buggy, fairly empty of features, and obviously a first step on a very long road to completion. It’s also charming to the core and already has the tutorial in place for the features that work, which goes a long way to creating faith that the game that will emerge will be a properly thought-0ut city builder. A lot of effort has already gone into usability, so despite Stonehearth’s ultra-early state it’s impossible not to like it.
The primary features in the initial build are world generation and getting the game engine on its feet. Starting a new game generates a world which you can plunk your banner in, claiming the surrounding area as home base. You’ll want it near wood and berries, and searching for the right spot shows the standard camera controls for this type of game working properly. Then it’s time to start harvesting, with your group of six members choosing what actions they want to do. Click on a tree and then the axe to start chopping, or a berry bush and then the gather icon to harvest food, and someone will follow instructions, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to assign a specific individual to the task. Then again, these are basic tasks anyone can do, so it’s not really necessary either. It’s only when you need to start building furniture that a specific role of carpenter is required, and you can choose anyone in the group to take the job.
At the moment there’s not much more to do than just harvest and play with a few basic construction options. Roofs are glitchy so the villagers can’t complete houses, but you can build walls and fences to your heart’s content. You can zone stockpiles (one general usage and one for the carpenter’s creations) but villagers still tend to dump resources wherever they feel like. Creating beds so they don’t have to sleep in the dirt is a nice thing to do, but they only randomly take advantage of them so it’s not particularly useful. Updates are planned to come thick and fast, so these issues should be addressed while more features get piled on, but right now it’s more an idea of Stonehearth than functioning game.
It is, however, a really good idea. The UI design is big and friendly, and feels nice to use. The villagers and their blocky world are incredibly cute, loaded with charm and fun to experiment with. While it may be little more than basic scaffolding for future development, the alpha left me wanting to play more with the world and its inhabitants and looking forward to seeing Stonehearth grow into the game its roadmap promises it will become.