The Wandering Village: A Nailbiting Romp Through the Apocalypse

The Wandering Village drew me in with its enchanting premise. In a dying world, a mythical creature, Onbu, serves as your mobile village. One part dinosaur and one part prehistoric elemental god, Onbu is your last vestige of safety in an apocalyptic world. 

This game has a lot to draw you in. To start, the art style is whimsical and enchanting. What’s more, building a village while taking care of Onbu and choosing the paths to take is a genuinely enthralling concept. From the brief experiences with gameplay I had before purchasing the game, I thought I was in for a relaxing time where I could build a city and hang out with my new cute mythical friend. I was wrong.

The Wandering Village is not a relaxing game. Instead, it is a gripping experience that will have you grinning from ear to ear. This game has a lot to love, but you might just be in for a very different experience than you expect.

An image of a village.

It Takes a Village

The Wandering Village is a city builder at heart. When the game starts, you’ll be responsible for setting up houses, harvesting resources, and making buildings that produce, refine, or store different resources. As the game progresses, you’ll research new buildings and technologies to make your city better.

Players start with a number of villagers who will need to be appeased. The Wandering Village has a system that tells you if any are sick, starving, or homeless. Over the course of your journey, you may even find other groups of villagers who want to join your village. The villagers may be sick or starving, but these offers are usually very tempting as they are the only way to increase your villager count.

The game’s research mechanic is one of the best tools you’ll have at your disposal in The Wandering Village. These unlocks will allow you to survive different biomes, create different technologies that make your buildings better, and even ways to interact with the world and impact your gameplay.

An image of the map system.

Not the Destination But the Journey

The literal name of the game is The “Wandering” Village. Since you are on a moving, living city, Onbu will pass through different biomes. Each biome has different challenges that will have you scrambling to adapt. 

Every biome comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Entering a desert biome will deprive you of many basic food sources, but you will be safe from the sickness ravaging the world. On the other hand, entering a jungle biome will allow you to survive with the most basic starting buildings. But sickness spreads rapidly in Jungle Biomes. This environment forces you to create cures for your people and for Onbu.

Not only does your voyage make the game harder and keep it from getting stale, but it also emphasizes your bond with Onbu. You’ll see upcoming biomes and forks in the path on your map. However, if you don’t have an Onbu hornblower built, you won’t be able to choose which path you take. Choosing your path can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, so it’s always a rush when you get the notification that Onbu accepted your direction.

Fostering your bond with Onbu is a critical and exciting experience. You can research new technologies to feed Onbu, pet Onbu, and help Onbu survive. Onbu is incredibly charming and the game has a whole game view with very little mechanical use other than to look at your adorable friend stamping through the wasteland.

An image of Onbu sleeping. He's so cute!

The Final Destination

I mentioned that this game is stressful. All the beauty and charm of The Wandering Village can distract you from the fact that Onbu can die. Your job as the player is to keep both the villagers and Onbu alive, happy, and healthy. This is a tall order.

In fact, keeping your villagers and Onbu alive is such a tall order that you’re not expected to be able to meet it. The game expects you to die. There is no good ending where you travel far enough and find a safe harbor. A game of The Wandering Village ends either when you have no villagers left or when Onbu dies.

The Wandering Village combines a familiar village builder with the charm and aesthetic of a new pet who just wants to be your friend. Then, it tells you that either you or your new friend is going to die and makes you play through the experience. I did not find this relaxing. But I did find it compelling.

A journey through The Wandering Village makes you attached to Onbu. Additionally, it can be stressful to play a game where Onbu is in constant jeopardy. In my main playthrough, I paused constantly, fought analysis paralysis, and treated every problem like a world-ending threat.

The constant hazards to Onbu and the Villager’s safety might not make the game relaxing, but they do make it gripping. I shouted and cheered when Onbu listened to commands and avoided hostile environments. I was on the edge of my seat when Onbu narrowly avoided two different storms by sheer luck. Each would have ended the run if they hit. I mourned when everything finally came apart, and Onbu perished.

This experience is not for everyone. But if you’re in the mood for a story told during the end of the world where the goal is to defy death for as long as possible, then this game is for you.

An image of the game's difficulty settings screen.

Hard Mode

If you like what this game has to offer and want to make things harder, The Wandering Village has you covered. There are two different ways to increase the game’s difficulty. The first way is to set the game to Veteran difficulty. This generally makes the game harder. The second way is to engage in the game’s hostility modifier system. Here, you’ll choose from a list of handicaps that make the game harder. You can choose modifiers that have you start without basic resources, like berries or trees, or modifiers that change how Onbu behaves, or how tired Onbu gets.

I talked with the friend who introduced me to this game about how stressful I found it, and my friend wanted me to see this game at its most stressful. They suggested we try a game on Veteran difficulty with as many handicaps as the game would allow and play for as long as we could. So we did. It was more stressful. But it was also the most fun I’ve had with the game so far.

In the few hours I spent with my friend on the hardest setting we could manage, we had a great time. I found if you treat each obstacle you encounter as a series of problems to solve, you can survive for much longer than you have any right to. We survived a famine that took all but one villager, managed to survive with only five villagers for weeks in game, and saved Onbu from starving at 1 HP… before ultimately losing Onbu not much later.

Hard mode is not for everyone. Pessimism would have caused us to lose the game much sooner than we did. However, it’s not over till it’s over. The harder difficulties of The Wandering Village are at their best when you don’t give up until everything falls apart. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, then give it a try.

An image of the Onbu tab in the Research menu.

The Paths Not Taken

There is still more for me to see in The Wandering Village and more to come in general. The Wandering Village is still in early access, and new features are still being added. I joined right after an update that added pests as a hazard for Onbu. The friend who introduced me to this game started playing before several of the new biomes were added. There will be more to come and more to delight you.

There are a few things in particular I wanted to shout out that I haven’t managed to explore yet, but am eager to try. First, you can start a cult. The research tab for Onbu has a branching path that can allow you to feed villagers to Onbu and even begin to worship it as a god. This research tree seems like a load of fun, perfectly in line with a dystopian setting, and I can’t wait to try it out.

There is also a more dubious skill tree that my friend and I just haven’t had the heart to try. It involves building structures to harvest Onbu’s body for raw materials, such as blood. These resources can be used for other buildings, but I could never bring myself to research them. Eventually, I may try a mad scientist run and explore this research tree, but for now, I simply couldn’t force myself to harm my precious friend for the survival of my villagers.

Bon Voyage

The Wandering Village may not be the relaxing jaunt through the wilderness I thought it was, but I still recommend it. It’s a fresh take on a city builder that makes every day you survive in the game feel like a grand achievement. There is more to come for The Wandering Village, but now it’s time to start your own journey on Onbu’s back. Good luck, and have fun!

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