Manor Lords review: "Brimming with the potential to exceed its already broad horizons"

Manor Lords review
(Image: © Hooded Horse)

Early Verdict

Manor Lords enters Early Access as one of the most impressive, ambitious city builders yet. Dynamic management systems provide in-depth control over everything from the largest structures to the minutiae of sheep farming, all before you engage with the game's RTS combat elements. While some of these systems could use clarification, Manor Lords readily rewards curiosity, challenges creativity, and hints at the boldness of mechanics still to come.


  • +

    Granular management systems reflect style and theme

  • +

    Realistic impact of seasons and weather

  • +

    Highly-customizable gameplay scenarios


  • -

    RTS combat can feel unclear and less integral

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There is something about Manor Lords that feels both baffling and patient at the same time. Do I want to create a custom setting, ascribing my own winning conditions, bandit raid frequencies, starting supplies, and more? Or do I want to simply click one of three set gameplay scenarios and run with it? Either way, I get to design my own lordly coat of arms and live out the most lavish of land baron fantasies.


Early Access release date: April 26, 2024
Platform(s): PC
Developer: Slavic Magic
Publisher: Hooded Horse

Except, no I don't – not immediately, anyway. This is a city builder that leans into the realism factor, with weather patterns, seasonality, and total headcount dictating the speed at which my townships either thrive or falter. Starting out with a trio of tents is a humbling experience, but it speaks to the sense of size, scale, and untapped growth potential that Manor Lords kindles so brilliantly as it enters Early Access.

Training grounds 

Manor Lords Early Access building

(Image credit: Hooded Horse)

In my initial Manor Lords hands-on impressions, I described the solodev project as "Ye Olde Sim City with battle tactics". But after spending more time with the game, it's clear that there's a lot more to Slavic Magic's medieval city builder than constructing clay-thatched towers to defend.

As it stands in Early Access, Manor Lords already facilitates your every creative whim while leaving room for new ones. Its gridless building system provides the perfect landscape for experimentation, even for a Sims 4 fanatic like myself who found the concept of unrestricted build potential almost overwhelming at first. Instead of having a shell to fill out, spoon-fed suggestions of where and when to place various structures, Manor Lords trusts the player to decide the shape and feel of the world around them and eventually learn from these choices.

The depth of urban planning only deepens the immersive experience of Manor Lords as, slowly but steadily, your budding township accrues higher settlement ranks and attracts more villagers to move there. These settlers aren't silent as they go about their work; zooming in from an isometric viewpoint allows you to hear their clamoring for yourself, chatting away to each other in legible English while going about their everyday pastoral lives. You can even opt to stroll about your village from ground-level as a visiting noble, controlling an avatar like you might in a third-person action game, thanks to the promising Visit tool currently in development.

Manor Lords

(Image credit: Hooded Horse)

This feeling of creating a thriving world is reinforced even by Manor Lords' most rudimentary mechanics. More villagers means more spare hands to actually build your structures, so the task of assigning and un-assigning jobs to your townspeople is an ongoing matter of strategy. Seasonality further complicates things – having an apt supply of firewood, coal, and food to get through a harsh winter is paramount, so your farmers are best reassigned to timber gathering or woodcutting while their fields are in fallow. 

Harvestable resources are replenished at certain times of year, and it's possible to hunt animals to extinction if you don't set a population limit. Want to establish a trade route? Go for it, but be prepared for it to take a great many in-game days for your tradesmen to make the return trip via ox or horse. Manor Lords succeeds in helping players build a world that responds authentically to the choices made– and that applies to the rule of war.

Warring pieces 

Manor Lords Early Access

(Image credit: Hooded Horse)

Manor Lords succeeds in helping players build a world that responds authentically.

One Manor Lords mechanic I find especially interesting, even at an unfinished stage in Early Access, is the ability to correspond with neighboring lords and bandits. Selecting a paragraph of text to draft into a letter can spell the difference between neutral inter-region relations – perhaps someday, amicable ones? – or igniting a hostile feud. This is where Manor Lords' smart straddling of the city builder and RTS genres comes into play. 

The combat elements can feel very much second-fiddle to the broader nature of Manor Lords as a finely-detailed city builder-slash-management sim, as when an on-screen timer appeared to warn me of an oncoming attack after accidentally angering a nearby lord, I started to panic. I found the militia-building mechanics tough to grasp at first, especially when my village had neither the manpower for its own militia nor the regional funds available to pay mercenaries. I hadn't even thought about building a smithy yet, and with only a few spears to my name, I was left confused about how I was going to get myself out of the situation. 

Manor Lords

(Image credit: Hooded Horse)

This is partly due to the lack of baked-in combat tutorials in Manor Lords, leaving me to scour all my construction and management tools for the quickest fix (hint: there isn't one). I still don't fully understand how I managed to conquer my first few battles, as the RTS combat elements themselves feel almost deceptively simple: you rally troops in a specific location, command them to either hold ground, press forward, or flee, and start praying. Compared to the density of its city builder mechanics, the RTS elements can feel like a functional, albeit well-intended, afterthought. Combat doesn't feel bad, but rather fairly rudimentary in its current state  – which makes sense, since the game is very much still a work-in-progress.

I have hopes that progress, it shall. Manor Lords doesn't make any promises outright, but it's clearly brimming with the potential to exceed its already broad horizons. It's a winner for any ardent fan of the best city builders, creatively reworking the genre to suit its period-relevant management systems, and makes a strong case for its real-time combat to catch up in the near future. All of this coming from a solo developer is nothing short of wildly impressive, making Manor Lords a testament to an ongoing job well-done that still feels brilliant to play in Early Access.


Manor Lords was reviewed on PC, with a code provided by the publisher. 

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.