stonehearth.jpgStonehearth is a simulation game in the vein of Dwarf Fortress: the player starts with a double handful of workers, limited resources, and a procedurally generated environment. Armed with these, they must indirectly assign tasks for their minions to accomplish according to the minions' programming. Although Stonehearth doesn't currently have the depth and breadth of content that Dwarf Fortress does (it's in early access), it already has some neat features implemented such as The Sims-style building design capabilities and 3D graphics with full camera control. It's also already engaging enough to make writing this article difficult because I get sucked into the game every time I try to confirm some detail.

A game of Stonehearth begins with generating a world and allowing the player to choose a starting location in similar fashion to Dwarf Fortress. At first, all of the player's hearthlings, as they're called, are basic workers. These can be promoted to other jobs as long as the player has the required tools, a couple of which are included in the starting resources. There are also some advanced jobs that require the hearthling to have attained a certain level in a prerequisite job, though not all of the advanced jobs have been implemented yet.

Without having gotten very far into Dwarf Fortress (I can't get past the terrible interface), I can only compare the job system to Gnomoria's. Stonehearth doesn't allow for customization of the jobs and the tasks they'll perform like Gnomoria does. Tasks such as harvesting wild plants (including trees), building things, and carving tunnels and rooms out of hills all fall under the umbrella of basic worker tasks. The other jobs are production jobs such as farmers and trappers, crafting professions, and soldiering. It's pretty easy to figure out who will do what kinds of things, but it behooves the player not to promote everyone too fast. Not having enough basic workers slows things down.

Stonehearth allows the player to build into the hils and live as hobbits do, of course, but it also has a system for creating buildings. There are prefabs the player can use, but the prefabs in the game at this time use only basic materials and have basic furniture in them. The furniture can be upgraded later, but if the player wants to just create a building with the best of everything, they'll have to design their own. Creating custom buildings also allows for multi-story buildings in a range of visual styles, even with basic materials, and developer Radiant Entertainment is planning to add more customization features to the buildings.

stonehearth2.jpgThe developer has a detailed public roadmap indicating plans for things like co-op and PvP multiplayer, scenarios that will activate in response to player choices, and Mac and Linux versions of the game. It seems getting combat fully implemented is their primary focus at the moment, though Stonehearth already has combat in it. The game allows players to send groups to defend against incoming monsters, and in my game, some goblins have plopped down not far from me and keep demanding tribute. I have been meeting their demands thus far because I'm not sure I could win, but invading their mini-village with its treasure chest in the middle is pretty high on my list of priorities.

I don't think die-hard Dwarf Fortress fans who are in it for the complexity are going to be interested in Stonehearth, at least not yet. I've had the game completely crash on me once and had to reset the UI a few times, but even in its buggy state I find it hard to put down. It's neat to be able to zoom in and watch what's going on from the perspective of the hearthlings. I'm also excited by some of the plans the developers have for development.

stonehearth3.jpgIf Stonehearth sounds like something you're interested in, you should at least keep an eye on it. The current early access price is to be the final price of the game, and at $25 it's not something to get just yet unless you're okay with bugs or having your saved games reset when major updates happen. If you don't mind those things, though, it's already a fun way to spend your time and looks like it's only going to get better.