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Lakeburg Legacies review: what's love got to do with town management?

Not as much as the devs would like, to be honest

A match has been made in Lakeburg Legacies, represented by the image of two bearded men inside a crystal ball surrounded by pink clouds
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Ishtar Games

As a republican it pains me to suggest you install a castle and a royal family as soon as possible, because they're very useful, but in fariness to me that suggestion is only in the specific circumstance that you're playing Lakeburg Legacies. It's an almost experimental little town management game where you have no control over building placement, your citizens all look like they were made in Picrew, and love is a plentiful yet almost useless resource. I quite like it, but I wish I liked it more.

Your job is to maintain a stable, happy and healthy population in Lakeburg, an apparently benevolent force that adjusts the spread of the workforce, dictates new builds, and also tells people who they can and cannot shag. Lakeburg's expansion is fixed in a way that's initially similar to other town management games, in that to build the jewellers you have to first get enough girders, which are produced by the mine, but it's even more fixed than you might expect.

a zoomed out overview of the town in Lakeburg Legacies
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Ishtar Games

There are three tracks to build, divided as Primary Resources And Prestige (prestige is almost useless and you can ignore it) like a hunters tent, Transformed Resources like a butchers, and Various Effects, the 'stuff' folder of building tracks like a church or a hospital. You work you way down them to embiggen Lakeburg and provide fancier things for your people. I've made a joke but the resource system is nice and clear: if you're not making enough of something to meet demand, it has a red highlight.

When you do select something to build, you have no choice on where it goes - Lakeburg is a pre-designed place, and thank God because the townsfolk know just how to make it look pretty. I appreciated the reins being wrested from me in this regard, because I'm the sort of town planner whose choice result in something like Swindon's magic roundabout happening. It's something I'd like to see other management games experiment with in the future.

the different building tracks for resource buildings and so on in Lakeburg Legacies
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Ishtar Games

By offloading this particular aspect of the game, it frees up Lakeburg Legacies to pile on different complexities elsewhere. It likes to tell you your main job is matchmaking (we'll get to it), but in practise it's checking on how efficient your different resource buildings are at producing their various things, and shuffling around the workforce to balance those efficiencies. The residents will get extremely sad for every day they go without sufficient numbers of new socks from the tailors, but they also get sad if they're doing a job they don't like. As your town grows, some buildings that produce bad effects spontaneously pop up; you have to staff them to lessen the badness (shoving a rat trainer into a rat den to reduce the chance of disease), but anyone working in them gets double sad. So you open up new job openings, spend money on increasing efficiency, and try and match the right career to the right person.

A character's screen in Lakeburg Legacies, an older man with one eye, showing all his likes and dislikes, attributes and preferred job track
Family Ties
There are many things attached to people (like events that happen every so often giving them new traits like being frustrated or whatever) that I regretfully found I could basically ignore. The game also includes heritable attributes for children, for example, but it gets a bit dicey with some of the negative ones - like being genetically ugly or stupid. Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Ishtar Games

'Cos you know what else is more detailed in Lakeburg Legacies? The people themselves. Each is slightly RNG'd to have different traits, personalities and preferred skills, and unlike in e.g. a Pharaoh or a SimCity or a Settlers or really any of them, getting new citizens is a bespoke affair. Citizens live a long time and have kids slowly. Your main play to get new blood is by offering them money to move in, or by forcing them to fall in love with a current resident in a dating mini-game that you have to do each time, which becomes tedious. Successful couples generate Love, which you spend on flicking through medieval Tinder to find better matches, or forcing couples on the rocks to buy presents for each other.

But you quickly realise that it's much more beneficial to the town to have someone who is good at fishing as opposed to good at fishing and married, and the only real downside to a couple breaking up is that you have to build a new house for one of 'em. So you start trawling through prospective dates keeping a weather eye on their capabilities far more than their compatability with Simon Bighead, 24-year-old lumberjack. Your concern is much more that you need to increase productivity at the farm, but don't have the money to do it, godammit. Who cares if everyone has a love match?

The throne room in the castle in Lakeburg Legacies, showing the monarch, her consort and her heir
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Ishtar Games

Which is where the castle advice comes in, because Love is ten a penny, but money trickles in really slowly, and this effectively kneecaps your progress in the early game. Money is how you make your various resource buildings produce more and be less terrible places to work. Your cardinal currencies need rebalancing a bit, because you end up with an embarassment of the ones you never actually spend. You don't have a decent way of generating coins until you get a castle, because that's when you can raise taxes. It's for your own good, you fools! We live in a society! And it's one where I choose who you have children with based on my whims!

But my whims are entirely disinterested ones. The issue, I think, is that the relationship simulations don't really matter to the wider destiny of the town. Happy matches generate Love and babies, sure, but the Love economy is a closed loop that I can't use on improving the town itself. I've no motivation to care about the USP of this game. If someone splits up with their husband, I just generate them a new one and move them to work somehwere else. I really want to enjoy Lakeburg Legacies more than I do - it's pretty and has smart ideas! - but it's a game where I can effectively ignore some of the core parts of it.

Viewed from a certain angle, Lakeburg Legacies is a dystopian tale where the lives of the people of this small town are decided by a remote higher intelligence using algorithms and percentages, but one where the higher intelligence gets bored and hits ultra speed quite often until they have enough wood to build a hospital.

This review is based on a review build of the game provided by developers Ishtar Games.

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About the Author
Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.

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