Note: This review is based on the state of the game in version 42.4. Saelig is early access and still in active development.
Have you ever tried looking for an oddly specific game? Or played a game that’s almost the perfect game, but not quite? I’m sure it has happened to many people over the years. In my case, I’d been looking for something like a mix of Banished, The Sims, Medieval Dynasty, and The Guild. I hadn’t had a lot of luck finding it until I ran across Saelig. I would probably describe it as a business management game with a generous dusting of role playing and sandbox elements, all set in the medieval era. To my knowledge this a somewhat niche mix of genres. It most likely isn't for everyone, but if the description sounds intriguing it is definitely worth trying out.
Saelig, also stylized SÆLIG, drops you into the shoes of a person in late 9th century England and lets you create your own story. You can spend your days chopping wood in the forest, mining gold or silver, growing various fruits and vegetables, baking bread, fishing, hunting, and much more. If work isn’t something you want to do, feel free to stand outside of the alehouse and beg for coins. You won’t get rich that way, but you’ll stay alive. If the criminal life is calling you, it is possible to pickpocket villagers in the market or even start your own gang to pillage and burn the surrounding countryside. Just make sure you don’t get caught and thrown into the pit to rot! You can join the church and become an abbot, or rise to a powerful position in your community government. Look for a wife or husband, have children to leave your goods to, and pretty much just live your own life. Be warned though, there have been rumors of small groups of raiders known as Vikings landing in the surrounding area. You’ll want to choose where you live carefully, or be prepared to defend yourself.
It looks quite cold! Best head to the market to buy a coat.
There are several different ways to start. Your character can start as anything from a beggar with nothing but a handful of coins to a fairly rich person with a randomly selected business and a house right from the beginning. In the long run you’ll almost always end up wealthy if you try, but the fun is in the journey. I would definitely recommend playing through the tutorial before you begin, it can help a bit with the initial learning curve. Also, don't be afraid to start over after a few hours on your first save. You can view your first character as a trial run, and you should have a fairly good idea of how the game works and what you enjoy doing by that point.
My first character, Sherlyn Traynor, moved into the town of Ashbury (population 49) in the year 880AD. He had just purchased a small house in the center of town, right next to the alehouse. During a tour of the town he decided to purchase the fishing dock at the edge of town. After a few days of fishing and gathering pearls, Sherlyn had decided to hire someone to help out. The next day, Sherlyn noticed someone fishing from the beach a little way from the dock. He learned that the fisherman’s name was Leowahl, and offered him a job. Leowahl accepted and immediately started working. The money began flowing in more quickly, making some improvements possible.
A year or so layer, Sherlyn was standing outside his house as one of the town guard was heading home from work. Her name was Edith, and she and Sherlyn chatted for a few minutes before he went to work. The town had grown since he had moved in, but it was still small enough that you met people on a regular basis. They ran into each other while buying produce at the market and again at church. They began talking regularly, and Sherlyn was soon spending all of his profits on fixing up his house. Not long afterward they were married, and in the coming years they would go on to have four children. Two of them would go to work at a mine that Sherlyn had purchased, and the other two would go on to be woodcutters. Sherlyn still fished quite a bit, but he also began doing a bit of hunting and farming on the side. He and Edith both lived to their elder years before passing on, and Leowahl continued working for them until then.
Skills are improved by using them, so practice is important.
It is possible to continue playing as your heir, but that was the point that I decided to start a new character with what I had learned so far. I’ve gone on to play many characters and all of the maps since then. To this point one of my favorite gameplay loops is starting as a farmer, eventually acquiring a flour mill and then a bakehouse. I also enjoy working as a trader, traveling between towns and finding cheap products to hopefully sell at a profit. Hunting can be enjoyable once you get enough archery practice, and can also be fairly profitable. I find that the game is most enjoyable when you’re more focused on the role play rather than profit though, so I enjoy trying new things.
The game animals available to hunt.
In my opinion the developer has done a very good job of creating a living world. People are born and die, have children, get jobs, move to other towns, build buildings, and run businesses all without any player interaction. Buildings require wood to be built, and the in game woodcutters are the only means of producing it. Every person needs a set amount of food to live each day, which they will need to either forage or buy. They will even adopt pets which then follow them around wherever they go! It really sells the fact that your character is just one more person trying to live in the world. Another good example of this is employment. If you don’t want to own a business, you can get a job at most of the establishments in the game. You’ll need to be quick though. The job openings are limited by the number of businesses that have been built, and all of your unemployed neighbors also need jobs!
The pets I've found so far. Needs more cats!
There are currently 13 unique businesses that you can purchase or build in the game, and most can be upgraded to provide more services or hire more workers. Some of them, like the farm or mine, only need a few laborers to create a salable product. Others, like the bakehouse and workshop, need to have a steady supply of raw materials flowing in from markets and other businesses to produce a profit. By owning all of the buildings in the supply chain you can be sure to have a steady flow of raw materials moving in, as well as a higher profit margin!
The graphics and detail seem pretty good for a game like this. If you spend a lot of time in first person you’ll start noticing some things, like the limited number of face and clothing options available. There are also good things to notice as well! My character will often ride to other towns on a horse cart, and if you ride along in first person you’ll often see nice little touches like empty bottles and various things lying along the roads. Littering has always been a problem!
One of the many nice scenes you'll find while playing Saelig.
To somewhat summarize and also add to my ramblings, I've created a list of some of my favorite features:
- A Native Linux build! It's always great when a developer creates a game with a native port in mind.
- Large amount of player freedom. If you want to pick apples and forage produce for a living, it's completely possible. Maybe you prefer travelling between towns as a trader? Also an option!
- NPCs have the same capabilities as your character. Your character doesn't have any extra privileges or advantages other than being controlled by you. If you make your neighbors angry enough, they will most likely toss torches onto the roof of your house or steal items from your businesses.
- The living economy. It's always been immersion breaking for me when I walk into a secluded market and find limitless amounts of certain goods. Here you have to hurry to market as soon as someone brings in wood, because your neighbor also needs wood to build a barn!
- Enjoyable maps. I like the nice variety of towns and villages to live in, as well as some plots in the woods to build houses if you’d rather be a hermit.
A shed that caught fire late one evening. Notice the guy to the right? Pretty sure he did it.
So far I've mentioned mostly the good things, but there are a few things that I feel could be improved. As mentioned previously, the developer continues to add new features and fixes, so I expect that some of the things mentioned are designed as placeholders, and updates may be planned for future iterations.
- Social interactions. There are just a few options for chatting, asking questions, flirting, and angry dialog right now. You can also invite someone to go with you to the alehouse. Even though I know how difficult it is to make a complex dialog tree, I’m hoping we’ll have a few more options once the rest of the game is nailed down.
- Character customization. While I'm not normally very focused on the appearance of my characters in games, I do like doing a bit of basic customizing to start. So far there aren’t a lot of options as there are a total of 8 human models in the game. There are 4 male and 4 female, and each one has two preset options for hair color, hair style, and clothing. By extension, more npc faces and clothing options would be nice.
- Wiki access on the Linux version. Currently the wiki is only usable on the Windows version. I got around this by pulling the wiki up on a separate monitor, but it's nice to have it in game. If you run the Windows version through Proton it works fine.
- Endgame content. Right now profit starts to snowball once you reach a certain point, so it would be nice to have more options to slow your progress. This is listed on the development roadmap, so it is being worked on.
- Some improvements in the UI. While the user interface isn't bad, there were a few things that I ran into with some regularity. It would be a helpful at times to just right click on a building in your owned list and have a go to option for your character or, in the case of your house, a sleep option. Another thing that I bumped up against various times was the amount of time it takes to pan across the map. You can press the tab key to pull back and see the whole map, but you're unable to pick another area to zoom in and view. Both of those things have workarounds, but it's not quite as smooth.
A sample of the user interface.
This section is my personal wishlist of ideas that I would love to see added, but don’t really affect the current playability of the game.
- Very large maps or map switching. I'm sure this would cause performance issues, but very large maps would be great. It would give the ability to have individual regions for mining, farming, etc. This would then create a greater need for traders, which then increases the amount of bandits, then mercenaries and guards.
- Mod support. This is something that has been asked about before, and the developer has mentioned it as a possible addition once the game is complete. I could see modders jumping on a game like this and giving it almost infinite replayability.
- More playability in first person. I've spent a lot of time walking around in first person mode, unfortunately you can't really do much that way. For instance, you can walk to your favorite foraging patch in first person but need to switch back when interacting with it. I know the game isn't really designed to work that way, but I enjoy spending time in that mode!
- Option to lock camera to a character in the birdseye view. It is possible to follow a character right now, but it moves to an over the shoulder view that doesn't allow you to see much else. I sometimes enjoy following characters around and watching what they like to do in games like the Sims, and this would make it easier.
Although Saelig is still considered early access on Steam, the developer has explained they kept the tag so people realize there are still major components that are being added. They have recently mentioned plans to exit early access within the next few updates, so some of those features may be coming soon. I don't remember running into many bugs while playing the latest version, it’s been an extremely stable experience to this point. The developer seems very open to feedback, and has implemented many features and changes that have been suggested over the years. On the Steam Early Access page they mention involving players as much as they can, and that appears to be happening.
It's a very picturesque game.
I did run into some minor performance issues while playing, mostly on the Steam Deck. It’s not unplayable by any stretch of the imagination, but worth mentioning.
On my primary computer I limited my FPS to 60 and it stays stable at that except for very minor stutters while zoomed out and panning around. I’m assuming at this point that it’s an optimization issue or a Unity engine issue as none of my components were being pushed. At times the framerate will drop down a few when in first person mode or down at ground level looking around. Other than that it ran well. For reference, the game was reviewed on a Ryzen 9 5900x, 32gb RAM, and a Radeon RX 6800 XT at 3440x1440.
The game runs reasonably well on the Steam Deck overall, even though it doesn't have controller support. It doesn't have a rating from Steam at this point, but I would consider it playable. During normal gameplay there are some noticeable stutters when panning quickly around the map, but otherwise it runs at a fairly stable 40 fps using the very good preset. However, the frame rate drops to 30-35 fps anytime you go into first person mode or look up at the sky or trees. Lowering the graphics preset didn't seem to do a lot to improve it, but it was still playable. It could be a limit of the Unity engine, as my main computer was also getting a lower framerate in the same situation. Battery life was around 1hr 45m on very good. There are no Deck control layouts for the game yet, but I used the keyboard and mouse preset as a base and have been gradually adjusting it to my liking. I also increased the UI size to make things easier as well.
Overall I think this is a great game as it is, and the high likelihood of getting a good bit more content added for free in the future is an added bonus. The dev has been releasing fairly regular updates since 2017, and seems to be willing to keep going. I paid full price for it when I got it, and going by the somewhat flawed $1 per hour value metric I've gotten my money's worth several times over.
Saelig is available for Linux on:
DRM Free on Itch.io