You are Arthur, the son of a legendary blacksmith. As the Hundred Years’ War rages around you, it is your job to restore your father’s forge and stall, complete orders for your friends and neighbors, make important decisions that will affect the very outcome of the war itself, and possibly even win the heart of your dream girl. Will you toil alone, or build up an army of apprentices and workers to serve you? Will you side with England or France, or reject either to throw your lot in with the local bandits? The choice is yours in Anvil Saga, a management simulator with RPG elements from Pirozhok and HeroCraft.
The gameplay loop of Anvil Saga is simple but downright addictive. Every day, Arthur and his hired workers open the stall, smelt ore into ingots, and use those ingots to fulfill locals’ orders for metal products ranging from locks and chains to breastplates, helmets, and swords. Players can use their earned coin to expand the smithy, adding mine shafts for harvesting ore, kitchens and bedrooms for keeping workers happy, and training rooms and libraries to expand their knowledge and skills.
Anvil Saga offers a choice between Story Mode, a campaign where Arthur will regularly have to make important decisions that affect his reputation and future, and Sandbox Mode, a low-pressure creative gameplay style that allows players to focus on earning money and expanding and decorating the smithy with the story choices and faction points removed. I think the inclusion of both modes is an excellent choice, as Sandbox allows players to explore more extensive (and expensive) upgrades that may take seasons to earn in Story Mode due to factors such as land tax and the smithy’s constantly fluctuating fame level.
However, Anvil Saga’s campaign mode is definitely worth experiencing – the story is extremely rich and nuanced, with multiple paths and outcomes based on which faction Arthur chooses to throw his lot in with. It is a game that definitely encourages multiple playthroughs, as an England loyalist Arthur will have a very different experience compared to one who embraces France or builds his relationships with the local bandits. Side characters are well-developed – Arthur’s love interest is more than just a pretty face, but a dedicated humanitarian who will do anything to help the peasantry despite her father’s money-grubbing ways (although Jean-Jacques, Arthur’s rival smith, is a fairly one-dimensional pathetic snob – but that’s what makes him so fun to encounter and extremely satisfying to defeat).
Anvil Saga features an adorable retro pixel art style that makes the game fun to experience, even during those stretches of time when players are merely sitting back and watching their workers work. NPCs who come to visit have unique designs and fun snippets of dialogue that give hints about what is going on in the larger world outside of Arthur’s smithy. The background behind the smithy is constantly animated, with carts passing, soldiers marching, and villagers setting up campfires and cooking around them. I especially liked it when a religious festival occurred during the first Summer of my campaign mode, and visitors to the smithy wore a variety of flower crowns, animal masks, and other colorful accessories.
My only issue with Story Mode – and it is a very minor one – is that it can be quite difficult to build up a reserve of coin necessary to expand the stall and smithy, especially during the early days of the campaign. Because Arthur lives in a poor village, his clients are rarely able to pay much, and some even need to take out loans that they may or may not repay at a later date. This can lead to the pacing of the campaign feeling a bit awkward at first, as it can take a long time to earn enough money or purchase enough upgrades to reach the major plot milestone. However, again, this is ultimately a minor complaint, because events do happen regularly and there are plenty of side quests between the main plot chapters – in my Story Mode, I agreed to have Arthur make gilded iron flatware for a mysterious Count who had a strange allergy to silver, long sharp fangs, and the apparent ability to turn into a bat!
Currently, Anvil Saga is in early access on Steam, so it is not without a handful of minor bugs, primarily cosmetic in nature. During Story Mode, I encountered a bug where the Count would not leave between orders, but instead stand permanently outside my smithy even when he had no orders for me to complete. However, the developers are actively engaged in fixing bugs and have already released several patches and updates just in the few days since the game released. Ultimately, the remaining bugs are minor and the developers are committed to fixing them as they appear, so it is not something that would make me deduct majorly from Anvil Saga’s overall score.
Anvil Saga is an extremely fun and easy to play game with a compelling story, colorful art style, and choice-focused branching paths that encourage multiple playthroughs. Fans of both management sims and RPGs will enjoy this historical fantasy story of a humble smith and his journey to success, renown, and true love.
Kate reviewed Anvil Saga on PC with a provided review code.