I followed this ox around in Manor Lords for a day to see what wisdom it could teach me

While playing Manor Lords for review, I kept making mental notes to spend time watching the individual routes its villagers and beasts take each day. It’s one of those interestingly granular games that actually becomes more so by remaining a bit mysterious in ways I’m sure will annoy some, so I reasoned some people-watching would be illuminating. And by people, I mean oxen.

I guarantee that, unless Alice Bee edits this article with laser-like precision, there will be at least one instance of me writing ox as ‘Ox’ like it’s a proper noun. This is because I have a childish brain that defaults to “Ox big, Ox important” when I’m not paying attention. However, I will defend this instinct by reminding you that oxen are big and, in Manor Lords at least, very important. Say hello to Thomas.

Image credit: Slavic Magic

Thomas is what the game named this ox. It suits him well. His central personality trait is that he snorts a lot. His guide is an idiot that keeps shouting “come on lad” or “come along laddie” at him, even when Thomas is making perfect pacing. I had originally planned to follow this man around for the day, but I was already bored of his noises. I made a mental note to load up this save whenever the game adds privy cleaning jobs, and sat back to watch Tom the ox do his thing, hoping to perhaps learn something about myself along the way.

The sun shines, and Tom trundles along. Occasionally the music stops, and the ambient sound of the village reveals its multilayered scope; shrill and curious children or baritone adults rising above the din of chatter, tools, and carts dragging along dirt roads. Sometimes, Thomas and his guide teleport through a fence. I do not blame the game for this. No one but an idiot writer with a ravenous content cycle to appease would spent this long zoomed in this close. Sometimes they teleport through houses, though. Someone might actually want to get that looked at. Or, even better, add ox-based destruction as a hazard mechanic. Maybe they could get pissed on fermented apples like those deer do.

Soon, Tom gets led to a trading post. A new guide, Grethlein, parks her ox, Jacob, and takes Thomas with her. Thomas changes his status to ‘gathering’, and the pair walk off to the woods to gather some timber. Amazingly, this does actually teach me something I didn’t know. It turns out your woodcutters don’t take all the timber they cut down with them, that’s a separate task for a separate family guiding a separate ox. As I said, granular.

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While they hoof the timber, I thought it would be nice to revisit a hallowed RPS tradition that hasn’t seen the light of day recently. I am, of course, referring to OxFacts™

Oxen typically live between 18 and 22 years, can travel up to 16 mph, and can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, which is the equivalent of 75,000 floppy disks, or over 36,000 Kit Kat Chunkys.

The predators that most threaten oxen are bears and wolves. I’m no expert, but I feel an ox might be able to take a bear in the right circumstances. Say, with a decent run up? Any veterans of the great ox/bear wars, feel free to chime in below.

Ox feature prominently in the strategy game ‘Manor Lords’

Right, that’s your lot for today. Back to work.

Little clouds of dirt poof up as the log drags along the ground. You didn’t have to add those, Greg Manorlords, but I see and appreciate them. After a while, very sad music begins to play. Haunting vocals. Ethereal, somber strings. I’m starting to think Tom deserves a nice rest and a biscuit. Unfortunately it’s the 14th century and no-one yet knows how get chocolate to stick to Hobnobs, so he’ll have to have hay and superstition juice. Say what you want about this diet, but it does appear to be giving Tom some pleasingly shiny textures and defined muscles. Like the dirt poof effects, the model work here is much, much nicer than it probably needed to be.

Image credit: Slavic Magic

Look at how many oxen are in this picture. As yet, I’ve not seen but a single ox clipping incident. This tells me that, on some level, the oxen are aware of each other. They’re code mates! Lovely. I just watched two horses clip through each other earlier, but the oxen – a superior life form – do not. I think this is something to do with them being named entities, while e.g unnamed horses are treated like scenery. This is known as ‘putting respect on the oxen’s names’ in coding terms, I believe.

Another observation: villagers carrying hand carts and oxen traveling in opposite directions will slow each other down as they try to navigate around one another. If you’re looking to completely optimise your village then, you might want to give some thought to a vast network of dirt roads that minimises such encounters. This does sound like a very boring way to spend time though, unlike ox watching.

Image credit: Slavic Magic

After delivering the log to the sawpit, Thomas goes to get that rest. I notice Jacob the ox behind him, also going to rest – so perhaps all the oxen rest at the same time of day? I looked everywhere for my third ox to verify but he’s hiding somewhere, perhaps off charging bears. It’s a fine, chill time for the oxen, but when Thomas arrives at his post, I notice something terrible. His status does not change to ‘resting’ but instead to ‘waiting’.

Has this ox been so indoctrinated by the puritan work ethic that he no longer perceives leisure time, only time in which work must either be performed or anticipated? His deep, sad eyes say more than words ever could, which is handy for me, because he can’t speak. And this, I believe, is the true ox wisdom of Manor Lords: Do not simply wait for toil to roll back around. Instead, live free as a logless ox. Bless you, Thomas. Bless your cotton ox socks.

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