Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Numantian Games
Publisher: Numantian Games
I don’t often cover titles in Early Access, but the simple fact is that these games, which are still in development, are asking for customers money, and thus it might be worth covering at least some of them. Numantian Games latest effort has gotten itself a pretty big following so far, so let’s take a look at it.
They Are Billions takes a few things and mashes them together, fusing a rather pretty steampunk aesthetic with RTS mechanics and then mixing in masses of rotting zombies for good measure. There’s nothing particularly new under the hood of this Early Access hit, but so far its RTS mechanics and tower-defense vibe have been executed very well.
Right now there is a single mode to enjoy named Survival which tasks you with a seemingly simple task; survive until a certain number of days against a series of increasingly large and increasingly tough zombie hordes. There are five maps and you won’t unlock the next one until you earn enough points which you can only do by having the difficulty high enough.
Even on the harder settings your initial foray into the map will paint a peaceful picture. There are a few roving zombies that could potentially cause a problem if they invade one of your buildings since they’ll quickly begin turning your population into undead, but it’s nothing your starting group of Rangers can’t handle. It lulls you into a fall sense of security, and then before you know it the first major zombie herd is incoming, their progress shown by a skull drifting slowly across the minimap. Depending on the difficulty you could be facing down thousands of undead banging on your meager wooden palisades.
To get started, then, you’ll do some pretty standard resource collection in order to pop down some basic hovels before moving on to food. A sawmill will be an important first step so you can begin putting up walls to keep out zombies. This is where the randomly generated nature of the maps comes into play as the environment will create natural choke points as well as pockets of resources you’ll want to grab, driving your expansion plans in the future.
It’s a simple but satisfying loop; you build your defenses and then grow your settlement in order to get better technology to hold off the growingly dangerous zombie hordes, but eventually you run out of space and thus expand your borders, repeating the building of defenses and settlement growing, and then expand again when there’s nowhere left to squeeze in a house.
But let’s talk details. Every settlement needs the basics to get going, with houses supplying workers, hunting lodges and fishing cabins providing the food needed to keep everyone going and mills generating power. From there your needs will get more complicated. You need power to build more houses, and you need houses to supply the workers to get the power. You need food for them, too, but to expand you need to use Tesla Coils to carry power further afield. Defenses will need wood which means more people to run the sawmills, but those defenses will need manned which means even more people to feed your military. Which means more power and more food. No matter how many zombies attack or how big your settlement is everything comes back to balancing these core things; power, food, people.
The game’s technological path does a good job of pushing your need for expansion. Before long you’ll be researching stone buildings and farms, so you’ll naturally find yourself eyeing up a few extra patches of stone outside of your current walls where a quarry could really help you build up those walls and towers. Then you’ll start moving into iron and even oil production, again pushing you to spread your settlement out further, filling the new space with more houses, more farms, more sawmills, more power plants. Just more of everything.
In reality, though, the game is just making your almost demise all the more painful, because it only needs a single zombie to slyly amble through your defenses to ruin everything as it’s capable of rapidly turning your city into an undead playground. It’s a challenging game, and while you can turn the difficulty down in order to get to grips with some of the mechanics I highly suggest you don’t because a massive part of the joy of They Are Billions are the crushing defeats. Yes, it can be frustrating to lose a match after several hours due to a tiny slip up, and the game’s default save system will always put you back at the exact time of the screw up so that you can’t fix your mist, but this learning process is very, very satisfying.
When it comes to building your defenses the choices aren’t huge, but it’s enough to let you devise an effective way of dealing with the zombies. Walls are obviously your starting point along with gates that are especially useful for creating a multi-layered defense system, something you’ll need to think about when the big hordes might be able to break through your frontlines. Towers can house the few troop types you have, giving them more range to deal with the horde, while stuff like ballistas and electric towers provide some heavier firepower that you’ll need later on when some of the new zombie types begin to turn up.
The current roadmap for They Are Billions includes a singleplayer campaign and expanded selection of units and buildings, and that ultimately only leaves one question; repetition. By its nature, this is a fairly repetitive game and it remains to be seen whether the developers will be able to find ways to shake things up, after all, unlike a normal RTS your enemy only really has a single plan; shamble forwards. As for your own strategy, the nature of the game rewards efficiency above all else, and while that’s fine it does sometimes make each match feel much like another, although the randomized terrain helps with this. Presumably, as development continues we’ll see more types of zombie, more units and buildings and so on to help combat this, but I do wonder if we perhaps need some form of player vs player mode where you have to battle each other while also contending with the standard zombie hordes.
There are also the expected issues that need to be ironed out, like how soldiers will merrily detour outside of the safety of the walls to get somewhere, leaving you to herd them along so that they get there safely. As for your villagers, they are outside of your control and seem to have a deathwish as they’ll happily amble around while a horde of zombies munch on a nearby friend’s brains. There are also some hefty difficulty spikes that might leave some folk wanting to punch the closest person or object.
So, this brings us to the tricky question of whether or not it’s worth sinking some cash into They Are Billions at this early stage. Early Access is always a risky proposition, but from what I’ve experienced I think They Are Billions is a fairly safe bet, as its core gameplay is already quite strong and the promise of even more development prior to a full release this year is encouraging. If the singleplayer turns out to be good as well then we’ll have a superb little package on our hands.
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