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Impressions

Against The Storm Is A REALLY Good City-Builder

It is everything good about city-builders, and almost none of the bad

5:50 PM EST on November 29, 2023

Don't let its looks deceive you: Against the Storm--about to hit 1.0 after a period in Early Access--might look at first glance like some kind of off-brand League of Legends knockoff, it’s one of the best city-builders I have played in years.

Its hook is that it's a "roguelite city builder", and that is absolutely correct. This is a city-builder with a narrative premise that sees you based in a central city, one kept safe from a blight ravaging the world around you, and being tasked with venturing out into the wilderness to build settlements, extract resources and try to drive the blight back. I could drone on and on about how it all works, but why bother when this trailer does a much better job explaining it all than I ever could:

I don't know about you, but sometimes I play a good video game and just soak it up, like wow this is a good video game, then keep playing. Other times they are so good I have to stop, breathe out and simply admire the craft. This is definitely a case of the latter.

The small maps keep everything intimate, and force you to plan your settlements down to the last map square. The random resources and limited building selection constantly keep you on your toes as you progress, never allowing you to settle into a repeatable pattern for success. The way your population is divided among species, each with their own strengths and needs, is genius.

Every settlement is different, every run is different, and every time you play you're presented with fresh challenges that require unique solutions. There's even a central storyline and map screen acting as a hub, keeping tabs on your progress in a way that ties everything together, giving your repeated runs some kind of narrative context. I'm in awe at how perfect every single piece of design is here. These are all the hallmarks of a successful roguelite, sure, but they're especially welcome in this genre.

Against the Storm is everything good about city-builders, and almost none of the bad. It knows what we like--building the little paths, making those first planning decisions on some fresh grass, juggling supply and demand--but instead of dragging everything out across one huge city, it breaks the experience up into a succession of smaller maps, throwing them at you one after the other.

Its brilliance shines in the smallest and most seemingly inconsequential of places. Like, you have to build little huts for people gathering resources to bring those resources back to, so what do you do when that resource is exhausted? Well, many of Against The Storm's buildings of that type are actually wagons, and can simply be moved to wherever the next cache is. It's such a simple thing, and while this isn't the first game to try this, these kind of small, quality-of-life touches are everywhere, from the ease of surveying information to the snappiness of the building mechanics themselves. Every little thing about the game has been considered, honed and crafted, and I really appreciate that; my playthroughs are frictionless, something I can't say about many other strategy and management games these days.

And what a time for it to arrive! Those into the city-building genre would have had most of their hopes for the year pinned on Cities: Skylines 2, a game which promised so much only to prove a crushing disappointment. To get something this good so soon after, and so unexpectedly, makes this the winner of both my "City Builder Of The Year Award" and my "Pleasant Surprise Of The Year Award", both of which are being presented to Against The Storm by me, right now, no Geoff Keighley required.

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