Quick Look – Before We Leave (#JustOnePercent 36/100)

Developer: Balancing Monkey Games
Release Date: May 13, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

I had been following the development of Before We Leave long before its release. I picked it up during the Steam Summer Sale last year, and, as I have a tendency to do, immediately forgot I purchased it. When one’s library gets to a certain size, it’s a thing that happens.

The appeal, at least for me, was this was a combat-free city builder. It’s a genre I really love; I like building and researching and managing production chains, but most of these types of games end up leading to periods of conflict, and I find the combat in them to run the gamut from tedious to game-ending. There are plenty of games out there that I’m sure do combat in this genre brilliantly, it’s just not why I play this type of game.

At first glance, Before We Leave might appear to be a medieval city builder, but it’s actually post-apocalyptic, and there are remnants of a former civilization scattered about. As you progress through the tech tree, you’ll be able to gather resources to make repairs to the things that were left behind and use them yourself. The initial tutorial island guides you through what you need to research in order to be able to repair a nearby ship, which will enable you to strike out for other islands, with different biomes and resources and artifacts.

The first couple of hours in most city building games are usually just spent learning the systems and information available to you, and that’s also true here. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I also feel like it does most things in a manner similar to most games in the genre. You’re learning the details, not the concept.

I think this would be a game I would really love, except for one thing: roads. The game uses hex grids and the maps are fairly small, so roads feel like they take up a lot of usable space. If it were just about movement penalties (or not getting movement bonuses), it might not be so bad, but pretty much everything in the game needs to be connected to a road. When you consider there’s also things like forest titles (which are your renewable source of wood), and biomes where crops can only be grown in a few places, it doesn’t take long to start resenting every inch of space that roads are taking up.

Outside of that one gripe (which I’m sure I would learn how to manage better with time), I found myself really liking just about everything else about the game. The art style is charming, and the music is good overall (although it started out with a track that was less music and more people mumbling which I could have done without). The tech tree makes as much logical sense as tech trees ever do, and the idea of giving buildings bonuses based on what they are next to seems like it will add a great additional layer of strategy.

I also really appreciate the range of playstyle options available. When you create a new game, you have quite a few settings you can tweak to your liking. If you’re looking for more challenge, you can decrease the number of resources available, or increase the rate of pollution or building costs. If you just want to chill out and watch your citizens work and explore, you can make that happen. There are also a handful of challenge-style scenarios, recommended only for players who’ve become familiar with the game, but they’re not locked behind anything, so you can even start there if you’re so inclined.

Pacifist city builders might be a bit of a niche genre, but SteamDB estimates that Before We Leave has sold between 20,900 and 57,500 copies on Steam. It was also part of the February 2022 Humble Choice, and it is ranked 2474 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

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