Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of hours lost in city building games – I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say it’s one of my favorite genres, and I’m glad to see it getting a bit of a resurgence. However, I am quite particular when it comes to city builders. I don’t like too much conflict – I’m interested in supply chains, not building armies. However, I’m also not a huge fan of when they lean too far in the other direction – there has to be some sort of problem to overcome, otherwise you’re just playing an economic sim or managing infrastructure.
Although I was a bit apprehensive when I saw it was being marketed as a roguelite, which is a term that’s starting to mean less and less the more people slap it on random games. However, Against the Storm plays exactly how I would expect, given the roguelite label, and the randomness as well as the brevity of the scenarios make it impossible to optimize your way out of all the fun.
The Scorched Queen has enlisted you to explore the lands surrounding the Smoldering City, and to brave the Blightstorms to fill orders for much needed resources. In doing so, you must balance the needs of your townsfolk with the requests from the city, as well as manage the hostility of the forest and the Queen’s impatience. Not every explorable tile has the same resources, and you will only be given access to a limited base supply of building blueprints – everything else must be unlocked in the course of the scenario.
It’s A Lot, but the tutorial is gentle and truly holds your hand through the early bits. In fact, it may be a bit too gentle, as I managed to completely fail my very first time out on my own, but I learned from that and did better the next time. Although one thing I don’t think the tutorial mentioned is that successfully completing Deeds in each scenario is also a source of meta-progression – many just give you extra experience, but several unlock some pretty key buildings for some of the biomes. I mean, you can go to the Marshlands without having unlocked the mine, but I don’t recommend it.
The other form of meta-progression comes by way of making upgrades to the Smoldering City itself. No matter if you succeed or fail a given scenario, you will take away some amount of currency for city upgrades, and you will sometimes stumble across upgrade materials while playing as well. Higher difficulties reward more currency, but theoretically you could never leave the lowest difficulty and eventually unlock all of these upgrades – it would just take a very very long time.
It’s the settlement exploration loop that keeps me playing just a little bit longer, however. Once you have chosen a location, your starting caravan of settlers, and your embarkment bonuses, you’re plopped down into a very tiny segment of the map with only a warehouse and a hearth pre-built for you. You will always have some basic buildings available to build (a woodcutter’s camp, a stonecutter’s camp, a harvester’s camp, as well as a couple of basic production buildings, and some low-level crafting options), and you have the option to choose from a selection of blueprints almost from the moment you load in.
However, jumping the gun could end up spelling your doom here – the game doesn’t take into account what resources are available on the map when choosing your blueprint selection, so it may be better to hold off until you’ve explored a bit of the map and wait until you see what the city is going to task you with accomplishing. In some of my early maps, I definitely accepted orders that I had no possible way of fulfilling. However, any time you’ve built up a bunch of choices, either in blueprint selection, cornerstone selection, or order selection, the game will force you to choose from the available options before it will show you the next set. This means, sometimes, you just have to take a gamble and hope it works out.
Just in case this isn’t enough randomness yet to appeal to roguelite fans, there are currently four playable species, all of whom have their own wants and specializations. You get to choose your starting caravan, so you will know at the outset one to two of the species who will be available on a given map, but you won’t know which one you won’t see until you’re in the scenario. Workers have a stat called Resolve, which can be increased by meeting their needs, and is decreased by both regular and random events.
The blightstorms are always an issue, and the years are made up of three seasons. Each map will give you some buffs during the first season, Drizzle, and some debuffs during the season of the storm. On the lower difficulties, you can bumble through a bit, but planning your activities around the seasonal cycle definitely increases the likelihood you will succeed.
Whether you win or lose in a given scenario is a bit of a race between two opposing forces. On the left, you have a blue bar which tracks your reputation points. These points come from completing orders, clearing dangerous or forbidden glade events, or from keeping your settlers happy. On the right, there’s a red bar tracking the Queen’s Impatience, which steadily ticks upward until you do something (like completing an order, or sending resources back to the city) to bring it down. If the red bar fills up before the blue one, you’ve failed that level.
There’s quite a bit of variety in each level, and I’m sure I probably haven’t even scratched the surface, both in trying to explain it all, and in actually playing with all the systems that are available. Still, the base game play loop of cutting down trees to explore new glades, filling orders, accepting new settlers, building production buildings to exploit resources as you find them, and trying to keep the fire going at all times is addictive. There are some great quality-of-life things here that you don’t always see in city builders; for example, most buildings can be moved, which means that once a given resource node runs out, you can just scoop up your building, workers and all, and move it close to the next node.
And you absolutely have to explore, however, each glade you open up increases the hostility of the forest, and you have very little idea of what you’re going to find in each location. The larger glades are marked as either “Dangerous” or “Forbidden” and those will have an event that will need to be dealt with, or there are likely to be unpleasant consequences. Some just require labor and the fortitude to withstand whatever debuff the event causes, but most are going to require an infusion of resources that you may not have or be able to easily access, which is a big part of the risk.
Against the Storm is still in Early Access, and won’t be in full release until Q2 of 2023, but the developers have been steadily pushing out updates every couple of weeks. Personally, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth, and I expect to play quite a bit more before wandering off to do something else. It’s compulsively playable, and has a ton of content already for a $20 retail price.