OPINION | GAME ON: Complex, polished ‘Against the Storm’ piles on enjoyable challenges

'Against the Storm' is a dark fantasy city-builder where random chance complicates your mission to lead humans, beavers, lizards and harpies to reclaim the wilderness in the face of apocalyptic rain.  (Photo courtesy of Eremite Games)
'Against the Storm' is a dark fantasy city-builder where random chance complicates your mission to lead humans, beavers, lizards and harpies to reclaim the wilderness in the face of apocalyptic rain. (Photo courtesy of Eremite Games)

‘Against the Storm’ [Early Access]

Platform: PC (Steam, Epic, GOG)

Cost: $19.99

Rating: Everyone 10+

Score: 10 out of 10

I love the methodical nature of city-builder games, and I love the randomized, permadeath aspect of rogue-lites, but until "Against the Storm," I'd never seen them combined into one game.

Created by the Polish indie studio Eremite Games, "Against the Storm" just entered Steam's Early Access, but it's already incredibly polished and plays like an AAA title, despite a long roadmap of improvements still promised. The studio says the game is "Banished" meets "Slay the Spire" (both positively reviewed by this column), and that's pretty accurate.

"Against the Storm" has a lot of systems and layers that keep its game-play fresh, complicated and addictive. The thematic goal is to rebuild the Smoldering City and appease an entity known as the Scorched Queen by establishing settlements in the wild.

Surrounding the Smoldering City on an overview map are hexagon tiles — each tile is an encounter with its own biome that gives a clue as to what the map for that settlement will be like.

The world and design are fantastical in nature, with buildings looking very Warcraft-like, and you start with a mixed population of humans, lizardmen and beavers (beavermen? beaverpersons?).

There's layer after layer of complexity to "Against the Storm," which makes game-play challenging and enjoyable.

Each settlement starts with a hearth, warehouse, a few workers and access to some basic building blueprints. Buildings are used to harvest raw materials from the map (such as a supply of eggs, reeds, stone or lumber) or they are used to process those raw materials into finished goods that will be eaten or used by villagers, or bartered to wandering traders.

That's the basic layer, which most city-builders have in common. The next layer is that the Queen presents a variety of tasks -- such as producing a certain amount of resource, or exploring hidden areas — and rewards success with blueprint points, resources or perks that change game-play.

There's a plethora of building blueprints available, and the trick to success is to hope you can pair the map's available, randomized resources with the buildings that use them best. Most buildings come with a variety of functions, giving several pathways to success. For example, a building always available is the Crude Workstation, which can turn harvested wood into planks (necessary for lots of construction work); but finding the Lumber Mill blueprint will create more planks and use less wood.

The next layer of complexity is in the name of the game: "Against the Storm." It's always raining, with the weather cycling between drizzle and raging storms.

Drizzle is the new sunshine -- and when the game is at its easiest — but when it storms, worker productivity is slashed (especially if any of them don't have homes) and villager resolve (their happiness) takes a nosedive.

Lose too much resolve, and villagers will pack up and leave. Take too long to accomplish the Queen's orders, and her impatience will grow and the game will end.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » arkansasonline.com/1121storm/]

Then there's another layer: the wrath of the forest. Essential to the game are woodcutters, as villagers start in a small glade and must chop down forest to expand, exposing hidden glades with various benefits and challenges. However, the forest itself is alive and gets angrier as the game progresses, especially at woodcutters, and can go through wrathful times where villager resolve takes a big hit.

Each attempt at creating a successful settlement takes 1½ to 2 hours, and after victory (or defeat), it's back to the overview map to pick a new settlement location, with the successes adding to the rebuilding of the Smoldering City and giving bonuses to the player.

And then there's another layer of complexity: nonplayer character factions are also rebuilding in the forest, and will compete for space on the map. Players will need to create networks of settlements to protect resources, block those factions and scout for resources.

Yet another layer is that an event called the Blightstorm approaches, which will eventually destroy all settlements, resetting the game.

"Against the Storm" keeps its game-play exciting by always forcing a sense of urgency, and as settlements are completed, permanent game-play bonuses will unlock, meaning each settlement can start stronger than the last (which is good, because the difficulty increases, too).

Add in a number of difficulty settings to choose from and an exciting road map of future developments (two more races are coming, as well as new buildings, modifiers, perks and the like) and the replayability is off the charts.

It's also a solid game from a technical standpoint — the graphics are excellent, music and sound design solid, and the user interface is superbly polished. And the price is great, too, with no in-game purchases, loot boxes or season passes.

This is a game I'll be playing and coming back to for a long time.


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