Long time Early Access titles always have a…je ne sais quoi about them. For me it feels like putting on someone else’s well worn shoes: you know that they’ve served them well, and they might possibly do the same for you, but it’s clear that they’ve been molded into a shape by someone else. This was how I felt coming into Against the Storm, a title debuting out of Early Access last year after being in there for the last 3 years. The community’s fingerprints are all over it, the gameplay built for a specific kind of player which could play this game until the end of time. Is it bad? Absolutely not, but playing it feels like I’ve walked in on someone else’s good time, and I’m not 100% sure it’s for me.

You are a vassal of our Scorched Queen, sworn to do her bidding in expanding the queendom beyond it’s hallowed walls. Our world is not a kind one however, ravaged by a cycle of blightstorm every few decades that renders much of the world uninhabitable. There are ways to delay this, allowing us to better prepare for those times when we’re unable to venture far from the protection of the Queen. So you must do as your Queen commands as she grows impatient with every passing moment. Move out with the viceroys, find new lands for us to conquer and bring back the resources we need to weather another cycle.

I want to call Against the Storm’s aesthetic “Warhammer Miniature-core” as it so reminds me of the tabletop miniatures that I’d see in White Dwarf before I’d look back at the horror shows that I’d painted. It’s heavily stylized, the colours leaning more towards the saturated end of the spectrum and the details of each individual model being low. Of course this isn’t a game designed to be played up close and personal with everything, no you should be far back, admiring your settlement and figuring out how best to exploit the resources you have at your disposal. This also ensures that performance stays acceptable through any particular run as I’m sure the simulation running on the backend is no simple beast.

Against the Storm is a complex beast, fitting firmly in the city builder genre but lathering on enough other mechanics that it’s far deeper mechanically than any others I’ve played in recent memory. You’ll be building numerous cities over the course of your playthrough and each of them will be done in Roguelike fashion. The buildings, upgrades, resources, events, etc. will all be randomised, ensuring that no two runs will ever have the same outcome. You can work to mitigate the hands of RNGesus a bit, as you always can, but you are absolutely not in total control of the kind of settlement you can build. Layered on top of this are dozens of other mechanics for you to try and exploit like seasons, synergies between different races, upgrades that have stacking effects with each other and so on. There’s also an upgrade system that enables you to further tame or direct RNG in your favour, giving you more options to mitigate a particularly bad run. On top of this is the overworld where you’ll chose to start your settlement which can have different biomes, effects and rewards. It’s the kind of game that feels like it started out as a simple idea but has just had layer upon layer built on it over the years, resulting in the mechanical beast that you see today.

The base building aspect of the game is simple enough to grasp pretty quickly but mastering it is something that was still well beyond me at the end of my time with it. Getting the basics right is straightforward enough and the provided tutorials do a good job of highlighting the major mechanics that you need to be aware of to not totally screw up every settlement you start. The nuanced mechanics are numerous however and whilst, individually, they’re not going to sway your game one way or the other failing to understand a bunch of them can turn an otherwise breezy run into a really challenging one. For instance many of the game’s requirements can be satisfied with numerous kinds of resources. However you’ll only know this if you click on the resources themselves which, most of the time, will greet you with the alternatives that you can use. I can’t tell you how many times I worked hard to get a particular resource only to remember that mechanic and then find out I could’ve completed it hours before.

The exploration mechanic is pretty cool, forcing you to be somewhat tactical in the way that you explore to gather more resources. The long and short of it is that you’ll cut your way through trees to discover glades and each of them will have a chance of spawning resources and events. The higher end ones will have specific requirements that need to be satisfied lest you endure some woeful event which will usually harm you in a significant way. There’s also apparently another mechanic called hostility that is increased the more you explore but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it actually does. I’m sure I’m a 2 second Google search away from knowing but, suffice to say, I was able to build many successful settlements without that knowledge.

The core gameplay loop is basically a run against the clock: earn enough reputation points (blue bar) before the Queen’s impatience (red bar) fills up. The primary way I did this was by fulfilling orders, but you can also accomplish that by making sure your viceroys are well taken care of. I will admit that the later settlements I made did struggle to fill that bar with just missions alone, usually requiring me to supplement it with glade events or investing heavily in higher end resources for the viceroys. I’m sure this gets even harder as the game progresses on, but after finishing the first cycle I found myself losing any interest in progressing.

You see, whilst the Roguelike aspects of this game are strong and should mean infinite replayability, it was just too repetitive for my tastes. To be sure I enjoy building settlements, but the randomness made me feel like I was pretty much always starting from scratch. I’m sure for those who’ve been playing the game for years they’re able to read the game’s randomness and know the course they need to chart, but I always found myself getting painted into corners on upgrade and building choices. I remember once thinking that a brewery was the way to go, only to find out that the biome I was on would basically never spawn fertile land for me to grow the crops needed to fulfill it. I’ll admit, that’s my mistake, but after almost 8 hours of the game I wasn’t really feeling the pull to come back for yet another round.

Against the Storm is unparalleled in its mechanical complexity, the result of its many years of development and playtesting whilst it was in Early Access. The core game is solid, giving you the satisfaction of building successful colonies even when RNGesus is constantly breathing down your neck. For this writer however the repetition started to wear thin after a while, the randomness and constant restarting of settlements making it feel like there was little to no progress to be had. However I can definitely see the appeal here, it’s a game that offers some deep mechanics that can be endlessly deconstructed to figure out what the best overall build should be.

Rating: 8.0/10

Against the Storm is available on PC right now for $39.95 or free on Xbox Game Pass. Total play time was 7.7 hours with 5% of the achievements unlocked.

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

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