I can’t get enough of They Are Billions and its post-apocalypse strategy

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It’s 2001, I’m staring at a CRT monitor that’s roughly the size of Belgium and I’m shouting “komm zu mir, Bruder” as I’ve just built the perfect fortress. Multiple layers of thick Germanic concrete, bomb towers as far as the eye could see and an army of Teutonic Knights ready to march out and wreck a few hundred Woad Raiders that were marching on my city in an attempt to stop me winning the game by building a magnificent feudal wonder.

I’ve always loved the idea of turtling in real-time strategy games. Of managing my resources perfectly, allowing my enemy to come to me and attack my walls to no avail, like King Arthur’s assault on the French Knights. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, maybe it’s my lifelong dream of wanting to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle that results in me playing RTS games with a strategy that infuriates opponents.

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Point is, is that these are ideas that are present in They Are Billions. I spoke last week about the Early Access RTS title happens to be a massively popular game at the moment, something I properly experienced first-hand for myself over the weekend. On the surface, They Are Billions sounds simple enough: You’ve got a post-apocalypse colony that you need to grow, shambling mobs of the undead dotted around the map and your expansion is regularly interrupted by escalating hordes of the bastards who are keen for a leg of Larry supper.

Easy enough to follow right? Simply build an army, hold the fort and wait for the bell to ring and signal your victory. They Are Billions is that, and more.

While the Early Access version only has a handful of maps and a single permadeath survival mode, it’s also one of the most intricate simulations of running a community after civilisation has fallen. It’s not overly-complex in its structure, but it is persistent in the attention that you need to divide between growing your economy, your city and your defenses.

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Are your villagers bringing in enough gold? Do you have a steady workforce whose efforts you can dedicate towards bolstering the city defenses? Have your arranged your city blocks in a manner that allows troops to easily traverse through town to repel an outbreak? Questions like that define the experience, as every advantage brings with it a disadvantage that needs to be addressed as you grow beyond your walls.

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Wooden barricades can only hold the infected back for so long, while your defenses need to constantly be adjusted and improved upon. Think the walls of Attack on Titan’s cities, built to withstand an assault as you create choke-points with which to funnel the infected into killzones as your inner defenses get to work.

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I’m only 10 hours in so far, and I’m obsessed. They Are Billions plays like clockwork with human lives, as you take apart and tinker with the reality of surviving in a world that very much wants you dead. I’m addicted at this point, utterly obsessed with creating a city that stands as a massive middle finger monument to the walking dead and their attempts to bust in.

That’s where the real magic of They Are Billions lies. It’s a strategy game where the stakes feel very real, a tactics experiment without any sense of complacency as you slowly start to realise that no matter how well prepared you are, the apocalypse is more than ready to run on over and totally f*** your day up.

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All of this is wrapped up in a much needed streamlining of the genre, that never results in They Are Billions feeling stale or tedious. If you long for the days of RTS games in the vein of Age of Empires and Command & Conquer, They Are Billions proudly carries that torch while adding plenty of its own unique flavour to a formula of pitch-perfect balance that has been buried for far too long.

Fortunately, the RTS genre is alive and well in They Are Billions.

 

Last Updated: January 15, 2018

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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