Game: Against the Storm / Developer: Eremite Games / Publisher: Hooded Horse / Price: £17.99
December is shaping up as an exciting month for survival game fans of all stripes, with two long-awaited releases: the Steam version of Dwarf Fortress, and the Mistlands update for Valheim.
However, I haven’t yet opened either of these exciting new prospects. All my gaming time has been taken up by Against the Storm, a quirky early-access game by developers Eremite Games and publishers Hooded Horse.
Against the Storm combines several of my favourite genres: city building and management sim, rogue-lite, and post-apocalyptic inevitable doom all feature. Yes, city building and rogue-lite, not a combination my clearly deficient imagination had ever thought to want before. However, now that I do have it, I don’t know why it hasn’t been done before.
It’s a long-running joke that there’s a subset of Civilisation (or other grand strategy games) players who get through the first 50 turns and then roll a new save just as their fledgling empires are beginning to get a proper toe-hold in the world. Against the Storm is a love letter to these players.
Instead of managing one vast city, as a Viceroy of the Scorched Queen, you are charged with rebuilding a network of small towns that are needed to support the Smouldering City. The core conceit has you nurturing a town from a handful of fantasy folk (the game features four races with a mix of needs and specialities) and a hearth up into a bustling hub.
When your town has proved itself by completing deeds for the Queen, you are hustled off to the next settlement to repeat the process with new land and new opportunities. Each town lasts long enough to make an impression but never outstays its welcome.
This is where the rogue-lite elements shine. Every map is randomly generated for your exploration and eventual exploitation. Starting off in a tiny clearing, you don’t know what resources this new area will have to offer, or what dangers you’ll have to overcome.
In one of its clever unique takes on the established genre, Against the Storm utilises fog of war to restrict access to the map, but instead of a hazy ocean into which you gradually expand, the map is made of Glades, both small innocuous ones and large dangerous ones, all amongst a dense forest you must cut your way through. Each Glade contains resources and challenges for you to turn to your advantage.
Instead of the usual technology tree structure common in games of this ilk, Against the Storm has you earning Blueprints. The selection of Blueprints is almost entirely random (at certain milestones you’re presented with a choice between three picked from the pool), and it’s where my main quibble with the game comes in.
Certain settlements can feel doomed to fail when they are rich in certain resources and never get a blueprint that allows you to make the most of them. The game attempts to mitigate this with traders but not being able to process your goods before selling or trading them reduces their value.
My frustration quite possibly comes from my dislike of making towns that are entirely self-sufficient, and different settlements in Against the Storm must rely on different game mechanics to thrive. My playtime is a fairly modest 15 hours, so there are definitely mechanics and challenges I am still getting to grips with.
The dark, fantasy flavour of the game shines through in a way that many city-builders find it difficult to achieve. The moody aesthetic, the visual style, the music, and the story, sitting out of the limelight but visible enough to tantalise, all come together to add to the overall experience.
It does a lot to take you out of the city building mindset of efficiency and into the exciting and intrepid sense of exploration. The gameplay and its trappings are more than the sum of the parts.
Whether your settlement succeeds and becomes a vital hub of production for the empire of the Scorched Queen, or dwindles into nothingness leaving no trace on the map, every ‘run’ of Against the Storm invokes emotions and requires complex decision-making.
Scratching a mean living out of the forest floor, breaking through into a Glade filled with challenges you’re ill-equipped to handle, trading for extra food at just the right moment… the game is full of the typical highs and lows of settlement building but delivers them in such a unique way that any fan of the genre really owes it to themselves to give it a go.
The game is still in Early Access but I’ve never encountered any bugs or crashes – it does mean that the developers are adding new features frequently and that does occasionally mean your save file will be incompatible with a new update, so if that kind of thing is super important to you then wait until the full release.
Featured Image Credit: Eremite Games