I enjoy strategy titles. Ever since I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to have a computer in the house – I want to say I was four or five when I played Command and Conquer. It released in 1995, so that math adds up. He was a fan of strategy and shooters, and it was only natural (seeing as how I was a kid and had no ways of making money myself) that I ended up playing whatever he brought home. Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, Quake, Doom, Wolfenstein, Warcraft. I don’t find it surprising that my three favorite genres are strategy, shooters and simulation titles.
When I first heard of They Are Billions and saw the trailers, I was hype. A city building simulation game with a real time strategy element and zombies. There’s a lot of strategy titles out there. There’s a lot of zombie games out there. There’s even a few strategy games involving zombies, but this seemed to scratch an itch that I didn’t know existed yet simultaneously itched for years and it feels so good to itch it. It seems a far cry from Numantian Games’ earlier release, an old school inspired RPG called Lords of Xulima back in 2014. They Are Billions launched in early access on December 12th, 2017, and this review is based on version 8.3
For the uninitiated, They Are Billions is a strategy/sim game based around building up a colony for the surviving humans to live in a world almost completely overtaken by a zombie plague. The game starts you off with a few rangers, a single soldier, and your town hall. From there, you are tasked with expanding the colony in an attempt to survive a predetermined amount of days based on the difficulty settings you selected.
When you start up a match, you’re given a few options. First, the map biome: Currently there’s four to choose from, each being unlocked by winning a game on the previous map at a certain difficulty setting. They ramp up in difficulty with different biome conditions. One map is mountainous and pocketed with lakes, another more flat and full of Villages of Doom, another chilly and frosty, and a wasteland. Each map offers and demands different styles of play in order to adapt to the challenges. Add randomly generated terrain to the mix, and each map is its own beast, with no game playing the same way. Aside from the map, you also get to choose zombie density and how many days the game will last. Once you decide, the game generates a map, and you’re off. At a standard 100% difficulty setting, even then, the game is savage and unforgiving. One small mistake can end your run as mayor – sometimes immediately, sometimes weeks later, when the weak defensive line you placed previously is finally tested.
The goal is simple. Survive. To survive, you’ll have to manage your space and several resources: wood, stone, iron, workers, power, oil, food, and gold. Gold is generated by colonists. Colonists need food and power. Buildings need power and workers, and either wood or stone. The game becomes a balancing act between expansion, defence and offence. Surrounding you on a good portion of the map are zombies, and in order to properly expand, they must be dealt with. Expand too soon, and you risk running your defenses too light. Too much stagnation, and you’ll find yourself light on colonists and room, which means light on troops, which means zombie food.
Besides the general static population, there’s a possibility of Villages of Doom: Dead colonies, that are full of zombies, and resources. Attacking them without a plan and troops is a bad move – they spawn hordes of undead. Without proper planning, you can wipe yourself out. On top of that, there are also random, small waves of zombies that’ll appear, typically before the large wave, which are announced eight hours before they arrive – along with the general direction they’ll be pouring from. You better have some walls up, some towers, some turrets. They might start off small, but they quickly grow to become a huge problem. All it takes is one weak point in your defense, and typically it snowballs into an agonizing defeat. Every building the zombies break into spreads the plague – even a single zombie left alone quickly becomes handfuls of undead once an outbreak starts.
Building a town involves several technology trees to grow through. At the start, options are limited, but enough. Advancing research involves building certain buildings – the first is focused on wood research, the second is about stone, and the third is about metals. Each allows for more options to build and defend your budding village. Better colony houses, different ways to generate food and power, new troop types, and upgradable buildings. On top of building variety, there’s a handful of troops that each offer their own advantages. Rangers are quiet, bow wielding and quick footed archers. Soldiers are armored, slower and equipped with rifles. Snipers are slow firing with a high damage output. As the game progresses, research allows for flamethrower equipped lucifers, artillery based thanatos and mechanized titans.
Its an addictive game, that typically ends in failure due to a minorly overlooked defensive wall, or a bad resource drought after poorly planned expansion. But what I love is that, in most cases, the defeat was deserved. I mismanaged my troops. I expanded too fast, or too slow. I forgot the weak link in my line. Sometimes, I learn, and I gain another few days in my next game. Sometimes, whether I misread the map, or just played my hand wrong, I lose. Sometimes, I lost quick. Sometimes, I lost on day eighty out of one hundred. They Are Billions is a game that will punish you with indiscretion and unapologetically, and I love it.
And all this is still in early access. Recently, a second mode was added – besides the at-launch Sandbox mode, the community challenge was added. A pre-generated map with a community leaderboard. Everyone is on the same exact map, with the same problems. How well can you manage your city? You get one try per map, a new map each week, and the high scores are posted for everyone to see. The campaign is coming, but has been pushed back from the original spring of this year to late this year, but I’m interested in seeing how diverse the levels may be. Personally, I’ve already gotten my money in value, and I will continue my crusade to make the world a safe place for the last of the human race until I’m finally no longer allowed to lead a colony to its doom.
Replayability: Very High. With several maps to unlock, and randomly generated map designs and the ability to modify the difficulty, there’s always a new challenge awaiting even the most experienced mayors.
Graphics: The art is well designed and crisp. While I did not play in 4k, the game does support 4k resolution.
Audio: While not incredible, neither is it irritating. There seems to be a small bug in the audio clip of the soldier’s gun fire that crops up occasionally where the clip seems to end almost prematurely, but beyond that, no complaints
Gameplay: If you like building a colony in the face of an apocalyptic amount of zombies and defending it to your last, I highly recommend giving the game a try. Even with hordes full of hundreds of hundreds of zombies, the engine handles it beautifully without a single hitch or slowdown.