Taking over managing editor duties here at Tom’s Hardware at the start of 2018 hasn’t exactly left me with an abundance of time to devote to gaming. But aside from the occasional attempt at making my way back through 2016’s gory-but-great Doom reboot, I’ve also spent some serious weekend downtime with Namantian Games’ Strategy/Steampunk/Zombie survival title They Are Billions.
I’ve been drawn to real-time strategy games since the days of the original Warcraft. But in recent years, aside from the fun-but-flawed Planetary Annihilation (which I backed via Kickstarter back in 2012), I’ve found that most high-profile strategy games require too much of a learning curve and don’t deliver near enough straight-up fun.
I don’t want to spend endless hours developing my millennia-spanning community planning skills, or micro-managing sewage treatment in my empire’s capital city. I just want to mine some resources, build up some cool technology, sharpen my soldiers’ spear tips, and go crush the enemy.
That’s more the kind of experience They Are Billions delivers, although in this game the enemy mostly comes to you—in the form of wave upon wave of increasingly large zombie hordes. Your task is essentially to scout a randomly generated area, start gathering and building, set up some walls, and defend yourself against the horde while you advance your tech and defenses. You’ll alternate between keeping the odd zombie from slowly chewing through your walls and defending your world from ever-larger waves of the undead.
It’s hardly a novel formula of gameplay, and the graphics certainly don’t over-tax a high-end card (even displayed on the 4K Sony TV that I use as my primary monitor). But in today’s world of stupid-expensive graphic cards, I’m happy to emphasize enjoyable gameplay over maximum GPU-crushing eye candy.
While the gameplay feels familiar here, the game’s post-apocalyptic steampunk style—which includes polite top-hatted mayors and mech-like Titans with Gatling-gun arms—helps keep things fun and fresh.
There’s no shortage of fear and anxiety during gameplay, for a couple of key reasons. If even one zombie gets past your defenses and you don’t gun it down fast, it can quickly turn your dutifully toiling villagers into a plague of angry, biting death inside your carefully constructed walls.
Oh, and there’s no way to retroactively fix your mistakes. They Are Billions is locked in a so-called “Ironman mode,” where progress is automatically saved when you exit the game, and you don’t get multiple save points. In other words, there’s no going back—only forward to a successful defense of your colony, or a horrible death for everyone at the hands (and teeth) of countless zombies. They Are Billions is in Early Access on Steam (meaning it’s still in development), and sells for $24.99 (though I picked it up for less during a Steam sale). There currently is no campaign, although a recent update indicates that Numation is working hard on rolling that feature out (along with new buildings and a lush soundtrack performed by a 60-piece Slovakian orchestra).
Still, while I’m usually far more interested campaigns than standalone matches in strategy games, the existing Survival Mode is surprisingly rewarding/frustrating, and eminently replayable. Steam says I’ve spent 23 hours playing it so far, and I plan to jump in and play some more. If only I didn’t have so much managing and editing to do!
Have you played They Are Billions? Is some other title taking up your precious gaming time? Sound off in the comments!