I had wondered why They Are Billions was becoming so popular on Steam. It seemed to me like any other RTS game you may experience. To an extent this is true. The game is rife with resource-management, fortification, and survival. However, They Are Billions expands upon the genre by introducing new mechanics and an overall higher level of difficulty comparative to other games like it.
Let me preface this by stating that I am an RTS noob. I have never had a full game experience with this specific type of gameplay. Not even through a mobile device. The genre has just never really piqued my interest. However, in my attempt to broaden my gaming horizons, I accepted this review as a challenge. Knowing the success of the game gave me some more confidence as well. They Are Billions has lived on the front page of Steam’s top sellers to this date since its release. Although I went into it with some skepticism, I was able to maintain objectivity and experience everything the game has to offer.
In my effort to be transparent, I will admit that I had to walk away from this game a few times. I attribute most of the reasoning to the fact that I am in no way adept at the mechanics in this type of game. After getting around the learning curve, I began to understand how to be more responsible with resources and when to build specific structures. The gameplay has straightforward mechanics if you are familiar with real-time strategy. As you expand your colony, you must segment your population throughout to do different tasks. Colonists, workers, soldiers, etc. will either protect, fortify, or gather resources for the colony. All the while, you fight against the clock as a hoard of infected zombies threaten to wipe out your entire colony.
A mechanic I found helpful was being able to group up different soldiers to be stationed at different areas of the map. You can also build towers to station various soldier-types to give them increased range against any infected in the vicinity. I learned very quickly just how essential it was to protect your soldiers. Numerous attempts of leaving them to fight the infected on the ground led to SEVERAL failures. In the meantime, you must allocate resources and workers to build and farm the land around you. Each building adds and takes away more things necessary to your colony’s survival.
It is easy to see how stressful this game can become, particularly to those unfamiliar with the mechanics. In my opinion, this was a risky move by indie dev Numantian Games, easily pushing away gamers unfamiliar with this genre. However, I think in the long run, the platform in which it is played on works to the games benefit. Casual gamers are prone towards console, while more serious gamers’ platform of choice is on PC. Knowing this, Numantian believed that more gamers (RTS experienced or not) would “stick to it” and take time to understand how to succeed in the game.
I say this because I experienced it firsthand. Although I had several bouts of desire to give up, I took it upon myself to learn through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. I had a little help from the internet as well. Overall, I found myself wanting to get better at the game. The idea of losing all progress and starting from the beginning every time you failed gave me enough drive to try to get further along on my next attempt.
I found the most interesting design feature was how in every new game scenario, you start off in a completely new territory. Resources and biomes are placed in different areas throughout the map. Each game you start, you must adapt to your surroundings and survive based on what is available. You can use more natural barriers like lakes, wooded areas, and rock formations to your benefit or detriment. The environment paired with a Steampunk-Victorian architecture introduces the player to a world that feels surrealistic. The game also has several other unlockable environments achieved from a successful surviving of the base environment, The Dark Moorland.
Another factor that adds depth to this game is the ability to engineer new buildings over time as well as attain new classes of soldiers like mercenaries. You can use these soldiers to defeat tougher enemies that come later in the game. With higher levels of soldiers comes a need to have more resources like food. Which in turn creates a need for more workers. It quickly becomes a domino-effect to decide what is most important for your colony to survive. The player is forced to multi-task and think of the different outcomes and consequences of their actions.
The main gripe to be argued about this game is the lack of tutorial. This game does not hold your hand. It expects you to learn how to beat it through systematic trial by error and reasoning. There are no hints, tips, or tricks to guide you. This is a subjective criticism because some gamers love it when a game lets them figure out things for their own. While others wouldn’t mind having a few guidelines to help them become better.
At first, I wanted to say this was a legitimate criticism on my part. However, after taking a step back I can see how that might be unfair. This is a game where even the “easy” difficulties are strenuous. Although I wouldn’t discourage those who are more casual gamers. I would recommend this game to those who are determined and patient enough to overcome the obstacles this game will throw at them.
This game knows what it is. And it is not a story-driven game. The game drops you into a world with little to no context into how it got that way. However, in the grand scheme, it truly doesn’t matter and doesn’t take away anything from the experience. Of course, if you were going into it hoping for detailed plot, you would be disappointed. Although I think it would be awesome to have a real story backing up this game, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize for something it never promised to deliver. Besides, the game offers so much more to fill the players time, I think that it goes easily unnoticed. This being the case, I will not let the lack of story-telling affect my overall rating of the game.
In the end, They Are Billions is a unique take on a familiar genre. The added depth from a constantly changing environment filled with new obstacles makes for a survival game that anyone looking for a challenge will easily enjoy. You can purchase and download the game from Steam here and follow Numantian Games on Facebook for updates.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Survival RTS reinvented with complex environments and detailed mechanics that offers a challenging experience.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Design - 8.0/10
For those looking for a challenge, this game offers intricate mechanics designed to test resourcefulness under duress. A unique real-time strategy game immersed in a surreal environment.