Tobold's Blog
Friday, December 23, 2022
Against the Storm

I am normally not the world's biggest fan of roguelike/roguelite games; I find the large loss of progress at the end of each individual run in exchange for a small permanent boost to future runs annoying. However, it turns out that this dislike is mostly about the more typical roguelike games, where you play a character battling monsters. In Against the Storm each individual run is the construction of a settlement. In that case the reset works a lot better: Settlement builders otherwise have a tendency to get complicated when the settlement becomes very big. And a reset allows for the next settlement to deal with a different environment, with different resources, so there is very good replayability.

Technically, Against the Storm is still in Early Access. But that mostly means that there is an update every two weeks. The game doesn't feel incomplete, and I didn't encounter any bugs. In fact, Against the Storm seems to have fewer bugs than some of the released triple-A games this year. The interaction between the developers and the community is great: Every update comes with a changelog that indicates how many of the changes were suggested by the community, and that is the majority of them. Against the Storm is normally €20 on Steam or Epic, but during the current Winter Sale it is €16. For that money you get a really excellent game, so I didn't even bother to look for key reseller prices.

What I really liked about Against the Storm is that for each run you can choose the difficulty, the biome, and some bonuses. If you are in the mood for a casual, easier game, you can do that. If you want a harder challenge, that is also possible, and it gives you more rewards on the permanent upgrade tech tree. If the highest of 4 difficulty settings isn't hard enough for you, there are 20 prestige difficulty levels beyond that, which unlock by you winning on the previous one. I tend to play city builders more for the casual fun than the challenge, so I am mostly playing on the second difficulty level. The difficulty levels add challenge by accelerating the "impatience" timer, and increasing the "hostility" of the forest. Every run ends if either you collected enough reputation points to win, or the queen's patience run out. You gain reputation points by fulfilling "orders", aka quests, or by increasing the resolve of your population, by fulfilling their needs. There are also events that give reputation points.

In every run, you start on a glade, and you need to chop trees to reach others glades and increase the area on which you can build. Smaller glades you open contain resources. Larger glades can be "dangerous" or "forbidden", which means that you need to deal with an event once you open that glade. Because you don't know what resources you will find on the starting glade and beyond, you can't just build a cookie cutter standard settlement each time. Often some resources aren't available at all, and you need to get them via trading. That keeps successive runs interesting.

Against the Storm has an overwhelmingly positive user review score on Steam, with 96% of reviews being positive. I can only add my recommendation to that. If you like city/settlement/colony builder games in general and want to try something a bit different, this is a fantastic game.

Checking the reviews it seems that it has the same problem I had with Frostpunk: it's not a city builder, more like a time-based puzzle game where you have to plonk down stuff fast and the right order. So I'll pass for now. I'm keeping my eyes on Farthest Frontier, but I'm wary of early access, since there's no guarantee that the development goes in the direction I like.
I checked and one review says it is pausable at any time.
Yes, it really depends on your definition of “fast”. A single settlement can be half an hour to one hour to complete, you can pause any time, and you can set up auto-pauses when important things happen, like a trader arriving. The “order” in which to put down buildings isn’t fixed, but depends on the different biomes, and random resource nodes.
In all survival city builders, the critical part is the beginning, then you can take your time and develop in many different ways, depending on what you want to achieve first (nice organization / max population / max science / 100% guaranteed food production / decoration / etc.). In Frostpunk the cold mechanics just means you have one route: max coal production, forget about the rest. So it's not a city builder, it's a puzzle game where you have to find the way to maximise coal production. The relative position of buildings is irrelevant, actually buildings are irrelevant and are only defined by how warm it is and how much output it gives. Compare this to something like Timberborn and you see what I mean. From what I read, Against the Storm is of the same kind of sequence of scenarios to "solve". You say "A single settlement can be half an hour to one hour to complete", would you say the same of Cities: Skylines, Banished, Timberborn, Endzone, etc.? This is the difference between a city builder and..... not a city builder.
There is definitively more than one route in every run of Against the Storm. You can even voluntarily decide to concentrate more on one aspect or another. And at least in the first three difficulty levels, all those different routes are viable; I assume at some Prestige level the game gets to hard that there are a lot less viable paths, but there is really no need to play that way. And even if you want to play very well, there are random modifiers to each run which would force you to play differently than the previous run.

Against the Storm plays a lot like a shorter version of Timberborn. And because there are different biomes, and different random resources, modifiers, and events, two runs of Against the Storm play more different from each other than two runs of Timberborn on different maps. I played 20 hours of Timberborn and got bored, because once you know how to manage droughts, ever run plays very similar. I'm at 28 hours of Against the Storm and am far from being bored with that one, replayability is a lot better.

I haven't played Frostpunk, but I don't think Against the Storm is like that. There isn't just one "cold" mechanic you need to beat. In Against the Storm you need to manage at least the Queen's Impatience and the forest's Hostility, and at Veteran or higher level also Corruption. And these mechanics interact with each other, for example Impatience lowers Hostility; so you want to manage Impatience, but not necessarily eliminate it. Hostility goes up with each glade you open, but if you don't open new glades, you don't find new resources. And so on, it is all quite varied and interesting.
Addicted that's all I can say, awesome game.
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