A new indie city builder, Airborne Kingdom, launches on the Epic Store next week. This first game from The Wandering Band combines city building and exploration in an interesting way: from the skies!
Unlike traditional city builders, where you create a city and then strike out with caravans or armies to explore or conquer new lands, in Airborne Kingdom, you have discovered how to make a flying city. With the lofty goal of reuniting the scattered kingdoms of the land under one banner, you set out with a handful of subjects and a rather rickety-looking flying contraption around which you will build your kingdom in the sky.
Come Fly with Me
Building and maintaining a flying city brings with it some unique challenges. As you can imagine, your primary goal is actually staying in the sky. Secondary is, naturally, keeping your subjects happy. Both tasks become more difficult as you expand your population and your city.
As you’d expect from a city builder, you need basic resources like food and water for your city’s inhabitants, plus other resources to build new structures and fuel to keep your city in the sky. In addition, there are other factors to consider, namely, keeping the city afloat and stable, and moving faster than a snail’s pace.
The three aspects that need to be taken into account are lift – essentially how much weight your city can support, propulsion – or how fast it can move, and tilt – how unstable your city is. As you play, you’ll unlock new technologies that will allow you to construct buildings that will improve both lift and propulsion, allowing you to build more buildings, and to get around faster. Tilt comes from the layout of your city, meaning you need to carefully consider the placement of each building. Fortunately the game gives you immediate feedback as you’re placing buildings, letting you know how much the new structure will upset the delicate balance of your city. Buildings can also be moved after the fact, in case your early layout decisions come back to haunt you later on.
Exploration and resource management are the keys to success in Airborne Kingdom. Your city constantly uses coal, food and water, so you need to make sure you’re stocked up on these as you move around. The faster your city moves, the fewer resources you’ll use. The early parts of the map have easy access to all the basic resources you need, but as you move further out, some resources will become scarce.
As you move around, you’ll discover new locations in the world, from ancient ruins to small settlements, and of course, resources. The interface is fairly simple to work with: right click to get your city moving, mouse over to highlight interactable places on the ground, and left click to interact with these. You might discover new colour schemes for your buildings, new recruits for your city, or relics of lost civilisations. To interact with most of these, you’ll need to move your city within range, then send your people down in little planes to interact with the location or gather resources. If you move too far away, your people will be forced to return to the city.
My only gripe here is the lack of connection between the map and the actual world. You can’t set waypoints or otherwise mark locations you want to visit. You have to bring up the map, dredge up whatever knowledge you once had about compass directions, and then return to the world and plot a course in the right direction using the tiny compass at the top of the screen. With most games these days allowing you to simply mark the place you want to go and showing it clearly to you on a compass or minimap, these extra steps slowed me down a fair bit. Combine this with the occasional difficulty I had in spotting important objects on the ground, and it left me a little bit frustrated. As you can see in the screenshot above, there was not a lot of visual contrast in some locations or at certain times of the day, making it even harder to spot things.
Reuniting the Kingdoms
Another part of surviving in the skies and completing your plan of reuniting the people of this region is helping out the cities you come across. They are, fortunately, large and easy to spot from a distance. They will offer you the option to trade with them – useful when you’re dangerously low on critical resources, and they sell blueprints for new technologies as well. These techs will be critical in keeping your city in the air, and also for keeping your people happy.
After you reach certain population levels, your people will demand buildings to fulfill their faith or health requirements. Happy citizens are essential to encouraging new people to join you, and to prevent them from abandoning your city for greener pastures.
The cities you encounter will also have a task for you – usually to locate some ancient site in the area, or to help them construct something at their city. Once you’ve completed their quest, they will join your little empire, bringing you one step closer to world domination… Peaceful world domination, of course.
A Feast for the Eyes and Ears
Airborne Kingdom is a beautiful game, with impressive visuals, even on medium setting. It’s even more beautiful on higher settings, but my PC was having none of that. Needless to say, every aspect of this game is beautifully crafted, from the map, to the buildings. Even the research screen is pretty! Clouds part as you mouse over them, allowing you to see the ground below, and the day/night cycle lets you admire your city under various lighting conditions. The game also features soothing music and sounds, making for a relaxing journey through the skies.
Airborne Kingdom offers a nice twist on traditional city builders, and a peaceful one at that. I’m all for games where I don’t have to waste time and resources on combat stuff. However, at present Airborne Kingdom doesn’t have much in the way of difficulty. If you manage your resources somewhat efficiently, there’s very little danger of falling out of the sky or upsetting your citizens.
Further to this, there are no random events of any kind – good or bad – that happen throughout your journey. No malfunctioning buildings or resource mishaps, or anything really. It makes the game feel very samey. You travel from one city to another, do their quest, then move on to the next one, and repeat that about a dozen times.
I feel there is potential here, but at the time of this writing, Airborne Kingdom feels a little lacking. While the game offers replayability in the form of randomly generated maps, I honestly feel no desire to return for now. A bit more variation could really liven things up. As it is, the game offers a relaxing few hours of gameplay for a reasonable price, with an unusual twist compared to other city builders.
Check out the trailer below for an idea of how the game plays.