When offered this game to review I was very keen because it looked right up my alley. City building, resource management, and strategic thinking. Plus, it was indie… It checked all the boxes. I loved the art style, I loved the premise. Into my steam library it went, installed and just like that I began my adventure. Excite! Could this be the game to bring me out of my recent drought?
In short? No… It sadly fell a little flat.
Uh… Lift off?
Dream Engines: Nomad Cities takes place in a wacky, whimsical world full of strange science and dreams. In order to survive in this nightmare-infested, post-apocalyptic world you must build and defend a flying city using old-world tech. You need to explore the world in search of scarce resources, fight off weird nightmare creatures, and find out about the old empires and their dream tech. And it starts off reasonably well… I found it very helpful for example when it comes to setting up exactly the type of scenario that you want to put yourself in. There are even multiple choices available that you’d think would enable you to tailor the gameplay from a nice easy ride to something more challenging. But, be warned! I chose the easiest option on my first playthrough and still died about 40 minutes in. And, maddeningly, trying the other difficulty levels did nothing but frustrate me enough to get up leave the game.
And despite my initial pride at giving the tutorial a chance… I sadly soon found myself more confused than if I hadn’t tried it.
However, that wouldn’t have made for much of a review, so I returned to venture further. After you’ve chosen the way you want to play the game, you can choose to load up with or without the tutorial. Again, nice to have some options… and, usually, I am stubborn by nature but thought I best learn this properly from the start. Unfortunately, the tutorial instructions on the mechanics weren’t very clear. And despite my initial pride at giving the tutorial a chance… I sadly soon found myself more confused than if I hadn’t tried it. Eventually, through repeated trial and error I did find my way through it. But even then, as every layer of new mechanics were added, I become more and more confused about how the game worked, what my objective was, when I should fly away (your city is the Nomad, it can literally lift off and move), and and and…. in all senses of the word, what on earth I was doing actually ‘playing’ this game?
So I tried to remember what actually drew me to the game in the first place. And one of the reasons was the prospect of taking on the role of a very cute robot named Tiny. And that just made me sad again. You see, although Tiny has a melee attack and a crossbow attack (yay!), he is how you navigate the map (boo). You see, after playing for about 10 minutes, I realised that although Tiny was, as I’d hoped, definitely cute as buttons, he was also a hindrance to the game and its gameplay. And the first reason why has a lot to do with perspective…
This game starts to revolve around Tiny. And, sadly, that’s not the good thing I was hoping it would be. In fact, Tiny is my biggest gripe.
While playing there are two modes that you can change between, construction mode and adventure mode. But you can only see the part of the map that Tiny is on. When you are constructing, you are looking top-down. When you are adventuring around with Tiny, you are still top-down, but at less of an angle. So you need to explore the map with Tiny, but to be able to expand or plan your city, you need to move Tiny around with you. And this isn’t fun. You cannot even scroll off the screen without moving Tiny. And this persistent tinkering causes a constant interruption to the gameplay loop.
And it doesn’t end there. As mentioned above, Tiny has melee and crossbow abilities. These are good. But, he is lacking the usual scouting abilities. So this means you need to leave your city behind and scout yourself. Then you need to spend time repairing him. Oh, and moving him again. And then, changing modes. This is then interspersed with encountering mobs with him and engaging in (regrettably) repetitive combat. Followed by moving him some more so that you can see more. It’s such a letdown. In fact, Tiny is my biggest gripe. He takes away from what could be great and tries to make Dream Engines: Nomad Cities into something it isn’t.
Despite all these serious concerns meaning your flight will be a rather bumpy one – one thing that showed promise is the excellent idea around the prioritisation of buildings and resources in the game. Since your city can up and fly away, it’s enjoyable having to decide which buildings and resources need to be placed on the base and which can be sacrificed. When making a quick escape you’ll lose some of your functions but are able to quickly recover in your new spot. If you’ve planned correctly, And that kind of resource management is very engaging. Unfortunately, along with the premise and art style, that’s pretty much all the praise I can offer. Even the UI is badly designed, hard to understand and, I would suppose, very difficult to master. I also feel like they’re using the Harry Potter font? No. Just no.
All in all, I found that the game has a very steep learning curve. The tutorial doesn’t explain much. And even the very thin overlay of things to do (that could be considered quests) are difficult to grasp. In fact, I died again and again until I actually understood what the tutorial was trying to tell me – and I’ve been playing these types of games for years. I know this has all sounded bleak, and it was a bleak experience. I think that the developers had a great idea in mind, and a strategy game mixed with having to fight off waves of enemies now and then sounds like a lot of fun. However, it seems to me that it was the cute little robot, Tiny, that made them lose their way. This doesn’t play like any game I’ve played before, and not in a good way. It could be Warcraft-ish – but Tiny ruins any hopes of that. It could be more like Satisfactory but then I should feel like the player. I should be Tiny. And I’m not.
The UI is badly designed, hard to understand, and I would suppose, very difficult to master. I also feel like they’re using a Harry Potter font?
Running around with Tiny, finding resources, getting attacked, losing buildings, having to leave without feeling done with an area, and being unable to pause to think and plan means the grind of the game is unfulfilling. I didn’t want to come back to the game, and I don’t think I will. I loved the premise, but there was too much that let me down, and so many frustrating mechanics and UI issues, that at this point in time, I wouldn’t recommend picking up the game.