That’s it. That’s the pitch for this game. You’re building a city, only the city is also a giant airship thing that’s flying through the air.
OK, maybe that’s not quite it. There’s also the fact that this is only partially a game about building cities. Set in a vast, open and sparsely-populated world, Airborne Kingdom is also a game about driving that city around, completing missions, recruiting new inhabitants and, most importantly, sucking the world dry of its resources in order to feed and fuel your airborne metropolis.
So it’s not just a city-builder, as the missions and resource-gathering lends a degree of RTS planning to Airborne Kingdom as well. Imagine a game of Age of Empires only it’s just the bits where you cut down trees, farm food, mine mineral deposits and use all that to buy buildings and research. Now imagine that those buildings can fly, and that instead of upgrading spearmen you’re investing in the technology needed to expand your city and keep it in the air.
And what a city it is. The star of the game, it’s what you’ll be looking at and fretting over nearly the entire time you’re playing. Because it’s in the air, and not sprawling out over hills and plains, a lot of the normal things you worry about in city-builders are radically different in Airborne Kingdom, with an emphasis simply on survival instead of unbridled prosperity.
While there are loads of resources to gather or create, workers are the game’s real currency, as nothing can happen without them. Each one of them has a name and is a precious treasure. You need to assign them to specialist buildings for them to operate, and you also just as importantly need to send them out into the world around you—via cute little aircraft—to harvest timber, water, coal and other natural resources, without which neither the workers nor city can keep running.
It can be a lot to keep on top of, but then you’ve also got to remember that this city isn’t stationary—it has to constantly be on the move, completing missions and ensuring your lil’ aircraft are in range of the resources they need. This makes optimisation of your gathering and movement key, as well as the planning of your city itself, because every building you construct adds weight to the place, which uses more power to keep afloat. You’ve even got to worry about where you put things, because a lopsided city will tilt, and that’s very bad.
All of which sounds stressful! I can best sum it up as Frostpunk meets Mortal Engines, neither of which is the cheeriest of experiences. To only describe this game’s features and setting is to make it sound like every second is a desperate fight for survival.
Yet Airborne Kingdom is somehow the opposite of this. It’s incredibly chill, featuring laid-back music, a gorgeous story-book UI and the cutest little inhabitants, all taking place on a world that looks like an Arabian tileset, giving it an exotic board game feel. It’s more fairy tale than action movie.
The build I’ve been playing was just for preview purposes, so I’m looking forward to trying out the final release when it’s out on December 17 on the Epic Game Store.