Dark fantasy city builder Against the Storm hits Steam Early Access

Dark fantasy roguelite city builder Against the Storm hits Steam Early Access, challenging players to manage multiple cities in a compelling, rich strategy game

Against the Storm - a towering mountain in a range, with a large flaming ring culminating in a flaming eye mask at the top

The pitch for dark fantasy city builder Against the Storm, which hits Steam Early Access on November 1, is simple enough. As the Scorched Queen’s most trusted Viceroy, you’re in charge of establishing settlements across an ever-changing wilderness to gather resources and build up your civilization in the quiet between devastating Blightstorms. That simple premise paves the way to a rich strategy game with a wealth of delicately interweaving systems that blends the thrill and potential of building new cities with the overarching meta-progression of a roguelite game.

Against the Storm, from developer Eremite Games, is the latest release from indie strategy publisher Hooded Horse. Your campaign starts in the Smouldering City – a bastion of safety from which you branch out across a hex-grid network of differing biomes in search of scarce resources. Each hex you choose to settle in functions as a ‘level’ of sorts, and that’s where the real meat of the matter comes into play. These levels are where the city-building component lies, seeing you establish a settlement and build it up as you gather resources across a range of environments.

Rather than controlling your population directly, you construct buildings designed for specific purposes and then assign your villagers to work at each of them. Units in a woodcutters’ camp will slowly cut down nearby trees and deliver the wood to storage, then those assigned to a Carpenter can turn that wood into planks or (when combined with copper bars) into simple tools. From there, you might use a Provisioner to turn planks and copper into barrels, which can be used at a Brewery in the manufacturing of ale or pickled goods to keep your villagers happy.

That’s just one example of a start-to-end production line – most buildings have two or three different things they can produce, and any given resource can likely be gathered, built, farmed, or combined in multiple different fashions. If that sounds a little overwhelming, it certainly can be at first – especially once you are dropped out of the safety of the rather excellent tutorial missions that ensure your progression is perfectly streamlined. Thankfully, Against the Storm’s interface is nothing short of masterful, which makes the whole endeavour a lot less intimidating.

The list of tooltips and overlays makes even a first time playthrough feel comfortable. While I was initially a little intimidated by the number of things at my disposal, every single resource, building, or component you hover over provides you with a quick, clear description of what it is, where it’s used, and – crucially – what you need to get more of it. Despite the number of systems at play in Against the Storm, I never felt out of my depth thanks to the smart ways in which that information is presented to the player.

Against the Storm - a game screen of a city being built in a forest, with menus adjusting production at one of the buildings

Your population itself is the other core component. Out of the gate you are presented with three types of villagers. Humans, the short, stocky Beavers, and the Lizards, who somewhat resemble humanoid velociraptors. These are later joined by Harpies, with at least one more species currently planned in the game’s roadmap.

Each species has its own likes, dislikes, and specialisations: for example, Humans excel at farming and brewing, and love a good pie and a pint. The Beavers are expert woodworkers and engineers with an eye for academia and pickled goods, while Lizards love working in hot environments, are great at dealing with meat, and have a need for both regular worship and a good scrap. Assigning your population with care and moving them about as necessary is therefore tantamount to success.

All of this is in service of keeping your Queen happy – the core victory condition of each level boils down to attaining enough Reputation Points to fill a bar before the corresponding Queen’s Impatience bar reaches its threshold. The simplest way to do this is by completing ‘Orders’ – bounties that are presented to you as a stage progresses. You get up to 12 of these over the course of a level, having a choice between two for each Order, and they range from collecting enough of a given resource to keeping a certain segment of your population above a happiness threshold for long enough.

The other way to earn Reputation Points is by exploring the map around you. Each level starts you in a clearing at the centre of what is effectively a large forest – although the ‘trees’ can take wildly different appearances depending upon the biome you happen to be in. This forest is dotted with numerous clearings called Glades, and carving a path through to these will reveal additional resources and events to make use of.

Certain Glades may be marked as ‘Dangerous’ or even ‘Forbidden’ – these areas are more deadly, but can offer greater rewards, and are usually where the potential to earn Reputation Points lies. In most cases, this takes the form of some threat that you’ll have to assign your villagers to deal with; resolving the danger may also require certain resources. Completing the task at hand gives you the choice of a large resource bounty or the option to trade it in for Reputation. However, be warned – take too long and there can be serious consequences. For instance, an early clearing I came across periodically sent out a wave of unstoppable spirits that killed three of my villagers at random until I had dealt with it.

Against the Storm - a menu screen showing 'Orders' - bounties that must be fulfilled to earn rewards and points towards victory

Suffice to say, then, that there’s plenty going on in Against the Storm. It’s an incredibly intricate set of systems that all bounce off each other in satisfying ways. Thankfully, it’s not too punishing out the gate – you can even start off on a lower difficulty should you want to slide in gently and then ramp things up over time. In addition to this, the comprehensive tooltips and the game’s well-formatted help atlas ensure that I found it easy to check anything that might have slipped my mind.

The biggest issue I ran into in my time with the game so far is keeping track of everything going on. With potentially dozens of resources on the go and just as many buildings utilising them in various ways, I found myself on several occasions burning through key resources because I’d left my workers turning them into tradable goods (to fulfil a Queen’s Order) that I couldn’t actually trade afterwards thanks to a particular perk I’d chosen for that level. However, once I realised my mistake, even this aspect is exceptionally well-handled – there are easy ways to ask your population to prioritise a certain aspect of production, utilise certain resources over others, or forgo certain processes altogether if you don’t need them.

As for trading, this starts out as a simple matter of dealing with random merchants that will offer you a variety of resources for higher prices than they’re prepared to pay for your stuff in kind. If you don’t fancy that, you can always attack them – though this is likely to reduce the chance of future vendors showing up in town. As you start to settle more of the world, however, you begin to manage multiple cities at once, and can start networking them together and trading your resources back and forth.

Against the Storm - a village built in a coral-like biome, with a menu showing a dangerous 'Leaking Cauldron' that units have been sent to handle

Finally, we come to the roguelite element of Against the Storm. The aforementioned Blightstorms mark the turning of a cycle. When the storm falls, you are forced back to the safety of the Smouldering City, but this allows you the chance to start anew in a reshaped world, carrying with you upgrades earned with your meta-progression rewards through a wide-ranging upgrade tree. It’s an interesting way to keep things fresh as you continue playing.

Against the Storm lands on Steam Early Access on November 1. While it may still be a work in progress, the game in its current state feels very polished – from the helpful user interface to a notable lack of any real bugs aside from the occasional micro-stutter during weather transitions. Developer Eremite Games seems eager to chat to community members in the forums, and appears rather receptive to feedback, which bodes well for the game’s future.

The whole setup, especially the way you assign roles and priorities rather than assuming direct unit control, as well as having to deal with the needs and whims of the various species, takes me back to the many long hours spent playing classic strategy game Majesty in my youth. Much as that game did back in 2000, Against the Storm has really captured my attention so far. I can’t emphasise enough what a good job the game’s UI does of making a very intricate set of systems feel traversable, and I’m certainly intending to keep my adventure going as development continues.

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You can find Against the Storm on Steam with its launch in Early Access on November 1; it’s also available on the Epic Games store. It’s currently priced at £17.99 GBP / €19.99 EUR / $19.99 USD. In the meantime, you can check out more of the best city-building games on PC for plenty of other ways to get your strategic fix.