Against the Storm is a prime example of what can happen when a small team has clear inspiration, passion, and a willingness to collaborate with its players. It's a brilliant mix of roguelike, strategy, and small-scale city building that will hook you from the jump.
Releasing in early access to critical acclaim back in 2022, Against the Storm is sending off 2023 with its big 1.0 release, signalling a complete state for the rougelike city building experience that takes a refreshingly retro approach to the genre mashup. Echoing the stylistic air of Warcraft 3 while remaining as deep and complex as Shiro Games’ Northgard, it’s a highly engaging, delectably rewarding, and suitably frustrating game with pacing so perfect you’ll be battling against not only the game’s odds but your own overwhelming desire to build one more town before bed.
In Eremite Games’ Against the Storm, you’re not just in a race against time to build what you can before a cataclysmic event wipes your creations off the map. No, you’re also running against the wrath of the Queen that sent you to design her kingdom. Despite the absolute cavalcade of UI elements surrounding every edge of the screen as you work your magic, it’s two bars moving in opposite directions – one signifying victory, and the other defeat – that you’ll struggle to take your eyes off.
The whole thing has me reminiscing about a multiplayer run in a Sonic game; the feeling of the progress bar showing your opponent bridging the gap between you and the relief (or dismay) of one mistake causing the other to shoot far ahead. In this case, it’s seeing the Queen’s impatience pull back as you race to complete orders, affording you a very noticeable, needed, and welcome reprieve. It’s a manic sprint to build the series of facilities needed to manufacture that one product that will convince her you might actually know what you’re doing, even if you don’t.
It’s the constantly looming threat that makes Against the Storm so entrancing: the idea that one wrong move or too slow a pivot in strategy could upend a whole session. To detract from that harsh reality, there’s balance to be found in its roguelike game systems. Even should the Queen decide to boot you from your town, you’re still rewarded for your ill-fated efforts through completed goals that award experience points, slowly unlocking things like new buildings for subsequent runs, or permanent buffs to offset some of the Queen’s wrath.
This is all going on as you’re juggling countless resources, assigning jobs to the constant stream of new settlers, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new trader in the desperate hope that they might have that one bit of jerky you need to make someone happy.
Defeat after a 45-minute stint can be demoralizing. In fact, there’s a good chance it’ll happen a few times early on, less so once you’ve begun to understand the intricacies of the mechanics, and more as you unlock late-game structures and tinker with the strategies they open up. But that’s all part of the plan. In Against the Storm, you’re not just building one town, but a kingdom.
You do this by settling in lands further and further from the Queen’s citadel. Each successful attempt to foster civilization uncovers more of the world map, with your goal being to reach various relics said to help fend off the storm that resets your progress every 100 years – yes, you’re still not safe from doomsaying progress bars after exiting the active game world.
Though the onboarding process can get you building a successful town without too much fuss, there’s a lot in Against the Storm that isn’t explained well enough. There’s some serious UI bloat when it comes to resource counters and the like that can threaten to cover the whole experience in a dark cloud if you’re someone who can’t help but obsess over the tiniest of details. Understanding the storm phases, setting alternate resources for production, and understanding the stack of modifiers surrounding the starting point of the next town is a bit much.
But it’s also not necessary to master every single system all at once. Every action has a distinct purpose, and you can largely get by without understanding all the nuances.
You do have time to react to most of what happens, though one short-sighted shift in focus can cause a domino effect that keeps your brain churning, your eyes locked to the grid, and your heart sinking. Every run quickly turns from a town’s humble beginnings to a disastrous dance with death.
There’s enough feedback and direction to steer you the right way, and the pacing allows you to figure out what you need to know without risking it all. Orders push you to try new things to keep the Queen at bay, and the tree-obscuring glades surrounding your starting position pique your curiosity. These provide essential firewood, fresh land to expand into, and multiple-choice events that can unlock free buildings you can use or salvage, helpful materials for your current citizens, or use as a gift for the foreboding royal highness.
When you start to dive a little deeper, you’ll find worth beyond the macro game by micro-managing every production facility. Your choices include deactivating or salvaging facilities you don’t need, having one focus solely on producing fabric rather than four different materials at once, or going all-in on woodcutters to quickly explore every inch of the map to claw resources and settlers from undiscovered locations.
With so much of each new town left up to chance when it comes to which early buildings you have access to, no single run is ever truly the same. What worked the first time might be immediately available the next time around, and it’s that classical element of roguelike gameplay that merges so well with the traditional city building and societal management sim on offer here. It’s a match made in medieval heaven.
And do you know what else that impeccable pacing lends itself to? Portable play. This is a near-perfect Steam Deck game. The gameplay being relaxed and the graphics simple means the frame rate doesn’t matter so much. At native resolution, you can get 5+ hours at 30Hz on the high graphics preset.
The default controls work wonderfully with the Steam Deck’s haptic trackpads, too. It is 100% one of those “just one more turn” type of strategy games, and you can play it comfortably wherever you want with Valve’s hefty portable. In fact, it’s the primary way I’ve played it – though I did hook the whole thing up to some XReal Air 2 Pro glasses for that big-screen experience.
Against the Storm is a brilliant amalgamation of casual strategy and roguelike gameplay mechanics. The objectives are clear, and it effortlessly commands your focus, being both simple enough on the surface to draw you in and complex enough to keep you enthralled in its gratifying risk/reward gameplay loop.
Its occasional 2D sections cheapen the experience ever so slightly, and the glade exploration events that make up so much of it can feel a little underbaked at times, but the core idea here is deeply engrossing. It’s another winner in what has been a great year for new PC game releases.