They Are Billions is a steampunk strategy game which has just been released on Steam’s Early Access feature by Numantian Games. The game is set on a post-apocalyptic planet, where players must tech up from wood to full steampunk machines in an attempt to build and defend. What are they defending against? Billions of infected, whom will happily tear through any weak defences. However, is this yet another zombie game or does it do something different? Let’s find out!
In a way reminiscent of Age of Empires, players will start off with a central command centre, a single soldier and some speedy rangers. From here they must build housing, buildings to gain resources and most importantly defences to keep the infected out. The aim of the game is to survive for a predetermined number of days. Players can choose the difficulty via two options the size of the infected population and the days they must survive. Slightly counter-intuitively the longer you try to survive the easier the game is, with the same number of infected coming at you over a longer amount of time. These two options combine to give a difficulty percentage, which must be over a set amount to unlock the next environment.
While the game is sold as a straight up strategy game, given the survival element, They Are Billions feels like a hybrid between the RTS (Real Time Strategy) and Tower Defence genres. Whether your strategy involves spamming walls (it should to some extent) and defensive towers or having a mobile army of mechs and soldiers you are, at the end of the day, defending your main base. The developers have struck an amazing balance between the two, as building up elements of your town enables players to defend themselves better. Each element is linked: be it the power requirements for housing, that offers the workers needed to man the Sawmill, which in turn enables a Great Ballista to be built.
Despite being in Early Access the building list is pretty well filled out, despite the majority being unavailable to players as they start out. There are many different ways to gain food, upgradeable housing options and plenty of unique buildings to be researched. The only area which feels like it truly needs a little extra is the defensive towers area. There is the same variety of towers as most other areas of the building menu. This wouldn’t be an issue if the game wasn’t all about survival. There could be some upgrades available for each defensive tower type, resulting in more decisions to be made.
They Are Billions is an extremely satisfying game to beat, but it is a punishing game. At 10 hours in I had yet to unlock even the second of four procedurally generated map types. In stark contrast during those ten hours the hordes of zombies had little difficulty in bring about my growing towns eventual death. Each map type adds something different into the mix, however, even just one can provide endless entertainment. Each time you load into a new game, with only an ironman saving system available, the map is procedurally generated. This means each time a slightly different challenge will present itself. One game your starting location could be surrounded by an abundance of trees, with wood being a scarce resource in the next. Players will have to react and adapt any strategies based on what is available to them.
Each and every zombie is a substantial threat, due to the chain reactions that can occur. Let a single zombie break through undetected and it could just be game over. Whenever a building with workers is destroyed the occupants become infected and join in the destruction, forming a horde. God forbid that original lonely zombie gets to your tents or houses as soon there will be a small army of undead inside your base.
Infected litter the landscape, growing in numbers as you reach the edges of the map. As if these weren’t enough infected towns are also spawned and periodically hordes will charge your way. The infected towns present an interesting dilemma as when doomed buildings are destroyed they drop resources, but they are a source of infected. Attempting to tackle even one outer edge building will result in a horde like mass of infected charge out, which can go on to batter and test your defences.
These are separate to the hordes of infected which you’ll get limited warning about. This will see colossal amounts of infected coming from an approximate compass direction. The first horde will comprise of just standard infected and will often be easily dispelled. Fast forward a horde or two and soon most will be running not walking, huge fat zombies will be heading your way and even deadly Harpies.
From a UI point of view it is all incredibly solid and works perfectly all the way up to, and including, 4K resolutions. One tiny issue I’ve seen players have is that there is no clear compass to go with the horde warnings of, for example, “From the East”. This may just make things a little clearer when it comes to the exact direction to expect the horde to come from. My personal preference in UI terms is being able to see all the potential buildings, even if they are unavailable due to not being researched. Adding this option to have buildings greyed out, with hints of how to research them, would just make learning the game a little easier.
The game will properly launch with two game modes, Survival and Campaign. A campaign mode may step players into the game a little better but currently it can feel like being somewhat chucked into the deep end of a swimming pool full of the undead. I’m intrigued to see where the devs take They Are Billions from here as it is an incredibly solid game, not often seen in Early Access titles. The team has somehow taken what is an over-used theme and created something that feels unique and fun to play, even if it is incredibly punishing. This difficulty only builds the satisfaction of finally completing the objective though and is why They Are Billions is well worth playing; especially if you’re a fan of the tower defence or strategy genres.
[Editor’s Note: They Are Billions was provided to us by Numantian Games for the preview.]