I love a good city builder and I’m notoriously fond of productions lines and efficiency management, which is hilarious considering my academic record for anything involving numbers has always been poor at best. For some reason though, I’m particularly apt in this area when it comes to video games and I do get a little bit excited when I see a title that showcases these things. Naturally, with the release on Steam of Before We Leave from Balancing Monkey Games (which had its initial release exclusively on the Epic Games Store), I was more than happy to get my hands dirty and see what number-crunching management challenges the title had to offer.
Before We Leave is pound-for-pound a civilization management sim. The ancient world that previously existed is no more and its people (or peeps) spent an age underground to escape the destruction of the old world, only to find that nature had reclaimed the planet they lived on. Now it’s up to you to rebuild the shattered world, utilising discoverable technologies and a spot of forward planning to ensure that your peeps thrive in this endeavour. What’s particularly different about Before We Leave is that it leaves behind the combat element that you see in similar games to focus entirely on the building and management aspect. It’s breath of fresh air and offers a much calmer and soothing experience.
“It’s up to you to rebuild the shattered world, utilising discoverable technologies and a spot of forward planning to ensure that your peeps thrive in this endeavour.”
You kick off the monumental task of rebuilding your civilization with a small bunker from which the first of your peeps emerge. There are several planets to see throughout your journey, though for the first couple of hours you’ll be confined to just one whilst you build up your resources and production lines. The planets themselves consist of an array of explorable islands, each with varying biomes to discover and colonize. The map itself is built up of hexes with each acting as an area to both build and for your peeps to traverse.
The aim whilst starting out is pretty simplistic. Initial resources such as food, wood and stone are necessary so that you can start building huts for your peeps to live in. You’ll also have the ability to build explorer’s huts, which allow your peeps to navigate the island and collect old world technology to use for researching. Building requires a bit of thought, with certain buildings like huts having adjacency bonuses, or other buildings (mainly industrial) creating gloom and unhappiness that can affect how efficient your peeps are at their individual tasks. This is where the hexagonal system really shows its flair, providing some real head scratching moments to ensure you’re making the most of the limited space you have whilst avoiding creating problem areas that’ll hit you hard later down the line. Everything has to be connected to a road for access too, and mountain areas will need elevators for your peeps to gain access to resources like iron and stone. It might seem a touch overwhelming to newcomers at first, but I can assure you that it’s super rewarding to see your freshly built colony running like a greased gear.
“Building requires a bit of thought, with certain buildings like huts having adjacency bonuses, or other buildings (mainly industrial) creating gloom and unhappiness that can affect how efficient your peeps are at their individual tasks.”
After the first hour or so, you’ll have to start utilising the Library building to start researching technology. This includes the means to start building ships and colonising other islands on your planet. Once you’ve built your first sea-worthy vessel, you’ll be able to load it up with peeps and navigate the globe. This is a whole lot of fun too, as the planet retains its spherical shape as you move the ship to explore it. What I love about the system in particular is that each ship has a purpose, with your scouting vessel allowing you to explore entire islands with a click of a button or a colony ship allowing you to set up a port and provide your new island with its first influx of peeps and materials. It isn’t anything that’s new to the genre, but its simplicity fits perfectly with vibe of the game.
As I mentioned earlier, islands have varying biomes, and your ability to build certain buildings and manage your production chains relies heavily on this. For example, when you want to create glass, you need access to sand. Naturally, this is only available on desert biome islands that may not have the green tiles that you need to create food and basic materials like forests for creating wood. And this is where the real enjoyment of Before We Leave kicks in: trading between island colonies.
“What’s great about Before We Leave is that everything has a purpose, and this doesn’t change throughout the game.”
Along with scout and colony ships, you’ll also have access to trade ships that can ferry materials between your islands. Don’t have access to enough hexes to build farms and woodcutters? Not a problem if you specialise your islands to maintain certain production chains and utilise your trade networks to ensure each island is getting exactly what it can’t produce. The gameplay of Before We Leave really flourishes in this element and provides a hell of a lot of fun even if this is realistically a numbers game.
At certain points, you’ll reach population barriers that will increase the expectancy of your peeps. As if you aren’t breaking your back enough already making sure everything runs smoothly, they’ll start to expect better food and amenities like clothes and luxury items. There’s sense to this too, with desert and snow biomes making it harder for your peeps to do their work. You can negate most of these penalties by ensuring that your peeps have access to clothing. What’s great about Before We Leave is that everything has a purpose, and this doesn’t change throughout the game. Each resource is as important later in the game as it was at the beginning, which makes the experience of managing each colony both rewarding and necessary.
“Once you’ve started setting up your trade network (both between islands and planets), filling deficits is as easy as adding a particular material import and export to keep your colonies running efficiently.”
As you travel between islands (and later between planets), you’ll increasingly find better research which will allow you to advance your colonies. Once you’ve managed to find and repair an old spaceship on your first world you can get your peeps to the stars and start colonising other planets. Here you’ll encounter more things to discover and increase both the wellbeing of your peeps and continue to build vast colonies. It might sound at this point that Before We Leave may start to suffer like most civilisation builders where they require increasing micromanagement, and that gameplay slows down to a crawl. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn’t the case, because once you’ve started setting up your trade network (both between islands and planets), filling deficits is as easy as adding a particular material import and export to keep your colonies running efficiently. It’s very intuitive and I welcomed how easy it was to manage.
So, whilst there is no combat in Before We Leave, you do have to watch out for Space Whales (yes, you read that correctly). These void-borne massive mammals will make passes at your planets and drain them of resources. The cheeky beggars. It doesn’t happen often to be fair, and you can see them coming a fair way off (it’s actually pretty impressive to watch them make a drive by of your planet). With enough planning you will easily recover from an attack, but it’s nice to have something that adds a bit of challenge to the game. It doesn’t feel unfair either, but just pairs nicely with the whole experience.
“So, whilst there is no combat in Before We Leave, you do have to watch out for Space Whales (yes, you read that correctly).”
There are plenty of hours of fun to be had in Before We Leave, and a lot to explore and really sink your teeth into. Couple this with the game’s charming visuals and a comforting soundtrack and it’s really onto a winner. There’s plenty more stuff to discover in game too, and in the interest of not spoiling the experience I haven’t mentioned everything here. My time with Before We Leave ran smoothly and given that it had already seen initial release on the Epic Game Store, any of the initial teething problems the game might have had have been well and truly ironed out. Add to that some additional content that has launched alongside the Steam release of the game, and even returning players will find something fresh to enjoy in the game.
It’s rare for a strategy title that doesn’t have some element of conflict in it to provide a satisfying challenge, but Before We Leave shines despite it. Its mixture of charming gameplay and resource management provides an enjoyable experience to scratch that civilization building itch, and I found myself spending HOURS setting up a thriving resource chain between planets and islands. Believe me, a good time was had.
Perhaps some players would argue that it’s a bit more basic in comparison to heavier games in the genre, but Before We Leave shows that you don’t need complexity to have fun. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve had with a civilization builder in a while. Give it a chance, and you won’t be disappointed… just watch out for the Space Whales.
Developer: Balancing Monkey Games
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed)