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Impressions: Against the Storm

Against the Storm (AtS) is a roguelike city-builder, and may very well be the first of its kind. Each game feels like the early to midgame turns of a Civilization match as you explore the foggy forest in pursuit of randomized resources that will force you to adapt your builds in new ways every time. And right as the combination of production synergies and passive abilities make your base amazing… the match is over, and you prepare to do it all over again somewhere else.

Each unit of mined Clay has a 50% chance of giving you Copper Ore, and 20% of Roots.

Random really is the name of the game. The win condition is raising your Reputation bar to maximum before the Queen’s Ire bar fills up. To raise your Reputation, you complete randomized Orders (quests), solve randomized Events/Caches strewn in glades on the map, leverage randomized Cornerstone abilities (passives), or raise the Resolve (happiness) meter of one or more of your races past a certain point to earn a steady trickle. You’ll do all of these things by collecting resources randomly distributed on the map, with buildings that were chosen from, you guessed it, a random assortment.

If all that randomness sounds a bit off-putting, well, it is. At first.

The genius of the game’s design is how it leans into adaptability. For example, if you wanted to make Beer, it’s very possible for there to be no Wheat on your map and no Farm building offered to grow Wheat. That sucks. But Beer can be made from Wheat or Roots. Or maybe you get offered a series of choices that leads you towards Wine or something else instead, which you trade for Wheat. Damn near every production building in the game has 3+ alternative inputs available, and since some buildings are more efficient than others, you are passively steered in certain directions that might be out of your comfort zone. I’ve had maps where I was just never offered something fundamental, like Planks or complex foods, and had to radically alter my gameplan to survive.

Do you choose the Smelter despite there being no Copper nodes on the map, or something else?

Remember Sid Meier saying games are a series of interesting decisions? That’s Against the Storm.

Successfully completing a map gains you progression currency you spend unlocking passive bonuses and other goodies back at the Smoldering City. After that, it is back to the world map and selecting the next hex to tackle. Each possible biome has a general theme and resources that appear more frequently. Select your randomized starting party, add some specific resources of your choosing, and then spend the next 5 minutes with the game paused to study the randomized buffs/debuffs you have received, and choose your randomized starting three building blueprints. You will repeat this cycle 5-6 times until the entire world gets reset (except for meta-progression) and you start everything again.

Ignore the poor start… multiple input options eventually let me turn this one around.

It is worth noting here that I don’t actually like city-builders all that much. I played SimCity 2000 for hundreds of hours ages ago and Frostpunk was okay, but I’m not especially a fan of games where you alternate between Pause and 3x speed. AtS is especially egregious in this regard because of all the interlocking parts with production buildings and various, randomized resources. That very randomness though, is precisely what has kept be playing for the last 25 hours – specifically the desire to optimize the madness. Each map will take you 1.5-2 hours to beat and then you are given a clean slate, so don’t come in thinking you will be making a self-sustaining colony or anything.

Overall, I am very impressed.

The game is starting to wind down for me though, as I have noticed my desire to win just for the upgrade currency to unlock new passives… that will make wining again easier. The offset for that are higher difficulties, including “Prestige” (aka Ascension) ranks that have ever-increasing maluses, but that’s not exactly what I’m looking for. And if I was, I would just play Slay the Spire.