As Close as You'll Get to Howl's Moving Castle
Some of you may have caught Airborne Kingdom's debut trailer during the PC gaming show this June, coming this fall to the Epic Games Store. I sat down with the developers, The Wandering Band, for a live preview as they streamed the game to me via Discord during a Q&A session and heard directly from the source exactly what sets Airborne Kingdom apart from other city builders.
Players will take control of a small group of intrepid travelers that have stumbled upon flying machinery left over from an ancient civilization. With their resources dwindling, they take to the skies in search of food, water, materials, citizens and other civilizations. Players will fly their kingdoms around a never-ending map while building up their city and managing labor and resources. The map itself is laid out in tiles. Each tile is handcrafted by an artist but the arrangement of the tiles is procedurally generated, allowing Airborne Kingdom to keep to a high standard of design while allowing for replayability. Several biomes are featured as well, including forests, ocean, mountains, desert and tundra.
After finishing the tutorial sections, players are confronted with the story - yes, there is an actual campaign, with a story. It becomes the mission of the Airborne Kingdom to reunite all the lost kingdoms across the land, who have lost touch and are barely scraping by fending for themselves. Some sit on large deposits of ore while others have a large supply of fresh water, but due to the uninhabitable landscape trade routes have grown nearly non-existent.
Players will need to manage many of the typical city builder resources, such as coal, wood, water and food, but the most interesting feature of The Airborne Kingdom is managing the lift of your kingdom. You'll need to make sure you keep an eye on how each building and each process is affecting the kingdom's altitude - ignore it too long and you'll send your citizens plummeting down to earth. Furthermore, balance is a factor: if you weigh down one side of the city too much, you'll need to add an equal amount of weight to the opposite side to keep it from toppling. Building in an outward spiral motion is my first instinct here, but the developers assure me there are dozens of ways to safely expand your kingdom.
Collect resources by sending citizens down to the ground in between kingdoms to harvest water, vegetation, wood, etc. while using your researchers, scientists and engineers up in the sky to improve the city. There's a pretty comprehensive skill tree with many branches for your kingdom, ensuring that gamers can find a way to play their way. You can send your scouts down to explore ruins when you find them to discover new technology, as well. I'll mention that one minute in real life equals one hour in the game, so don't be alarmed if a task says it'll take five hours to complete - it'll be done soon.
The main feature that drew my attention to The Airborne Kingdom is the fact that there is an actual story. As stated earlier, your mission is to keep flying and reconnecting the isolated kingdoms by establishing trade routes. There is no warfare or besieging in this game; rather, players will need to complete quests to gain the favor of new kingdoms. When arriving at one such kingdom, players will be greeted by representatives or perhaps the leaders themselves and run through a few dialogue trees. From what I've seen there isn't too much branching dialogue, but what is there seems to be well written. The desert area invokes a middle-age Arabian culture (some serious Aladdin vibes here), but the developers tell me that cultures and styles will change across the map.
If a kingdom is in dire need of, for instance, water, they may be willing to ally with your flying city for X gallons of it. However, they may be overloaded with food and sell it to you at a cheap price, and the leftovers could be delivered to another kingdom that sits on a lake (and so on and so forth). Again, the arrangement of the kingdoms changes with each playthrough, so don't get too comfortable thinking you know where each specific resource is. After allying with a city, some of their citizens will join your kingdom and increase your population. Like in many city builders, your citizens have a happiness level, and keeping it up high is the best way to ensure new citizens will be attracted to your kingdom.
All in all, The Airborne Kingdom seems to stick out in a crowded mess of PC city builders because of its dedication to its nature as a flying city. Managing your lift and balance are two very interesting factors that are brought to the forefront of this management game. I'm also impressed at the dedication to writing a real story; many games of this nature skip over a campaign altogether. Fans of both exploration and management will have something to look forward to in The Airborne Kingdom. I will certainly be checking it out.
TechRaptor got to see The Airborne Kingdom played by The Wandering Band at a press event. The game will be available on PC and Mac exclusively on the Epic Games Store in Fall 2020.