I have always been a huge fan of city-building and 4X strategy games. Civilization, Total War, Stellaris, and others in the genre have captivated me as well as a wide variety of gamers around the world for decades now. There is something about slowly taking control of the world around you that makes for an excellent experience, but I have always felt that most of these games have leaned too heavily upon their combat mechanics and don't provide players with a large enough skill set to conquer the world in other ways. That is why when I saw Before We Leave takes a non-violent approach to the city-building strategy genre I was instantly excited. Sadly, in Before We Leave's efforts to remove the violence, it also cuts out any real challenge or direction.
Before We Leave is set on a world that was almost completely destroyed by some unknown threat (the game alludes to this being climate-related or possibly nuclear war), and therefore the inhabitants of the world were driven were forced to retreat into underground vaults. Generations later the world has become livable again and the people have returned to the surface in an attempt to repopulate the planet. After this initial dark premise though Before We Leave becomes a fairly lighthearted game about these people (adorably named Peeps) working together to remake the world.
Returning to the Surface
The player's role in Before We Leave is to construct buildings that help these Peeps survive in their harsh new environment. The player must construct homes for them to live in, places for them to acquire food and water, as well as facilities to enable the crafting of higher quality materials. The player is able to expand their starting village considerably and before long their Peeps will have an impressive place to call home. From here the player can expand further by traveling to a new island and start up a new village. The overall goal here is to settle all of the landmasses around the world.
Because many years have passed since Peeps have lived on the surface they have mostly forgotten all forms of technology that their ancestors once had access to. To fix this Peeps will salvage technology throughout the world that the player can then use to research new buildings. Doing so gives Peeps the ability to mine and smelt ore or build generators to create electricity. The technology tree is the game's only real method of progression mostly because they are the only concrete goals that the player is given other than to expand around the globe. The downside to this tech tree is that it is also fairly one-dimensional and the player doesn't have multiple branching paths that can be taken through the tree-like you might see in a game of Civilization VI.
No Conquering In Sight
Monitoring resources and ensuring that all of the Peeps of your little world in Before We Leave can be a little tricky at first, but players who have any experience with this genre at all will grasp the game's mechanics very quickly. From there, players will just need to keep building and expanding to watch the number of resources they have go up. The only real trouble that I ran into was that every building that is constructed in the game must be facing a road, and roads take up an entire tile to themselves. Because I was just expanding my village at first without paying attention to where I was placing things, there were several times where I had to get creative with my next building placement or remove old buildings to make room for a new set of roads. While this feature was no doubt added to add some strategy to city planning it really feels like nothing more than a minor frustration.
Newcomers to the city-builder strategy game genre will probably have a lot of fun with Before We Leave, but players who have been around the block will grow tired of its simple mechanics and lack of challenge.
What I hoped would be my favorite thing about Before We Leave wound up being one of its drawbacks. I had hoped that the non-violent focus of the game would force me to create new strategies and play differently than I would something else in this genre. Instead, the game is horribly easy and directionless without the ability to wage war against other groups of Peeps. It actually almost feels as if the developers cut the combat aspect of the game last-minute and therefore the whole experience was left lacking a major part of the game. I never really found mechanics in Before We Leave that grabbed my attention or gave me a reason to keep playing.
Built For Newcomers, Not For Vets
Overall, I think my biggest problem with Before We Leave as a long-time strategy game player is that its simple sleek design covers up systems that aren't entirely explained to the player. Those who want to crunch the numbers and determine the best way to ensure that their Peeps are working at maximum efficiency will run into the issue that they can't find much of that information anywhere. For example, the way that resources like wood and ore are collected is very inconsistent and it's near impossible to keep track of how much of that resource a specific building is collecting. In an attempt to simplify things Before We Leave made it much more difficult for fans of the genre to play the game the way that they wish.
Now, this isn't to say everything about Before We Leave is bad. The design of the world and its UI is top-notch, and I was very impressed with just how pretty the game can be despite its simplicity. Before We Leave does an excellent job of keeping the UI from being to complicated for the player, which helps keep things accessible for those of any skill level. Honestly, the game's biggest strength is just how accessible it makes the city-building strategy genre to those who have never played something like it before. That makes this the perfect entry point of a newcomer, but for the genre, vets should probably avoid Before We Leave or risk being bored to tears.
TechRaptor reviewed Before We Leave on PC using a Steam code provided by developer Balancing Monkey Games.
- Beautiful Design
- Great UI
- Very Accessible to Beginners
- Overly Simplified Mechanics
- No Goals Or Direction
- Far To Easy