Preview: They Are Billions (PC)

Upon firing up They Are Billions, a real-time strategy game with simulation and tower defense-like features by indie developer Numantain Games currently in Early Access, I confidently configure the settings as “challenging,” aiming for a 100% score percentile. After the map loads, I select my units comprised of four rangers and one soldier and have them proceed through the fog of war until I find a massive horde of infected. I set them to “patrol” through them while planting tents (housing), a sawmill, a hunter’s cottage, and a fisherman’s cottage back near my command center. In about ten minutes, a single zombie infiltrates my base from an unknown direction, causing a chain reaction of that spawns more infected in every structure, and my town is overrun. I laugh, now knowing what this game is really about, and collect my L.

The calm before the storm.

I fire up another map. This time, I send the rangers in one direction, and the soldier in another. I notice that the infected the soldiers kill are generally more animated than the infected that the rangers are killing. Is it because the latter are using bows and arrows which are more silent than the soldier’s gun? The soldier’s side becomes unmanageable with just one unit, so I call my rangers over to assist. Fifteen minutes pass, and an infected that came from the rangers’ previous location sneaks in. The infection spreads, and I collect another L.

This time, I keep my soldier home, only using the rangers to clear infected nearby. One gets through, but my soldier suppresses the infection with lethal force before it becomes unmanageable. Relieved, I continue playing, repairing buildings and saving enough resources to create the structure necessary to train more offensive units. I lack the iron for soldiers; I will have to find a deposit. Some of my rangers gain veterancy, and they become proficient infected-slayers. I build a few more, and my number is up to seven. I am minding my own business, and the UI narrator notifies me: “A HORDE IS APPROACHING FROM THE NORTH!” I panic, and move my rangers in that direction, and wait. The They Are Billions insignia appears on my minimap, and slowly descends toward my base. Emerging from the fog, is more infected than I had seen in all three games combined! They walk through my ranger line like a pre-school child’s snack of cookies and milk, overwhelming my forces and my town. L.

In the next map, I do everything I had done in the previous attempt, except that I had now spawned east of a Village of Doom, a location that is the infected’s version of a town. Not wanting to be overwhelmed, I park some rangers in front of it to pick off stragglers. From this village, an endless stream sprinting infected pour from the fog in the middle of the village. The AI in this game…fights back? While distracted, an infected infiltrates my base from the south. With my forces split, I could not disperse the ensuing infection. I do not even wait until they rally around my command center, and “rage quit.” L.

Compare the bloom emanating from the tents in the previous photo to the green pestilence consuming them in this photo. The infected rally around the command center. Game Over incoming.

In the next game, I stave off the first horde rush, even teching up to snipers that can kill regular infected in a single shot. However, a second rush that takes place twenty minutes after the first is double the size of the previous rush, including a few voluminous units that remind me of the blob. L.

About thirty minutes elapse on my next attempt before an infected finds a crease to my base between a lake and a tree line. Even as I had begun to grasp the mechanics of the game, it still caught me slippin’ and sleepin’. L.

This cycle would occur a few more times, and become frustrated, wondering if I will have to write this preview completely defeated. That would be embarrassing! Yet I have learned that I would not be alone: at the time of this writing, only 10% of all players have conquered a map on easy, 9% on accessible, and 6% of challenging. Numantain Games has announced on twitter that they are up to 200,000 “survivors” in They Are Billions, thus comparatively, not that many people are blazing through the game.

I set the difficulty to 30% score, which is the minimum required to unlock the next map. I still collect a few more L’s, but at least now, I setting up perimeter patrols with my rangers in the earlygame, building walls and static defenses, and advancing up the the tech tree, before an infected horde spawns from a cardinal direction that is the weak side of my base and I get crushed. In another instance, a horde was supposed to spawn from the north, and I prepared my defenses, positioning my entire army northward in preparation. Unfortunately an off-screen mountain re-routed them to the east side of my base, and the horde all but moonwalked right into my neighborhood of fifty houses. I was miffed! But I was miffed in a good way.

I can tell buy looking at the minimap that this poor player defended the east and southern sections of their base well, but it appears that the west has chewed through and rallied with the northern horde. Seeing that they are on day 139, they had to have invested at least eight real-time hours into his base…to lose.

I had been following They Are Billions since the first day that it appeared listed on Steam way back in May. I was frustrated, because good modern RTS games are an endangered species. Since it is an Early Access game, They Are Billions is naturally unfinished, with Numantain Games promising a full campaign spring 2018. Even so, the survival mode feels complete. I think it is a far criticism that the game is on the pricey side at $22.49 for essentially one map, as the other three maps are locked behind the skill check of having to conquer previous maps at higher score percentages. Hopefully, this mechanic is only in place for the Early Access version of They Are Billions to simulate progression, and that in the full version of the game, all of the survival maps will come unlocked.

BONUS!

Those of you who have watched my QuickScope of They Are Billions know that the final result was my fourth attempt. Below are the other three. I originally intended to record my effort to win the second map in the game, but had forgotten how many days until the final horde would arrive, so I took a second take. The third video is much like the fourth, which is the early game. However, it is thirty minutes, and I was only supposed to record about fifteen. For those who really want to get a good idea of how to play, these will be of immense help. Enjoy!

Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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