When I think of genres synonymous with depth and strategy, two genres come to mind: RTS games and city builders. Both of these genres coming together give us They Are Billions, and the two mixed together is a combination as good as chocolate and peanut butter.
Adding survival to it adds an extra layer of tension and planning to each run through. You will keep coming back after each death with new ideas on how you’re going to survive the long journey against the horde of zombies.
While some of the game is lost in translation when being brought to console, the thrilling tension, satisfying strategy and it’s dark aesthetic all remain at its best.
They Are Billions is a peculiar game that really crept up on me. An interesting hybrid of RTS, city builders and tower defense takes advantage of each of these parts and does so in strides. Coupling it with its survival and iron man style helps add more tension. But it can also be a burden depending on what type of player you are.
But any way you look at it, the process of slowly progressing to a bigger camp as the zombie horde fighting outside gets bigger and bigger is such a satisfying loop. You will find yourself playing over and over as you learn new strategies and plans. It’s an addictive rush that can become tiring after several close to winning deaths, but it’s hard to deny the appeal in the rush of a huge horde hitting when you least expect it.
Once you hit survival and adjust your difficulty sliders (which affect the number of zombies or days you have to survive) your in. There is no tutorial so clicking through menus and reading item descriptions is your best option. Your game starts you off in the middle of an RNG map and you should hope the RNG Gods land you in a good spot so you can begin planting tents to build residents and slowly start getting resources.
There are 7 resources and you slowly buildup to getting all of them and improving the type of equipment you use, the resources used for better equipment are harder to come by. The only problem here is with the RNG. I’ve had many rounds of They Are Billions that spanned across hours of play time, but even more that finish within 30 minutes due to the placement of the base. Whether it be far from resource locations like forests and mineral deposits, or the lack of land masses serving as a cover.
But if you manage to get a good spot then the strategy comes into place and the fun really starts. You will be making decisions on what to prioritize straight away. Are you hurrying to start making research buildings and get some complicated machinery started, or do you stay simple for a while and just make soldiers, tents and walls? You have to think about how you are going to play out the game. You can play aggressive and try as fast as possible to expand your base limits, which requires resources, or you try and play it safe and make a small but very secure and protected base.
Bad planning can lead to huge problems down the road. You can take your time despite being in real time because of a pause feature allowing you to look over your base and build while paused. I love how many strategies are possible. Once an idea works and your days past the start you sort of build up an attachment with your base, while you may not feel much sympathy for your falling units when your beautiful walls collapse you understand the true feeling of pain.
The RTS combat comes in with the zombies and hordes. Zombies are found around the map; sometimes in huge packs and sometimes just walking about. You can hunt them yourselves on your own volition but you won’t be able to avoid the massive hordes that come right to your base. There are several units to build and you can expect the usual drag and command style of taking them out. However, apart from defenses, there aren’t too many units at your disposal until late game.
While it is simple, managing them all at once is when it becomes stressful. When any zombies slip through the defenses and take over camps multiplying and they are destroying everything it’s truly stressful. Not to mention how incredibly satisfying it is if you manage to overtake these aggressive and menacing hordes in intense circumstances. It can be a little unfair when zombies become difficult to see because they are stuck behind something like a wall. You can’t see them clearly, therefore you can’t send someone to take him out. This can quickly turn into unintentional chaos.
But most of the unintentional chaos will come from the controls. As you can expect from taking two of the most keyboard and mouse heavy genres, the game doesn’t translate perfectly. Using the controller isn’t unplayable by any means, but it isn’t ideal. It just takes a bit longer to dash through menus and organize your hordes, but the aforementioned pause button alleviates some of those issues.
The bigger issue with the console port is the lack of a campaign. It’s present on PC currently and I’m sure will be added down the track. It would be a nice touch of variety to a loop that is already very fun. While the different maps are here too, unlocking them requires a solid amount of skill. Winning on higher difficulties is required to play on them. By the time you get good enough, you may have fallen off the game because of the lack of initial variety. One thing that is on consoles is the challenge of the week which allows you to go on leaderboards against others with a set map. This is fun if you feel like competing but that personally isn’t something I was worried about.
One thing I like is the grimy steampunk aesthetic of the game. You have tons of goons in huge suits with giant guns making a fortress to protect their town folk and fight these huge masses of disgusting zombie creatures. All of it is themed appropriately with the classic yellows, browns, cogs and gears. Everything on screen is well detailed, even up close. This is from the grunts to the UI. The music leaves a little to be desired but it well serves the aesthetic. A few more memorable tracks could have gone a long way though.
Despite the hiccups in translation from PC to console. They Are Billions is still an enchanting loop of planning and taking risks that you will struggle to find anywhere else. Variety may be a little thin, but the amount of strategy and planning certainly makes up for it. The sweet satisfaction of taking out a horde with ease is a powerful feeling. However, it doesn’t compare to the tense mayhem of when you are overwhelmed by what seems like billions of zombies. Fighting against the horde is a difficult process that is so much bloody fun and when you are riding the highs of that, you can easily look past the issues and focus on the billions.