I’ve been continuing a recent spate of playing RTSes and so this past week dusted off They Are Billions. I played a bunch of this about a year ago but never got good enough to survive a map, but this time looked up some tips and was able to successfully survive the final wave on an easy difficulty (42%)
It has pretty good core RTS mechanics and it’s very moreish, but I have some real qualms about it. First of all survival mode is really poorly balanced. There is a series of about half a dozen waves but the last one is an enormous spike in difficulty, so after mastering the basics the real challenge is surviving that final wave. Fundamentally this requires a strong enough economy to build up defenses, but since you can easily survive the earlier waves with a weak economy, you can get yourself into a situation where you’ve already lost the game but don’t know it yet because you aren’t going to see the final wave for another hour of play time.
The other thing is that actually understanding how to build that economy sort of requires deeply embracing the colonialist themes at a mechanical level. What I had been doing wrong before was playing much too defensively, building walls and expanding slowly, so as not to risk the colony falling prey to the zombies. But in fact the better way to survive is the flip that on its head and go on the offensive. This means aggressive expansion that feels like domination, along with a systematic purging of the zombies that are just chilling on the map (not part of waves attacking you). Nothing about the game makes me feel like it’s interrogating this at all, there’s a kind of immature feeling to the unit barks and so on that does not make the game feel well thought out.
It’s kind of too bad because it’s an RTS that really embraces real-time-with-pause and that makes it in some ways more accessible than some other RTS games that stubbornly refuse to implement active pause (like Northgard)