Skip to main content

Against the Storm review: A perfect storm

A textbook Early Access title and a unique city-builder
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

There are loads of city-building and strategy game players out there who almost never finish any of their cities or campaigns – “finish” as in: Complete whatever the ultimate goal is. Why? Frankly, a lot of games get too tedious once you become too successful. All that’s left to do is paint the map as you send unbeatable armies around the globe, hitting the end-turn button in a rhythm that would make any drummer proud. It’s the same for city-builders: Once you’ve got access to all the resources you’d ever want, what point is there in playing? Why not start a new game again, dealing with the excitement of the initial challenge, the resource scarcity, the phase in which every move must be the correct one in order for you to survive?

It feels like Eremite Games, the developer of Against the Storm, asked the same question and designed its roguelike city-builder as a response to it.

Against the Storm key art.

Against the Storm's world is a fascinating and unforgiving one.

Against the Storm is essentially a post-apocalyptic game, but – thanks to its somewhat grim and unique fantasy setting – it’s more memorable than the flood of similarly themed city-builders out there at the moment. Personally, I’d never heard the term “Rainpunk” before, but that’s what they call it. As the player, you are the viceroy of a surviving civilization and tasked with setting up towns and trade posts in the strange wilderness of a changed world that’s been hit by a series of catastrophic storms and rainfalls.

On an overworld map, which has the last bastion of your civilization in the center, you choose the location of your new settlement. There are various biomes to find here, which all contain different resources that lend themselves to certain types of settlers. There are also points of interest on this map, which can greatly alter the experience of building a settlement that’s been placed in their zone of influence – as well as the rewards gained from completing the mission.

See, the world of Against the Storm works in cycles. You may build a handful of new towns near the tower, securing important resources, but the storms will come anew to wash them away and present you with a clean slate once again. What persists is your tower and the upgrades you’ve researched within, which will unlock things like additional starting resources, more buildings, new perks, and so on as time goes by. There is an overarching end goal to all this, but one of the few weaknesses of the game is that this is never emphasized in much detail. Frankly, that’s fine. You’re here to build cities, the why is… less relevant.

Against the Storm screenshot of a town inside a foggy forest.

Cities in Against the Storm never reach an overwhelming size.

This roguelike part has you complete settlements to gather resources, which can be used in the tower for upgrades that in turn make building new outposts easier and more interesting. This is a satisfying loop, as it encourages you to seek out new biomes and landmarks on the map to build your next cities in, working towards a greater goal. It also reinforces the story, namely that this mysterious queen you work for has some sort of long-term plan to break the destructive cycle you find yourself entrapped in.

Once you’ve found a place to settle, you select from a variety of starting resources and settlers and get going. Each city in Against the Storm is “complete” once you’ve reached a certain point threshold. You can gain points by making your settlers happy and fulfilling missions the queen assigns to you – these are randomly generated and you always get to choose one from a small selection presented to you. More missions are generated as time goes on. Fulfilling these gets you points on top of unlocking immediate rewards for your city, from additional settlers to some resources or blueprints.

The roguelike element isn’t just present on the overworld map: Aside from a standard array of buildings like a lumber camp and houses, you select the structures you can construct from a randomly generated pool – this makes each run unique. As you unlock new missions and get additional blueprints and perks, you adapt your plans on the fly. Production chains are designed in such a way that this never gets frustrating. Most goods can be produced from a variety of resources and by an array of different buildings to account for the large number of scenarios you may find yourself in. Take pickled vegetables. You can make these from vegetables or roots using glasses, pots, or barrels, and in several different buildings, allowing you to adapt the production details according to the circumstances you encounter. Likewise, a blacksmith can bake cakes or smoke meat alongside smelting ore, and so on. This increases the chance that your next blueprint selection will include a structure capable of making this good, in case you need it.

Against the Storm screenshot of a city engulfed in a rainstorm.

Against the Storm's relentless rains have a purpose as well: They can generate power.

Each of the game’s settler species – races like beavers, harpies, and lizardmen – have different happiness requirements, a typical city-builder mechanic. Fulfill enough of these, and you get the bonus points you need to win your current run. Sometimes you can satisfy the needs of several species, sometimes you need to focus on one or two to get by. You’ll need to decide that based on the resources and production chains you have available, but also on which species you need most in your settlement. Beavers, for example, are great at mechanical jobs, while lizardmen are fantastic at working with fire – assigning them corresponding jobs will make things more efficient.

Resources on the map are limited, as is building space, since you’re in the middle of a huge forest. This means you need to expand. Each map has small and big clearings, which contain additional resources and events. These can be dangerous and need to be dealt with quickly, if you don’t want negative effects to hamper your settlement, or can be welcome bonuses like caches of goods or abandoned buildings you can repair.

Aside from a need for expansion, two other factors provide pressure. One of them is the rains, which periodically appear and eat away at your settlers’ morale. However, you can also collect this rainwater and use it to power certain buildings with its magical properties, increasing their productivity. The other pressure factor is the queen’s impatience, which goes up as time goes by. If you don’t manage to obtain enough points before the queen’s patience is at an end, you lose.

Against the Storm screenshot showing the world map.

You can only build a limited number of settlements per cycle.

Depending on the difficulty settings and modifiers of your current location, Against the Storm can be a thrilling race against time, in which you try your best to satisfy the queen and your settlers both, walking a fine line of balance as pressure mounts from all sides. This is especially the case in the full release’s new game mode for veteran players. But what I appreciate about Against the Storm is that it can also be the opposite. Turn the difficulty down and you have a somewhat relaxing building experience with just the right amount of pressure to keep you pushing forward.

Completing a city in Against the Storm usually doesn’t take all too long. It’s a game that really respects your time. It never gets to the point I described in the introduction, the one that makes you ask what the hell you’re still doing here, because each run ends before that. Against the Storm is a city-builder in which you only experience that exciting starting phase over and over again with glimpses of late game strewn in here and there when your missions turn out that way. It’s an incredibly satisfying, addictive experience to jump into now and again. The roguelike mechanics keep this formula from being repetitive, as each run presents you with different challenges and ways to solve them.

Clad in charming Warcraft-esque visuals, Against the Storm is pretty to look at and playable on a great variety of systems. There is also neat clarity in those graphics, helping you understand the gameplay systems. Production buildings benefiting from a certain species working in them will have the same distinct aesthetics as that species’ houses. It’s a little detail, but one that helps you understand how to make your town as efficient as possible at first glance and without reading a single line of text.

Against the Storm screenshot showing the trading outpost.

Traders can be a vital source of rare supplies or additional perks.

Initially released in October 2021 as an Early Access game, Against the Storm has been on a remarkable journey in the last two years. Remarkable, because it’s been so unremarkable, in a way. Against the Storm never got into any of the drama other Early Access titles fall prey to. More punctual than a Japanese train, Eremite delivered updates for Against the Storm every two weeks on the clock throughout the entirety of the game’s Early Access life. These have ranged from small technical and balance tweaks, to waves of completely new content and mechanics that fundamentally mixed things up – but they’d come without pause and always implement community feedback.

A few months in, Against the Storm was the hottest thing among those strategy fans keeping an eye on the indie market, and it held that course until the end – its full release, that is. Eremite and publisher Hooded Horse really delivered a textbook example of how Early Access should work.

Against the Storm is a perfect storm: It’s a unique blend of genres that executes its ideas without any great flaws. Instead of motivating you to play ‘just one more turn,’ it tempts you into building ‘just one more city,’ condensing the thrilling allure of exploration and mechanical intricacy of a city-builder into runs that will fly by as fast as raindrops in a hurricane.

Score: 10/10

  • Gameplay: 10/10
  • Presentation: 9/10
  • Performance: 10/10

Version tested: PC.