Early Access Editorial ✎ Featured

They Are Billions Lures You Into Thinking You’re Safe

They Are Billions is a real-time strategy game that’s currently in Steam’s Early Access program. Don’t let the Early Access moniker dissuade you from picking it up though, as there is plenty of fun to had. That is, as long as your idea of fun is banging you head against a wall, much like the “infected” whom you are trying to outwit. They Are Billions is a turtling simulator that tricks you into feeling safe inside your cozy steam-punk walls.

The game more than lives up to its name.

They Are Billions has a lot in common with Stronghold series in that you have to fortify a town from a treacherous wilderness. In this case, it’s a steam-punk post-apocalyptic colony and the wilderness is zombies. You must gather resources like wood, stone, and iron in order to build and support your colony. There are a few twists here like not being in direct control of your worker who staff the various buildings, but by and large it’s pretty straightforward in its mechanics. The main difference here is the massive hordes of zombies that attack your colony at set intervals during the a game. You get a two minute warning and know the general direction the horde will coming from, but that’s about it.

It’s this sense of known impending dread that really drives my fascination with this game. You’re already forced into a corner, so all that’s left is to fight your way out. Knowing that big wave of monsters could appear at any moment fills me with an anxiety that I shouldn’t feel behind my giant stone walls.

Then I had that game where everything lined up.

They Are Billions may seem unfair at first. I could barely get past the first wave of zombies before succumbing to the infection. But as I played I slowly unraveled the game’s logic. Maps have natural choke points, so the key early on is to expanding just enough to grab the resources you need, while walling off as many avenues as you can. Walls won’t stop them forever, but it will buy you some much needed time. Discovering which technologies to research first was the next big step. Pro Tip: Research farms as soon as possible.

Then I had that game where everything lined up. I had the stone I needed, the pastures to farm, and the narrow canyons to plug up with walls and towers. I slowly built up my army knowing that the first few waves were easy. Every wall was defended by powerful ballista towers and each watch tower had a creepy sniper in it. Then the big wave hit, at least the biggest one I had seen. Walls fell, soldiers screamed as they were torn apart by monsters, but we stood strong. The battle was over. There were loses, but we were still alive. After repairs and replenishment I felt confident I could survive the next wave, but maybe I’ll add another layer of walls just to be sure.

You’ll sometimes get access to powerful units early on.

Well, the next wave came for my weakest front, which I’m not sure is a coincidence after about two dozen matches. It was a tight place with limited options for walls and towers, but maybe it would be my Hot Gates? Historically speaking, it probably was because despite my best planning, and my brave soldiers fighting to the bitter end, the walls fell and we succumbed to the infection. Two hours down the drain. Naturally I quit out and immediately started a new game because I knew I could do better, or at least get to that same point again faster and more confidently. That’s why They Are Billions is so good, because it shows you that glimmer of hope just before it closes the curtain.

It shows you that glimmer of hope just before it closes the curtain.

The game does have issues you would expect from an Early Access game. Sometimes units will temporarily get stuck on objects in the world, and sometimes you’ll get drawn a rough starting position. These things are pretty minor, however, and Numantian Games is pushing out updates at a rapid rate. Not only fixing bugs, but also adding in new features and units.

I was originally skeptical of the game because it only had what essentially amounts a horde mode on paper. However, that mode proved to be far more challenging and engaging than most complete games. Numantian Games has said they will be adding in a campaign at some point, which is great news. What’s here doesn’t dive into history of the world, outside of there be zombies and your hunters have badass armor. I’m excited to see the world fleshed out and if they can take this format is interesting directions. For now, I’m off to bring my next colony to certain destruction, but maybe this time I’ll finally find out what all those oil pools are for.

I remember playing Super Mario Bros. and Metroid on the NES with my older brother, and never being able to land on the aircraft carrier in Top Gun. I faked being sick so I could stay home from school and play Quake II once, but now I request days off from work instead of lying. Age of Empires II is still the best RTS, Half-Life is still the best FPS, and I still think the end of Mass Effect 3 was great!