Airborne Kingdom looks like it’s going to be a simple escapist fantasy. “In 2019, when everything is in various places of disarray, it’s a lovely idea [to have] a utopian city flying via the clouds,”says planner Ben Wander, one quarter of extender The Wandering Band.
But as he explains to me above the Skype, it’s more than just a toy box: You need to fuel your city to stop it dropping from the sky, farm enough food to prevent your workers from starving, and research a stable stream of new tech to keep new citizens connecting your city. That mix of whimsy and traditional resource management is what makes it so fascinating.
About the game
The aerial theme is more than just a trick. Every house,
plane hangar, farm, and butterfly have weight, and if you put extreme buildings
on one side of your city it can tip above. If it’s leaning then you’ll fly
slower, and buildings will break down faster. Just glancing at your city will
tell you if it’s moderated, and I like how your whole airship wobbles and
settles as you plunk down new houses.
You can create stinking, asymmetrical layouts by moving
around your weighty structures and “lift buildings” such as
propellers and hot air balloons, which you’ll need to keep your city afloat.
“Your city might look very unequal, but because of the way you’ve placed heavy buildings, it’s okay,” says Wander. “Depending on where you’ve situated your lift buildings, the center of your city might actually be way off to the side.”
As well as worrying about weight you’ll have to discover
fuel, water and food, building hangars so your workers can reach the earth, and
it’s satisfying to watch these planes null back and forth. The map is
absolutely open to explore from the start, but a lack of resources will hold
you back, and you’ll have to replace storage buildings before you can build
stockpiles great enough to supply you through longer journeys.
Some smart UI tricks make it easy to know where you’ve
assigned workers at a glance. Once you’ve sent a plane to a jungle for wood,
that area will be market by a red balloon, one for each worker. The amount of
wood left in that woodland is shown on the earth next to it, so you never have
to fiddle around with menus to find out if it’s running low.
And it’s not just the UI that’s sleek: The entire game, even
in the early, out-of-date demo I play, is a pleasure to look at. Wander says
the team are going for a “toybox, miniature feel,” and so far,
they’re on aim. The buildings are multiplex dioramas of whirring cogs and
spinning blades, and you can watch every single worker march along walkways if
you zoom in.
Their animations are raw in the build I play, but the dev team are still working on them in front of the planned release next year.
Beyond the fundamentals of food, fuel and water you have a
second tier of resources that preserve your citizens happy: Faith, aesthetics,
and amusement buildings such as tea houses. When you visit a city on the land,
which we’ll see in a bit more detail presently, you can attract new citizens,
and they’ll generally only join if you’re fulfilling a given desire.
In my demo, one city will only send me workers if they have
a spot to worship, so I must build prayer towers first.
Those minarets are one of the buildings that have a region of effect, and you can magnify their impact by stacking nearby houses on top of each other, growing their density. Wander and his team haven’t decided precisely which buildings will stack, but you’ll only be able to put buildings of the same style on top of each other: You won’t be able to plonk a ware room on top of a hangar, for example.
You’re only actually building on a plane, because each building is the similar all the way up, so you’ll never have to scroll via various layers to reach what you want. You build walkways by plainly clicking and dragging and place buildings beside the route, which feels absolutely natural. Wander says the team might add support bars that players must first lay down before they increase, personally, I like the simplex of the current system.
Sometimes you’ll have to complete research for a city before
they cough-up their tech: Wander explains visiting a faraway temple and
bringing something back. You’ll also pick up rumors from cities about nearby
points of profits. These researches and rumors provide your moment-to-moment
motivation. A city might tell you to explore an individually barren part of the
desert to find a promotion you want, leaving you to stock up on food and water
before putting all hands-on batch as you right-click in the fog, starting your
The storytelling is instigated by 80 Days and Sunless Skies,
with some “strings of stories” spanning multiple points of interest.
Wander wouldn’t let me pry any details out of him, other than to say there are
four tribes, each with their own cultures and building manners. Airborne
Kingdom also has an overarching tale that gives you a proof to keep pushing
ahead, but once again Wander is determined to keep silent, in part because he
and his team haven’t fully completed writing it.
Without knowing more about the story it’s hard to say how
just long Airborne Kingdom will hold my regard. But for now, I’m just satisfy
to watch its dioramic cities float via the clouds.
Fly the Barrens and build your world.
Build your unparalleled sky city and fly around a diverse
sight! Airborne Kingdom unambiguously blends city management and exploration.
Build housing, gratify needs, and grow your clan. Hang on lift, explore for
resources, and observe lost technologies.
With a diversity of peoples to interact with and a sprawling
world to prospect, every playthrough changes, beside with your city and its
values. Will you make a balloon flotilla based on faith, or a traverse
metropolis focused on amusement, or will steam driven fans fly your kingdom as
you search for responses in the stars?
The city of your trip, their lives, all of it is up to you