History and Mythology: The Importance of Engaging Worlds in City-builders

cities skylines

Throughout my life, I’ve sunk thousands and thousands of hours into city-building games. It started with Pharaoh, then Caesar III, Zeus, SimCity 3000, and on and on. These types of games have managed to capture my attention more than any other genre (MMO’s and their constant stream of updates, not withstanding). The Sierra/Impressions historical builders especially left their mark on me – I can still hear the music of Pharaoh in my head and can picture the purple-dotted fertile meadows of Zeus/Poseidon. Unfortunately with Impressions’ close in 2004 the stream of city-builders, even outside of the historical setting, ground to a halt.

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New Year, New Game – Towns

Happy New Year, everyone! Welcome to 2013.

I’ve been spending the last few days playing away at various games, mostly LOTRO, Minecraft and Blur (a really good racing game which you should check out!). However I have also started playing a new game: Towns.

Before I start talking about Towns, I want to talk first about how much I love city building games. Pharaoh was my first true PC game love. I have spent hundreds of hours playing that game since I was 10 when I got it. Pharaoh is, I would say, the epitome of city building games. I have yet to find anything that rivals it. Sure it has flaws (for example, how you need those guys in white hats to walk from the industries that need jobs to houses with unemployed people – very annoying!). Impressions Games, the company that developed Pharaoh, attempted to fix those issues with Zeus, Poseidon, Caesar IV, and eventually Emperor. These are all very good games, however nothing matches the feel of Pharaoh for whatever reason.

I am always looking for a nice new city building game to play. I can easily spend hours and hours playing them… if they are good enough of course. So with the Steam sale going on right now I decided to peruse the Simulation genre to see if I could find anything with a demo or that was pretty cheap. I found a game called Towns that had a demo and was on sale. I downloaded the demo immediately and started playing.

Towns is a very, visually, simplistic game that harkens back to a more pixelated time. The easiest way to describe the game play is this formula: Towns = Minecraft (sandbox, block building game with some RPG dungeon elements) + Dungeons of Dredmor (dungeon crawler “roguelike” with tons of different weapons to find as you go down and down deeper through the dungeon) + Settlers III (city building game that wasn’t quite “click and drop” style like Pharaoh – instead you had to instruct Settlers to gather resources and tell them to build things).

You start off a game of Towns with 11 civilians. You then get them to gather resources such as food, wood, stone, etc in order to build… well, a town! But the great thing about the game is, “town” is very loosely defined… actually, it isn’t defined at all. If you just want to build one big mega building/fortress with all your crafting areas, sleeping areas and market areas in one room or multiple levels, that works fine. If you want to build something that looks like  a more traditional town with separate buildings for each type of craft and everyone has their own house – that’s cool too!

My very first town… base… thing.

Like the other city-building games and Minecraft, Towns is a sandbox. There is no “win scenario”. You just keep going until you stop having fun. The main idea of the game though is to build up a base/town/whatever in order to draw in and support heroes. The heroes are good for your city because they will go through the dungeons underground and clear out any and all monsters – which there are quite a lot of. Not to mention, the further down in levels you go, the bigger and badder the monsters get. The hero makes it easier for your citizens to mine the dungeons for resources.

Here are some of my villagers crawling the dungeon and killing baddies – this was before I found out how useful and important heroes are.

I can’t talk about Towns without talking about the reception on Steam of this game. Towns was Greenlighted on Steam, however if you look at the “Game Hub” page for Towns, it is riddled with people complaining about the game and saying how terrible it is. I’m not really sure why so many are complaining so adamantly. I mean yes, it is not a perfect game. People mostly seem to be upset that there hasn’t been an update or patch recently… but the most recent update was early November – barely two months ago. It’s not like the game is utterly broken and unplayable. Since I bought it 3 days ago, Steam tells me I have played 24 hours of Towns. Maybe that’s a bit much, but then again I have nothing else to do really. But my point is, I wouldn’t have spent that much time playing this game if it weren’t good.

The game is, of course, not without it’s flaws. There are five maps types (Normal, Jungle, Desert, Snow, Mixed) and you can only have one saved game per map type. Not too awesome if you want to try out a new town style but have a saved town you really like. I’ve also found that getting more villagers is quite a task. This may be due to my play style however. I play more to the aesthetic end of things – I want my town to look like a town, or at least something that looks cool anyway. Many of the screenshots on the Game Hub page show very effecient setups… but to me efficiency is only good as long as it looks good while being efficient. Another problem is the tutorials in the beginning. They teach you how to gather, how to farm and how to turn civilians into soldiers but there are key elements of the game it glosses over or does not mention at all, namely building and heroes.

Screenshot found in the Steam Towns Community Hub – I only hope to build stuff this epic one day.

Overall though, I really recommend this game. It’s at 50% off for the next 11 hours. Or you can just play the demo. Either way, if you like dungeon crawling and simplistic city-building games, this game is worth a shot.