It was late in the evening. I thought I'd just "try it out." Next thing I know my kingdom had ran out of fuel and it was 3 in the morning.
Ending for City-Building Game?
Most city-building games are open-ended; that is, it never stops until you run out of resources or patience. This game was unique in that you can "finish" the game, once you allied with all 12 kingdoms and returned the tapestry. Make no mistakes that it does get more challenging, but it's also nice to get an acknowledgement from the game that I made it to the end, and it is time to sleep.
Like most games, Airborne has a lot of concepts to learn, and technologies to research at the beginning. But once you learn the basics and finish researching things, that's when the game gets more difficult as you are now forced to deal with unhappy inhabitants and resource management choices. The ramp-up was fair and never felt frustrating. I always understood why the citizens were unhappy. Some of the feedback from the game is not immediately obvious, like how I should address kingdom tilting problems (how much lift is too much?) but it is easy enough to experiment, since one of the researched abilities allows you to reclaim all your resources from a destroyed or relocated building.
I thought this was a nice touch, because it encourages your player to try out different layouts.
Different part of the map has different resources and generally present a different kind of challenge because you won't have access to all the materials and researches until you visit the kingdoms in each biome.
One of the biomes up north also comes with freezing temperature, such that it reduces the effectiveness of your buildings. It was a nasty surprise when I quickly failed in that part of the map. But in my next play-through I was determined and prepared, and that feeling you get when you accomplished your goal, and everything more or less went according to plan was an amazing feeling. I doubt I'll feel the same again about this game, so it probably means I am done.
Surprisingly it plays really well with a controller. In fact, I spent the first 8 hours playing this game on my XBox first, before I realized I could also install this game on a PC and play with mouse/keyboard instead. City layout is a lot easier with a mouse, and playing on a PC with different music in the background make for a better experience for me, but for the most part I found it easy to put down paths and buildings with a controller. About the only annoying thing with controller is the the black dot representing your pointer. Sometimes it is easy to lose track of it. Now, some of the screens clearly was meant to be accessed with a mouse... like some of the resource trade lists, it's just not possible to scroll towards the end with the controller? Perhaps I was doing something wrong, but it was more enjoyable with a mouse.
For games that involve a lot of resource management, gathering the resource is usually a big part of the game. But as you ally with kingdoms, they start contributing sources to you, so it is not absolutely necessary to gather some of the materials you need. The way you gather materials in this game is by sending workers on planes to collect them. It is rather charming, and it allows your kingdom to keep moving while workers collect stuff. But this could get tedious because you need different material to build stuff, so having the materials magically become available was a great game mechanic. Not all the materials will become available this way, and there is a limit to your storage, so the game forces you to plan ahead. Towards the end you can convert some materials into coals, which is what keeps the kingdom afloat (without it, the kingdom sinks and it is game over). So it is possible to make plans without worrying about some of the essential resources, because there is a way to convert them on-the-fly. This layer of strategy was not immediately obvious to me until I tried to tackle the more remote parts of the map.
Propellers and People
It's nice to see so many things turning, and I just like the aesthetics of this game. The inhabitants move around to build things like they have a purpose.
At one point in the game the developers put up a dialog box explaining that I have too many citizens, as they are individually simulated, I could expect some serious slow-down. I chucked and ignored their warnings. I didn't experience anything terrible, but I wondered how I could possibly reduce the inhabitant count? You need people to power balloons and buildings. At this point I already researched everything and destroyed the academy so I can use workers for something else. I felt like I had no choice but to pick up more people from settlements.
Other nice designs I noticed were the themes. Buildings that provided faith look like they have something to do with music (music box? gramophone?). Some buildings have alternative styles and you can cycle through the designs and change colors. Generally it feels like a happy game, even though the inhabitants desire many things and leave if I take too long to build them. Then I don't have workers to gather resources and I can't even build things? It is part of the game to manage the happiness of your people so you don't paint yourself into a corner, but it kind of slows down the game, especially because you run into various constraints at the beginning.
Another thing about people in this game is that there is no option to hurt them. You cannot invade kingdoms, and you must ally with them to "complete" the game. It is great that the game tells player to figure out ways to trade and help each other out (completing quests to ally a kingdom), instead of fighting everyone. Clearly conflict isn't the only way to interest players, as this game demonstrated. I've always enjoyed city-building games, but this trait really resonated with me.