Before We Leave review: Building to greatness

by Lars
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Before We Leave is a 4x city-builder with one core difference from other games in the genre. It focuses on a non-violent approach to society building – there are no warring factions, no weapons to flourish, no political intrigue to navigate.

For the most part, it works beautifully. It’s easy to get drawn into Before We Leave‘s chill, vibrant atmosphere. You’re nurturing a civilisation driven into hiding by galactic catastrophe, but all that drama is over now. We just have the job of rebuilding – guiding the Peeps as they totter around, feeling the ground beneath their feet for the first time in generations. As they emerge from the shelter, their options are limited. Grow potatoes, chop down trees, build a few houses.

Before We Leave

As you take those first delicate steps you’ll also be harvesting left over technology from the days before, fuelling your expansion into something greater. The baby steps quickly become loping strides of progress, and before long your Peeps will be setting sail to new continents – and eventually setting their sights on the stars above, rebuilding spaceships to colonise new planets. There’s something really exciting about Before We Leave‘s approach to expanding your civilisation.

The galaxy is full of new opportunities, and you don’t have to go to war to get them. It’s just you and your pioneering spirit, and for the most part you can really focus on keeping your people happy – meeting their needs, innovating new ways of transporting goods across your society, and managing their impact on the environment. This is another particularly interesting part of Before We Leave – pollution is a real concern in developing your cities. Building houses by production tiles will make Peeps unhappy, but situating them by forests has a huge positive impact on their mood.

It’s a simple system, but it adds another layer of thoughtfulness to your expansion. You can’t just blindly stuff buildings wherever you like without impact. The same goes for road-building, too – most buildings will need to have an adjacent road, but roads can’t pass through occupied tiles. This is especially restrictive at the start, where you don’t have a ton of room to work with, and you’ll probably have to demolish and rebuild a few things to make the most of your first territory.

There aren’t any other civilisations to war against, but that doesn’t mean your exploration is completely free of opposition. Progress far enough, and you’ll encounter the game’s only real, consistent threat – space whales. Although they certainly seem like a huge threat, they’re more of a mild hinderance than anything, and Before We Leave‘s difficulty settings actually include the option to turn them off entirely. If you want to gently work your way to the top with no natural disaster, you totally can.

Before We Leave isn’t something for everyone. The relaxed pace and non-violent approach will definitely turn a lot of strategy players off, because it does result in some fairly limited end-game experiences. Once you’ve got a decent infrastructure set up, there isn’t much challenge in expanding it and reaching the end of the tech tree. Some people play these games to fight, to strategise against opponents, and there’s none of that here.

Your brainpower will be solely dedicated to managing trade routes, fighting pollution, and keeping your population happy as it expands. These are all unique challenges in their own way, but not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think about exciting gameplay. That’s not a bad thing by any means – just something to be aware of if you’re thinking about buying this one.

My major gripe was repetition. Every time you colonise a new island or planet, you basically have to repeat the same process to set up an infrastructure before you can make the most of your new opportunities. Building doesn’t take too long – even at standard speed, Peeps race to objectives at a breakneck pace. It’s just a bit of a dull chore when you’ve already done it twenty times.

Before We Leave overall thoughts

Before We Leave is an excellent casual city-builder that will doubtlessly appeal to people sick of having hours of hard work obliterated by Gandhi in a nuclear-fuelled rage. It’s surprisingly deep, and that outright removal of conflict as a focus has given the game plenty of room to grow in other areas. Balancing Monkey Games’ mission statement is to “make peaceful, accessible and culturally relevant games that enable us to support our local communities.” I think they’ve definitely hit that nail on the head.

Before We Leave‘s messages aren’t shoehorned in or blatantly obvious. They’re deftly woven into the gameplay, and have clearly been behind its development from conception. It’s not a game that hooked me – I didn’t feel the “one more turn” compulsion that wasted so many late night hours in Civilisation. But to relax and unwind for a few hours, I really haven’t encountered anything quite as peaceful as Before We Leave recently.

Before We Leave is available now on Steam. Check out more of our game reviews here.

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