The northern defenses have failed. The walls have been breached, and the infected are pouring into my colony. Normally, this would be an end game scenario. However, a snap assessment tells me things might not be as bleak as they initially seem. Yes, I’ll lose everything in the northern sector, and yes, each building in the area which succumbs will add more infected to the ranks of the infected rampaging across my base, but they still have to pass through a bottle-neck to reach the bulk of my buildings (and my all-important command center). While they couldn’t reach the wall in time to defend it – and sending them into the colony’s northern sector after the breach would have resulted in them getting swamped and torn to pieces – my soldiers can still reach the bottle-neck ahead of the horde. Just. It’s a close-run thing, but I manage to not only stop the spread of the infected, but repair, rebuild, reinforce, and eventually, win.
They Are Billions is a cell-shaded, steampunk, seige-based real-time-strategy (RTS) game, which sees players managing their base, expanding to acquire precious resources, whilst trying to stop the infected (zombies) from ruining your day. You see, each building has a set number of colonists working in them. Should one of the infected manage to inflict enough damage (and this is surprisingly little for low-grade buildings like tents and hunters’ cottages) the workers become infected, pour out of the building, and move to attack the next. This means that even one infected getting past your defenses can quickly result in a situation that snowballs out of control. Should your command center succumb, then it’s game-over.
We reviewed the brilliant sandbox survival mode of They Are Billions (the only part of the game then released) back at the start of 2018. Since then, the game has been given a fully fledged (and huge, taking around 60-80 hours to complete) single-player campaign. While it keeps most of the elements of the survival mode, there are a few key differences. Firstly, there’s the addition of different objectives Survival mode sees players trying to survive increasingly powerful waves of infected leading up to a massive finale where hundreds-of-thousands of them pour in from all sides of the map. In the single-player campaign, players may instead be tasked to establish a colony of 1,500 colonists, and/or destroy all infected and survive x number of enemy waves, within a certain time-frame.
Secondly, and most importantly from a game-play perspective, is the inclusion of the railway. This leads from the Empire (safely hidden within a large crater), to the outposts players are trying to establish. Arriving every few (game) hours, the train delivers new colonists (if you’ve built the housing for them), and maybe even additional resources. It comes at a significant cost, though: you can’t build walls across the tracks. This means that there is an open path leading rightup to your command centre. While some maps have the infected only coming from one direction, it does mean that there is always an inherent weakness in your base-layout that you have to compensate for.
Thirdly, players now have access to a technology where they can unlock upgrades to their buildings, economy, and armed forces. This can be accessed between missions and is, quite frankly huge. While players are free to direct their research in any way they choose, players need to think carefully about what they prioritize. In my first run-through, I focused on bolstering my economy. While this meant I had an easier time in the early missions as I was able to establish my bases faster, it did mean my defenses weren’t what they should have been – something which came back to bite me (both figuratively, and more literally in the case of the infected) later on.
There are also horde missions. Roaming hordes of infected block access to certain parts of the campaign map, and have to be destroyed to allow further progress. Unlike the other missions, these see players using ‘empire points’ that they acquire during other missions to purchase basic barricades and troops, and then hold the line against a continual stream of often thousands of infected. While this lacks the strategy of the base building, it does let players test out their troop control skills in a less demanding environment, and allow for basic planning (as you are warned in advance the number and composition of the attack waves), and get a much needed feel of how many forces you need to deal with the enemies. For example, in one horde battle in which I opted to leave all defenses and simply rely on my soldiers, I learned that 60 soldiers were more than capable of defeating, with only minimal losses, over 1,000 of the slowest and weakest infected (infected young, fresh, and decrepit). Try that stunt on even half that number of infected colonists, or, worse, infected executives, and 60 soldiers will barely last even that number of seconds. These missions make for a refreshing break from the usual gameplay. That, and there’s also something extremely satisfying about watching your soldiers steadily chew through the oncoming horde.
Lastly, there are hero missions. At the start of the game, players can choose between two heroes – the fast and nimble Calliope, or the walk-slowly-and-carry-a-big-gun Caelus. Wildly different in how they feel, both are fun to play and satisfying to use. The choice of hero is permanent for the campaign, and they only come into play during exploration missions. These missions are basically an action-role-playing-game dungeon crawl, which see the hero exploring a ruined fortress, research facilities or similar, acquiring an artefact, and getting to the exit alive. Successfully searching through the dungeons will award players valuable empire and research points.
All in all, the single-player campaign of They Are Billions keeps to the high standards of its superb survival mode. In fact, the only thing I can really fault it on is that the animation and voice-acting in the cut-scenes is a little cheesy for my tastes (which, let’s be honest, doesn’t really matter). As it stands, They Are Billions is undoubtedly the best siege RTS around, and one of the best single-player RTS games of all time. ■