Before We Leave Alpha Impressions: Less Cold War, and More Chill Peace
Have you ever found yourself sitting around wishing that somebody would combine Fallout, Civilization, Warcraft and Stardew Valley into one game? If you haven't, that's fair, because neither had I.
That changed once I got my hands on Before We Leave, the chill city-builder from Balancing Monkey Games. I was able to recently check out an alpha build of the game. While it currently doesn't have a release date on the Epic Games Store, I can say it's one you'll want to keep your eye on.
Before We Leave Alpha Impressions — Not Your Father's Space Race
For a game where a primary goal is to repair a rocket and realize interplanetary travel, Before We Leave doesn't exactly place you in control of a futuristic wonder-society. As your settlers emerge from their underground fallout shelter, they have access to advanced technologies like, uh, huts and potato farming.
Not only are your settlers not ready to tackle the final frontier, they still haven't quite mastered concepts like bridges or schooling, both of which require you to farm research and invest it in your tech tree to take advantage of them. Learning how to explore the starry sky isn't even your first explorational priority, with that instead reserved for finding a way to repair an old wooden boat and take to the seas in search of new lands to explore.
These new islands don't offer vastly new experiences from your starting territory, though the new desert and ice islands do provide the opportunity to gather new types of research and harvest new components.
They'll each also require you to build from the ground up again, establishing a set of base needs before progressing on to the more advanced buildings and jobs. Before you know it, however, you'll have a thriving world of multiple communities sharing resources through sea trading as you work closer and closer to that fateful flight.
Sit Back, Relax and Shoot for the Stars
As I mentioned above, there are a lot games that Before We Leave feels like, but none more so than Stardew Valley. It's for a few reasons, not only because with enough research your settlers can learn to harvest the immense power of gardening and cooking.
Sitting down to play a new planet in Before We Leave is a relaxing experience perfect for accompanying music or a background podcast. While developing a tech tree that will enable your people to take on new roles may be evocative of a real-time strategy game, you'll find none of the genre's urgency here.
There's no need to worry about a raiding band of Orcs coming to hack your citizens to death. In fact, there's no need to worry at all.
In my first playthrough, I accidentally expanded my new civilization on a desert island too far and failed to get the proper food-production in place before my citizens became too hungry to work. I may have gotten a bit distracted looking at my snowy island's new developments.
By the time I realized my mistake, they had all taken on the equivalent hunger of being 100 potatoes past-due for a meal. They weren't happy, sure, but they were still alive.
With no risk of death or mayhem, you're free to take the game at your own pace, however breezy that might be. When I first gained access to a ship I sailed around the entire planet, clearing out every hexagon of uncertainty, just to see what was out there. The whole thing took several minutes, even on a small planet build, and not once did I think about the civilization I left behind. They were fine, and they'd be waiting for me when I got back.
Rebooting Your Reboot
When you load up a new game of Before We Leave, you get the chance to start civilization anew. Unfortunately, that doesn't always go as planned. The good news is there's always the next civilization.
When you start the game, you not only choose the size of your planet but also a seed number. This seed is used to procedurally generate a world. This means you can replay your last experience, should you so choose, or you can enter something new and explore a new world.
On another note, I've found the game's trade system in its current form a bit opaque. An easy fix came with my first holdup, a lack of clarity in regards to which side of a trade table to put the goods being swapped. On that front, I tried what seemed right based on the arrow graphics, saw the exact opposite of my intended trade happening, and swapped them.
Another area that tripped me up came when, in desperate need of food, nobody on my new island bothered to take it off the ship. And no one on the main island was loading more than one potato per trip. Ultimately, after throwing the game in 4x speed and trying for about 15 minutes to sort it out, I gave up.
I didn't stop playing, though, I just loaded up a new planet. With my podcast playing, I set about building a new civilization, once again learning to master elevators and glass as I built towards a future flight into space.
This is where the game is at its best. Games that allow you to relax and vent in a very-chill setting are growing in popularity, and Before We Leave is a fine option for scratching that itch.
If you've got 40 minutes to kill and don't feel like spending that time trying six times to beat the same Nioh boss, you can do a lot worse than poking your head out of the bomb shelter and seeing what you can build.
[Note: A copy of Before We Leave was provided by Balancing Monkey Games for the purpose of this impressions article.]