I generally don't look at reviews for games before I select them for these reviews. This is because I don't want to taint my own opinion with someone else's, I need to stay pure in order to give a true unbiased review. I was in the mood for a bad game when I saw Airships: Conquer the Skies on our store page. Monster Hunter World had come out, I had just got it, I was just going to play this game for a couple hours between slaying a dragon with a giant metal set of bagpipes. The graphics looked like Dwarf Fortress was evolving to FTL. The gameplay sounded like a steampunk FTL and I thought I had my review as soon as I installed the game.
As soon as I opened the game, I knew I was dealing with a completely different animal. Damn you David Stark, your game took me away from Monster Hunter World all week. Your game not only surpassed my expectations, but it sat them down and gave them a lesson in judging a book by its cover.
Though the graphics leave a bit to be desired (which I do give a pass for since this is a one-man development team) and the story is just limited to reasons for pitched airship battles, this game is absolutely phenominal in all other aspects. The airship and tank building is highly customizable without being too overwhelming. The gameplay modes satisfy everyone from real-time strategy buffs to casual action gamers. The music is epic, the sound effects add catharsis to an already smooth combat system. Buckle up and put on your pilot's goggles, because we're taking a closer look.
Airships: Conquer the Skies is available on Steam for $14.99.
The story varies from mission to mission and from game mode to game mode. In some of the stories you may be the captain of a lonely ship as it's ambushed, perhaps you're the admiral of a fleet going to lay siege to a city, or maybe you're in charge of an entire civilization and you have to bring the world to its knees with your superior armada. There's nothing super compelling here as far as narrative goes aside from the Civilization story if you're in the conquest mode where a civilization takes one small outpost at the beginning of the game and so you spend the rest of the time pounding them into the dirt and humiliating them in every possible manner. Hey, that rage keeps me playing these games. Well, that and the fact that the gameplay is awesome
Build your ships
Your airships are highly customizable but can be tricky as you have to balance the propulsion, lift, armor, weapons, and weight into whatever you can use at the time. Different ships are good for different things. I once had a huge dreadnaught I created get pummeled into the dirt by a tiny ship with one bomb bay because it could fly directly above my ship and out of the line of fire of all the cannons. I had them outgunned, but the computer had me out planned. Alternatively, if you'd rather let someone else make the ships, you can use any one of the ships the game has pre-built or, more likely, you can download ships other fans have made off of the internet because the ships preloaded in the game are a bit lackluster. This keeps the appeal versitile so it can be played by most anyone on the casual-hardcore scale.
What good would designing airships and tanks be if you weren't able to make them blow stuff up? Well, don't worry because this combat is a ton of fun. You don't actually control your vehicles per se, you control the person controlling the vehicle. In other words, rather than being behind the wheel you're issuing commands. If it weren't for the pause button, having to choose only one command every five seconds and projecting where your enemy would be to best position yourself, this would be an intolerable control scheme. However, since you are able to pause the game and assess the situation on your own time, the battles remain high-octane without becoming overwhelming, especially when you're commanding a fleet. Finally, your crew just works as a resource. You have a number of crew and they will automatically do their jobs, which helps to keep the focus on the action. The combat even holds its high quality when you're commanding multiple vehicles. In games like this it can be so easy for it all to become a bit much, but not in Airships. The squad tactics are difficult to plan but easy to pull off once you have it all planned, which is exactly the kind of gameplay I love.
The main draw of the game, at least for me, was the conquest mode. Now, don't expect Civilization-level intricacies here. The only resource you have to manage is money, you can only move somewhere if there is a place to dock your ships (which does make sense from a keeping the air ships fueled standpoint), and there isn't much by way of politics with other kingdoms. That said, this was my favorite mode to play. It's more akin to a battle royale with steampunk civilizations than a real-time strategy game. Everyone is out to get everyone else. There are no allies, only enemies. It's also fun to take a ship and gradually upgrade it as you discover new technology until it becomes an unstoppable juggernaut. It's a similar feeling to crushing the elite four with your starter Pokemon.
Adding to the unpredictablility are the monster encounters. Every now and again you're confronted by a random monster that will appear on the map and if you can beat them, you're awarded a lot of money. You had best be prepared if you're going to do that one though, a hive of giant bees is a lot more than to ships with a lot of cannons can handle. Trust me on that one.
Graphics and audio
The one area that I think is most detrimental to Airships is the graphics. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pixel graphics. The graphics are just a step above Dwarf Fortress, but not by quite enough. It all looks very clunky without much variety in the color scheme. There is a right way a wrong way to do these pixel graphics, and though I wouldn't go so far as to say the artwork is done wrong, it is certainly dull.
On the other hand, the music and sound effects are incredible. Normally these games like to bleep and bloop and use the same explosion effects from the classic Rampage, but thanks to the music I almost completely forget about the mediocre graphics. The sound on the explosions really sells the fact that those red pixel splotches are meant to be explosions and fire. Everything about the sound in this game just makes it feel epic, I tried to play without the sound but as soon as I turned it off it did lose a lot of its appeal.
Whenever I wasn't playing this game, I couldn't stop thinking about this game. The graphics were passable at best and the story isn't really a compelling overarching narrative, but everything else in this game is done nearly flawlessly. The ship building is intuitive and super in-depth without being overwhelming, the combat is smooth and satisfying, the game modes are diverse, and the music is incredible. The problems I have are vastly outweighed by the benefits. If you're casual, you can just do pre-built missions and ships. A bit more hardcore? Try the campaign and building your own fleet. I cannot stress enough how much I love this game and how surprised I am to be typing these words now. What I expected was a steampunk FTL ripoff, what I got was a fun and unique vehicle building and combat game that I am definitely keeping in my library. If you can't tell, this game put me on cloud nine and chances are it will do the same to you.
|+ Simple vehicle and fortification building||– Uninteresting graphics|
|+ Intuitive and smooth combat||– No overarching narrative|
|+ Epic music||– Prebuilt ships aren't great|
|+ Versatile gameplay modes|
|+ Steam workshop support with player made ships|