I have talked about it a number of times here on Geeky Hobbies how I have been a fan of the RTS genre since I was a kid. Unlike a lot of people though, I personally enjoyed the base building aspect of the genre more than the army building/combat. In fact most of my favorite RTS missions were those were you basically had to bunker down and survive wave after wave of attacks. In recent years this has actually become its own sort of genre as games like They Are Billions is all about trying to survive for as long as possible. Those who checked out my review of They Are Billions will know that I really liked the game as it felt like the game that I had been waiting for since I was a kid. Today I am looking at Dream Engines: Nomad Cities which immediately made me think of games like They Are Billions with an interesting twist that you could lift your city off the ground and move to a different location if the threat became too much. Dream Engines: Nomad Cities is not perfect at this stage, but it is already showing great potential to become a compelling and satisfying survival city builder.
Dream Engines: Nomad Cities takes place in a world that has been ravaged by alien creatures known as Dream Plagues. As these creatures started to overwhelm the citizens, a new approach was needed. This lead to the creation of the Nomad Cities which allowed the citizens to mine the planet’s resources and then lift their city off the ground and fly to a new area once the number of Dream Plagues became too hard to handle. Will you be able to build a functioning city that can survive against the hordes of Dream Plagues?
As Dream Engines: Nomad Cities has two main gameplay elements, probably the best way to describe the gameplay is to look at each separately.
Lets begin with the factory building mechanic. The ultimate goal of the game is to build a self sustainable city. This includes housing for your growing population, buildings to research new technologies, and buildings to help protect you from the dangers out in the world. To build any of these though, you need resources. Scattered throughout the world are various resource nodes which will provide resources if you place a mine/harvester on them. To use these resources though you need to transport them back to your city center. Many of these resources also need to be processed further. Thus you need to create a supply chain consisting of conveyor belts and manufacturing facilities to move these resources from the deposits and refine them into what you need to further expand your city.
This on its own might be challenging as you try to create a well run supply chain. Things become more daunting though as you are not alone which brings me to the second major element of the game which reminds me a lot of They Are Billions. The world is infested with Dream Plagues, creatures that want to kill you. There are pockets of these creatures that you will encounter as you explore, and there will periodically be waves of them which will converge on the center of your city. You need to protect your city and resource gathering facilities or the Dream Plagues will destroy them disrupting your supply of resources. You can fight against these creatures by building defensive structures or using your player controlled character which has both a ranged and melee attack.
Early on it will be pretty easy to hold off the enemies as their numbers are pretty small. The longer you stay on the planet though, the number and strength of the Dream Plagues increase. Eventually you will get to the point where you can no longer hold them back. Here is where Dream Engines: Nomad Cities’ unique twist comes into play. As your main city can lift off the ground, when the enemies become too strong or you run out of resources you can just pick up your city and move it to a new location. As your city can only carry so much weight though, you have to choose which buildings to take with you and which you will leave behind or scrap for salvage. It takes time for your city to lift off though so you need to start the process early enough where you can hold off the enemies for long enough to safely escape. Once you successfully leave a location you can choose a new location to land and start gathering the resources from that area of the world.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, one of the things that initially intrigued me about Dream Engines: Nomad Cities was the fact that the game reminded me quite a bit of They Are Billions. After playing the game I think that comparison holds up. The game has its own unique twists as well, but it does share a similar feel. The game is all about survival as there really isn’t an objective outside of trying to survive for as long as possible. Your objective is to build a well polished supply chain to supply goods to your city which will allow you to expand and create better defenses for your city. If you enjoy games like They Are Billions you likely will enjoy these elements in Dream Engines: Nomad Cities as well.
Before playing Dream Engines: Nomad Cities I was curious to see how the factory building mechanics would work with the survival elements as the two genres are quite different. The gameplay could use a few tweaks here or there, but I generally enjoyed what the game has to offer so far. The factory building mechanics work well and are pretty intuitive. Gathering resources and building your city is fun. Outside of the mechanic I am going to discuss next, the survival elements aren’t anything highly original but they are fun as well. The game does a good job making it feel like you are running a nomadic city that moves around trying to gather resources as quickly as possible and then moving on before things get too dangerous. I am curious to see where these mechanics end up, but so far I am already enjoying what the game has to offer.
While Dream Engines: Nomad Cities does share a decent amount of mechanics with other games, the one thing that really makes the game stand out in my opinion is the ability for your city to take off and fly to a new location. In games like They Are Billions you need to hunker down, as you can’t go anywhere, and just hope that your defenses will last the final assault. Being able to lift off and leave adds an interesting twist though as you need to choose when is the best time to leave. You don’t want to leave too early and leave behind valuable resources. You don’t want to leave too late though as the process of lifting off takes some time so you need to leave before you become overwhelmed. On top of this only the buildings inside the city zone will lift off. Due to weight and size restrictions you won’t be able to take everything with you. Before lifting off you need to decide which buildings are most important and which you can salvage before leaving in order to recoup some resources. You need to take the right buildings with you or you may have trouble sustaining your city once you arrive in your next location. I found this idea to be really interesting where I can’t wait to see how it will develop throughout the Early Access process. I think this mechanic will be the thing that can truly make Dream Engines: Nomad Cities stand out among the other similar games.
As for the game’s overall world building I think it is already doing a pretty good job. The game doesn’t really have any lore, backstory, or other world building elements; but that is kind of expected for a game that is going to spend quite a bit of time in Early Access. I generally thought the game’s graphical style was quite good though. The various locations are interesting and since each is randomly generated you won’t be stuck in the same locales over and over again. The various buildings look nice as they blend realistic and sci-fi elements together well. Some of the buildings are kind of hard to tell apart at a distance though. The enemy designs are also quite nice. Ultimately I thought the game’s graphical design was already quite good, and I am curious to see where the game takes the overall world building through the Early Access process.
I don’t know if I would necessarily say that this is a complaint, but Dream Engines: Nomad Cities is the type of game that has a sort of learning curve. The basic premise of the game is pretty simple, but the game has quite a few different mechanics and buildings that you have to familiarize yourself with. The game does include a tutorial for the most basic mechanics which I think does a pretty good job. After introducing the basics though, the tutorial basically becomes a set of goals to achieve with a little text explaining how to perform each action. While this is helpful, at least at first it kind of felt like information overload where I was unlocking new tech quicker than I was figuring out how to use the tech I had unlocked previously. This was a little overwhelming at first as there were a lot of things to juggle as I didn’t totally understand all of the mechanics right away. In a way Dream Engines: Nomad Cities is the type of game that you just need to play to learn how to play it. You will makes mistakes early on which will lead to your failure, but you will learn from them to make your next run more successful. This is why I wouldn’t really consider this a fault as you just need to take the time to familiarize yourself with the game.
As for the game’s difficulty I would say that it kind of depends. I attribute this to the fact that the game actually gives you a lot of options to customize before you start a new game. You can adjust things like the strength and frequency of enemy attacks, the amount of resources present, along with a number of other settings which can change the difficulty quite a bit. I appreciate this as it really lets you customize your experience. For your first couple of games or if you want a less stressful game, you may increase the amount of resources and decrease the strength of the enemies. This will give you more time to gather resources and build defenses for your city. If you want a real challenge though you can turn these settings up to their highest levels which should make the game considerably harder. With these settings I think you can make the game as easy or as hard as you want.
The next thing that I wanted to talk about was something that I have conflicted feelings about. Basically you control a little robot which determines what you can see and interact with in the world. The gameplay has two main modes which you can trigger between with the press of the button. The first mode is combat. Your robot has a ranged and melee attack which you can use to help destroy enemies in addition to any defensive structures that you place. I liked this aspect of the robot character as you can use it in order to explore and also help your defense early on when you don’t have the resources to build the proper defensive structures.
The problem with this aspect of the game comes from the building mode. When you switch to the building mode the camera will switch to an overhead view. This lets you see a decent amount of the buildings around you allowing you to interact with them and build new buildings. This view is limited though and thus you can’t easily view all of your buildings or build wherever you want. Instead if you want to work on a section of your base that is too far away you need to physically move the robot over there in order to interact with buildings or build new ones. I didn’t really care for this as I personally would have preferred just being able to pan the camera once I switched into the building mode. This would have made this aspect of the game easier to use.
As for Dream Engines: Nomad Cities’ length it really depends on what you want to get out of the game. The game doesn’t currently have a campaign, so you basically just set up a scenario and try to survive for as long as you can. How long a game will take will depend on the difficulty you choose and how well you play. I could see runs lasting hours. On top of this the game has quite a bit of replay value like most games in this genre as everything is randomly generated so no two games will play the same. The game has quite a bit of content in the game already as the technology tree is pretty long and it features quite a few different buildings and upgrades. I could see the game getting a little repetitive after a while though. With the game expected to stay in Early Access for a year or two, I imagine more content will be added to the game throughout the process as well.
When I first saw Dream Engines: Nomad Cities I had pretty high expectations which the game has met for the most part so far. The gameplay could use some polish and tweaks here and there, but there isn’t much else you could ask for a game that intends to spend at least a year in Early Access. The game does a good job blending factory building mechanics with a survival element. Both of these elements are fun on their own and should appeal to fans of these type of games. The mechanic that really intrigues me though is the ability to lift off as it adds an interesting decision as you choose when is the right time to move onto a new area. The game gives players a lot of options to customize the difficulty, and the game’s theming is pretty good. I will say that the game has a learning curve so expect to fail until you get a good grasp of the mechanics. I also don’t know about the decision to use a player controlled character to determine what you can interact with at any given time.
At this point Dream Engines: Nomad Cities is in a good place for a game that is expected to stay in Early Access for over a year. If you have never really cared for factory building or survival city building games, the game may not be for you. Those that like these genres though and think the concept sounds interesting should look into picking up Dream Engines: Nomad Cities.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Suncrash, and Gamera Game for the review copy of Dream Engines: Nomad Cities used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.