Floodland: Challenging World Builder Plunged Into an Apocalyptic World

Building type simulation games are all the rage these days, whether players are constructing cities, bases, worlds, societies or entire universes. And there is a wide variety of diverse titles to pick from too. They cover everything from fantasy worlds filled with heroes and dragons to combat type simulations where players construct bases while under fire. There are also realistic titles where players operate actual heavy equipment in virtual construction sandboxes. There is even one in Early Access on Steam called Timberborn where the construction tasks are conducted by industrious beavers. Steam recently celebrated these builder type games by holding a Steam Base Builder Fest, which was extremely popular.

Nestled within this new genre of builder games sits a subgroup of titles devoted not just to building, but actually rebuilding. Generally, those titles are set following some kind of natural or manmade disaster, or an outright apocalypse that completely tears down society and most of its infrastructure. It’s then up to the survivors to try and rebuild some semblance of society where everyone can feel safe and protected, and get fairly regular meals. One of the best titles that I have ever experienced in this sub-genre is Surviving the Aftermath, which earned 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5 in its highly detailed review. Steam actually recommended Floodland to me because I spent hundreds of hours with Surviving the Aftermath – a rare title that I stuck with long after my review had been completed because it was so fun to play. Steam thought that Floodland was similar, and for the most part, it was correct.

Floodland, from developer Vile Monarch, is one of the latest games that perfectly fits into the sub-genre of apocalyptic rebuilders. This time around, the world has been destroyed by a global flood. Much of the world is underwater, although pockets of high ground are still available to build on. Basically, the game world is comprised of a central island which you start every game on (and which is unchanging each time) and then a series of randomized islands to explore all around. In this way, Floodland presents a repeating opening scenario that allows players to optimize their gameplay on subsequent runs because the type and location of resources on the starting island will always be the same. And then the rest of the world is more or less randomized to present a new experience with every play.

Details of how the great flood happened are a little sketchy, but climate change is mentioned, so one can assume that the world heated up and the glaciers all melted. According to the histories listed for each of the starting factions (more on the faction system in a bit) the world has been flooded for a number of years when the game begins, but not so long ago that people don’t remember what the world was like before. One gets the impression that it’s been about five or maybe 10 years since the apocalypse.

One thing to note before going forward is that Floodland offers a very beautiful, stylized presentation. The portraits of the people you meet (the leaders of their factions) as well as your group’s advisors, are all drawn using a bright color palette that serves to accentuate their features and also act as a bit of contrast to the swampy world you are inhabiting. Many of the buildings are colorful as well, and all have that makeshift, tossed together out of whatever was at hand kind of look about them.

The soundtrack for Floodland is also impressive. The normal background music sounds pretty good, but there are also songs that trigger at different times or in response to major events in the game that really sound great and help to set the mood. The only problem is that you can’t control the soundtrack or how often those cool tunes play, but they were always a treat to listen to when they did activate.

The gameplay for Floodland is a little bit different from other builders. It starts off in a pretty standard way where you need to assign workers tasks like exploring the island. You don’t actually control anyone directly in Floodland. Instead, you assign tasks, and then the survivors will attempt to carry out your orders. Most of the rank and file people work out of the central stockpile (or other stockpiles once you construct them) and will try and follow your orders as best they can. So, if you set out five exploration tasks and then also order a tent to be constructed, generally one person will go to each scout task and then one or two will start moving resources to the tent and start hammering.

You have to be careful managing your stockpiles because in addition to working on whatever tasks you assign them, stockpile workers are also needed to carry goods like buckets of water or food products back to the stockpile from producing buildings, so they can get overloaded. Given that most producing buildings also require workers to be assigned directly to them, you will soon find yourself pulling people off of stockpile duty and giving them specific tasks elsewhere. This serves to govern how quickly you can grow your town, because there never seems to be enough people to go around, and if you pull too many away from the stockpile, then production will grind to a halt even if you have lots of production buildings in operation – to say nothing of being short on labor for new construction projects. Balance in Floodland is everything and may take most players multiple runs to learn.

Eventually, players will have fully developed their initial starting island and will need to unlock a radio tower, (which again, is always in the same place on the starting island) because that is the key to exploring the wilderness all around. With the tower unlocked, you can scan for resources and launch expeditions to neighboring islands, which you can then strip of resources or convert into a second place for your tribe to live. You can have multiple islands acting as homebases, although the management of such a setup could quickly get out of hand. One technology that you can research adds a governor to new islands, which is basically a way to have the AI manage things there for you.

And speaking of technology, Floodland has one of the most complicated tech trees that I have ever experienced in a game. It’s comprised of a core wheel with two rungs and then four branches that move off from there. You need to research categories within the core rings in order to unlock technologies in the outer branches, and there are multiple cross dependencies. And if that sounds overly complicated, it kind of is.

As an example of how to use the tech tree: Let’s say that you have people still living in tents and want to upgrade them to some cozy cabins. The cabin tech exists on the Growth branch, and you will need to have researched all the techs leading up to it first, just like with any other game. However, if you try to unlock cabins, the game will not let you because you first need to unlock the Rubble technology on the central wheel, which lets you make things out of the rubble you find all around. However, to unlock Rubble, you also first need to unlock Rubbish on the central wheel and then also Wood as those are the inner-wheel dependencies. And all that is just for a very basic technology that you should probably get to within your first half hour of a run. There are 34 techs in the Survival branch and just as many in Growth. Plus, there are the Exploration and Well-Being tiers. The central wheel has 10 outer unlockable rings and five on the inner wheel. So, things only get more complex the longer you play.

Incidentally, you earn knowledge points to unlock technologies from certain school-like buildings in your colony, all of which need to be unlocked as well. It’s not difficult to accidentally soft-lock yourself out of advancing too, especially if you spend too many resources building up too quickly or research certain tech trees too far without occasionally working on others — and then find that you don’t have enough resources available to unlock something you really need in a hurry, like a medical tent when a plague strikes your colony.

Another interesting design choice that makes Floodland much harder to play is the fact that apparently, after the flood happened, people all gathered together in tight groups with rigid ideology and tended to hate others who didn’t believe exactly the same way they did. So, remember when I said that people were one of the resources that you could never have enough of in your colony? That is true, but often times when you find people out in the world, they will be a part of another faction with their own hardcore beliefs. You can still invite them in because you need the manpower, but if their beliefs are opposed to yours (like if you’re an open-minded democracy type faction and they believe in strong central control – basically fascists) then they will complain about every story-based or narrative decision that you make. Eventually relations between the two groups will sour, which in turn leads to crime, unhappiness, riots and colony death.

To try and compensate, Floodland gives players access to a series of laws which – you guessed it – must be researched and unlocked. You gain points to unlock laws using influence-generating buildings, which brings an entirely new spendable resource to further complicate the game. The laws tab lets you unlock things like a police force to deal with all the crime that is now being generated because your various factions don’t get along. There are also things like better working conditions and little boosts that are somewhat helpful to your colony, but which never seem to be really game-changing.

Floodland is a solid title and has a wonderful presentation. But it’s also extremely complicated and players don’t really get anything in return for all that complexity. Does the crazy tech tree make it more exciting? No. Does having a faction that offered to join your colony and decide later to wreck the place because they got pissed off at some silly decision you made (like they wanted to eat a pet dove you found in the ruins that you freed instead) make things more fun? Not at all. In fact, all of that severely detracts from the core fun and the unique concept of Floodland, which is building up a society out of a flooded wasteland.

Those who play a lot of building type games who are looking for a challenge can have a lot of fun with Floodland. But those who are more casual builders will likely want to avoid it because all the complexity can get overwhelming very quickly. It’s not like the remake of Dwarf Fortress or anything like that, but Floodland is a challenging game, and not always for reasons that also add to the enjoyment of playing it.

Floodland earns a respectable 3.5 GiN Gems for bringing a new apocalyptic setting to the builder genre. It’s a title that is worth getting your feet wet with if you are looking for a unique challenge to conquer.

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