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December 2023


Platform(s): PC
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Mechanistry
Release Date: 2022

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


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PC Preview - 'Timberborn'

by Chris Barnes on May 20, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Timberborn is a beaver city-building game featuring ingenious animals, vertical architecture, and river control (with dams and dynamite!).

It was day 16 of cycle one, and the drought had killed everything in sight: the carrots we had grown for the past week, the berry bushes we'd been gathering since the beginning of the journey, and the birch trees that my forester worked so hard to plant.

The forester's name was Zulkis.

He's dead, too, by the way.

That was the end of my first settlement, which was known as "Damver Colorado."

I looked down on my obliterated settlement with red skull icons over every beaver. It was a depressing drought — so much so that I contemplated closing the game and never playing again. Such is the way of the eager beaver life. The thirst built up from a draining 16-hour workday must be carefully balanced against the rationing of water in preparation for the ever-impending drought. As my beaver knowledge grew, I quickly learned that this constant balancing act between expansion and stockpiling is what makes Timberborn evolve from a depressing opening 30 minutes to an addictively joyous 10 hours of gaming over a span of just a couple of days.

Developed by Mechanistry, Timberborn is a city-building survival game with a spin that sets itself apart from other city-builders by focusing on beavers. Like most games in the genre, Timberborn starts slowly with the same formulaic steps. With a district center and a handful of beavers to get you started, your first goal is to start gathering the three critical, early-game resources: wood, food, and water. To do this, you must create a couple of lumberjack stations and mark which trees you'd like to cut down. Those trees aren't going to cut themselves, though. You must assign workers to those newly created stations. Once you do that, those beavers will happily work away at their job. While two of the beavers accrue wood for buildings, the others sit idly by twiddling their thumbs, and that just doesn't cut it if you want to survive your first drought.

It's critical to ensure that every beaver is working toward some sort of mission, lest you run the risk of another beaver annihilation via thirst or starvation. You need to put the remaining beavers to work. Some should be tasked with gathering berries from nearby bushes, while the others can build a water pump at the nearby riverbank. After a long day of work, the poor beavers will be ready for a good night's rest, but alas, they won't have a home to sleep. It's tough to watch those little critters crash in the open like that, so I decided to build a little home for them to sleep together in. Little did I know that they would wink nudge, sleep together because the population of "New Damver Springs'' increased to seven. Hooray!

How do I feed this newborn baby beaver? I can barely keep the first six alive, and now I have another! Time to build a farm. That farm will need workers, and more workers mean even more mouths to feed and quench. This cyclical maintenance between stockpiling, expansion, and birth are the gears that keep me engaged in every city-builder. As mentioned, the ever-imposing threat of an oncoming drought is what sets apart Timberborn, and it's the reason I've been so inclined to play it over other games in the genre.

Timberborn is broken up into cycles, with each drought marking the end of a cycle before starting afresh with a new one. These cycles are random, with the chosen difficulty determining how frequently and long-lasting the droughts will be. The first settlement that I'd consider a success was on easy difficulty. With that setting, I found the drought came around every 15 days and only lasted a few days. It was enough time to stockpile a ton of carrots, water, and logs while I learned the ins and outs of the various systems.

As you progress, the droughts will come more frequently and last longer. If you have built and employed your city efficiently, the droughts are a lot more manageable. A key factor in efficiently managing the preparation and recovery of a drought is leveraging the priority system. You can assign priorities to jobs and construction tasks. In doing so, you can queue up a bunch of construction tasks and quickly pivot from one focus to another, depending on your need. If you're short on food, you may assign a higher construction priority to the farm for construction, and a lower priority goes to the homes in the neighborhood section down the block. You can do something similar with jobs, too.

There are many times when you'll find yourself with more jobs than beavers. This could be from over-construction and not enough housing and births, or the more dire but realistic scenario where you've lost beavers to drought or old age. Either way, there are plenty of instances where you'll need to prioritize which jobs you want occupied. Critical resource buildings, like a water pump or farm, can be set to the highest priority, so there's always someone working on them, whereas an inventor that generates research points for new technologies may fall by the wayside during tough times.

I really learned to love Timberborn when I started engaging with the landscaping tools. As you may have guessed, you can manipulate the flow of water. What's a beaver game without dams? With these tools, you can control how high the water levels get along the riverbank near your settlement. With a proper dam or floodgate, you can trap water near your settlement, let the water levels rise a bit, and potentially go an entire drought season without the water drying up. Things get even more interesting as you unlock more technologies and experiment with the floodgates. You can set up a system of levees and floodgates to force the river to flow into new areas of the map. As you manipulate the river, areas once arid and unusable become lush and ready for growth.

It's pleasing to watch the animations as the water flows from one section to the next and watch green environments sprawl out across the map. I find the overall presentation to be easy on the eyes and ears. Orchestral folk music plays in the background as your beaver friends work on their tasks, and various sound bites play as constructions complete, beavers are born, and droughts are forecasted. The graphics aren't anything special, but the audio and visual presentation do enough to carry the experience. Performance-wise, Timberborn runs well with few to no issues. I played the entirety of the game on my Steam Deck and had no problems running the game at 60fps, so most modern PCs and laptops should be able to run Timberborn with ease.

Timberborn is an incredibly satisfying game to play once you get in a groove and have a self-sustaining system in place. You can't go forever without some manual intervention because, as mentioned earlier, droughts can and will become more frequent. I occasionally found myself leaving the game running on auto-pilot for a couple of minutes and watching the cogs turn in the elaborate machine I had spent hours creating. The developers seem to recognize the joy in this aspect of the game because there are various toggles to allow the game to run better in the background while you accomplish other tasks on your PC. Since Timberborn is an Early Access title, I'm excited to see what else the developers have in store for this game. Even in its current state, I have no hesitation recommending this game to any fan of city-builders. I'm eager to see the beavers in New Damver Springs return to work and continue expanding.

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