Review: Airborne Kingdom
When I finished the campaign in Airborne Kingdom, I did something that I never do. I immediately started a new campaign. I know that’s a normal thing for a lot of people, but I’m very much a one-and-done gamer; usually when I beat a game, I’m fully satisfied to move on to something new. But not this time. Six hours in this game’s serene, storybook kingdoms simply wasn’t enough for me. I had to have more, had to build out a new flying city, and unite the world all over again. That’s what you want from the best building sims, that feeling that you cannot let go of the experience, and that is absolutely what is present here.
Long ago, a legendary kingdom in the sky traveled the world, imparting knowledge and aid to the many kingdoms of the land. Their efforts brought peace and prosperity to all, until they vanished. In the intervening years, kingdoms fell upon hard times, and retreated into isolationism. The golden age of the world ended, but now you have the chance to bring it all back. The original airborne kingdom left behind plans for a new flying city, and you are to command this reborn hope for the world. Striking out from the arid deserts, you must grow your aerial burg, locate the twelve scattered kingdoms, and bring them together in some semblance of the peace and prosperity they enjoyed so long ago. Only then, will you learn of the fate that befell those who traveled the skies before you.
Setting aside the absolutely fantastical optimism of a technologically-advanced society that DIDN’T use their powers for conquest, this is a marvelous premise for a game and fits extremely well with the serene atmosphere of the gameplay. Starting out, you have only the main building of your flying city. From there, you build paths, housing, workshops, and warehouses as you would with most resource-based builders. But given the unique nature of the game, you also have to place hangars for gatherers to launch expeditions from, mechanisms like wings and turbines to keep the city afloat, and different engines to help move the city across the world. Your chief concerns are food, water, and coal, and while you get options to use or process them more efficiently, you’ll always need to be replenishing your supply from the surface. Beyond that, you’ll need an assortment of other resources like wood, clay, and quartz to build your burg out. Some are renewable, some aren’t, but sourcing all of them will factor heavily into where you city goes and how it gets there.
Another key concern that really spices up the building is the tilt of your city. Not only do you need to generate enough lift to stay airborne, you need to balance it out so your citizens aren’t living their lives at a permanent Dutch angle. Your options for balancing tilt are wide open, too, because you can try to build things symmetrically, or you can cluster all your thrusters at one end and all your buildings on the other like some kind of mortal see-saw, or you can try all sorts of other configurations. Your population will have new demands as it grows as well (as new citizens can be recruited from terrestrial towns), including lit roads, sources of faith, health care, and more. The mood of your city determines how easy it is to recruit new folks, and you can research all kinds of buildings that mix and match satisfaction of different needs, like tea houses and spirit healers. You’ll need to research all your new toys for your town, after buying the tech from the old kingdoms using relics found in ruins dotted around the map.
I think this might be my favorite aspect of Airborne Kingdom, how smartly all of its systems are interconnected. Exploring the map is hugely important, since that’s how you’ll find the kingdoms you need to unite. But you’ll also find towns to expand your population, ruins that provide relics to trade for tech, secrets that allow you access to powerful wonders, and even workshops that give you new color customization options for your city. Certain regions have unique resources or, more importantly, lack certain staples like food or coal, so getting your kingdom ready for tougher journeys is part of the progression as well. It’s immensely satisfying to start out with a tiny, barely-functional village struggling with lift and stocking necessities, and eventually build up to a flying juggernaut that can survive comfortably for days without gathering expeditions.
Each kingdom you meet will have a main quest for you to complete to earn their trust, usually a simple task like building them a structure or locating a nearby ruin. Further-flung kingdoms have more complicated requests, but none of them are particularly taxing. Between the quests and exploring, there’s enough to do to keep you busy as you tool across the skies and build out your own kingdom. It took me about six hours to reach the ending, and then I immediately jumped into the New Game + mode which randomizes the map and offers you new city centers to choose from. There’s also Normal and Hard difficulties for any new game, though I didn’t notice a huge difference between them. Either way, you’ll have plenty of ways to enjoy this gorgeous, storybook builder as you explore and expand. I’ve gotten pickier about builders in my old age, and Airborne Kingdom absolutely hits the sweet spot for me of interesting systems and relaxing development.