Airships: Conquer the Skies brings back childhood memories. Not of video games, but of Lego. As a kid, I spent hours and hours fiddling with those blocks, trying to construct the ultimate house, or spaceship, or whatever else my imagination conjured. Sometimes, I didn’t want to do much else with my day – I just wanted to Lego it up. I find myself similarly enamored with this steampunk strategy title.
Airships gives you the freedom to exercise your creativity in a way that actually matters, and I so appreciate that. A large chunk of the game centers around piecing together airships and equipping them to withstand the rigors of a combat mission deep inside enemy territory. A lengthy tutorial introduces you to the concepts of building and combat, and it seems simple enough. The fact that I’m able to say that speaks to the accessibility of the game, because Airships actually isn’t simple at all. It follows the popular phrase: easy to learn, but difficult to master.
Other than the imposition of a few basic ship requirements and a budget, you’re free to build your ships as you please. It’s a balancing game of weight versus float, speed and turning ability versus armor, and much more. How much coal should you carry? What about ammo? Do you want marines so you can board enemy ships? If you’re like me, you’re going to ask yourself these questions when you should be trying to fall asleep. And as far as I can tell, there’s no wrong way to build a ship. There seem to be advantages to using certain designs, but it all comes down to what you’re using the ship for and what type of situation you’re sending it into.
When you finally finish scrapping together your dream ship, you’re probably going to want to create another right away. That’s perfect – you’re going to need more than one ship, anyway. The current single player experience sends you into a conquest-style game with the goal of capturing every location on the map. To do this, you’ll need to coordinate not just one fleet of ships, but multiple fleets that have the capability to out-gun or out-maneuver a variety of enemy ships and defenses. This building and assembly is only one part of Airships, though. I mean, what good is an airship that doesn’t get used and abused?
Combat in Airships is heavily influenced by your preparation prior to initiating a fight, but it still requires an active hand and a watchful eye. You’re able to issue commands to your ship and your crew, and you’ll have to do both well to succeed. It actually feels quite similar to FTL: Faster Than Light, especially with the ability to pause combat at any time. If a fire breaks out in the engine room, you need to issue quick orders to shift the focus to firefighting. Similarly, if an enemy bomber manages to gain a height advantage over one of your ships, you better zip out of their firing range. Other factors like boarding, ramming, resource management, and the fact that all terrain and ships are fully destructible all serve to spice up the combat.
It’s an all-around enjoyable, fluid, and engaging experience that keeps you focused and in the zone. Plus, watching your little pixel crew members frantically run around and shout out their misfortunes is endlessly entertaining. At times, however, I found it difficult to weigh my chances of victory. Spies allow you a peek at enemy defenses, but their fleet strength isn’t always obvious. It takes some trial and error to nail it down, and of course, practice makes perfect.
Although the title suggests that airships are the only focus, that’s not actually true. You have the option of diversifying your fleet with slow but powerful landships, and they provide a fun twist that broadens the scope of warfare. That’s not all, either. A strong fleet is useless without a base of operations, so you’ll have to construct defensive structures to protect your cities. The process plays out just like airship and landship creation, although it’s slightly less satisfying since you can’t actually control your buildings.
If for whatever reason you’re not interested in playing conquest, you do have access to a standalone editor that allows you to send ships into scenarios of your choosing. It’s a great way to test ship designs and fighting strategies before committing to a conquest game. Still, even with both of these modes, a dedicated campaign would be a welcome addition. Outside of single player, there’s a multiplayer option that pits players against each other. This preview doesn’t take into account that aspect of the game, but it’s definitely promising, especially with Airships’ respectable amount of tactical and creative depth. LAN party, anyone?
EARLY ACCESS VERDICT
Airships: Conquer the Skies might not be the prettiest on the outside, but it’s a marvel on the inside. It contains a wealth of content for an early access game, and it’s good content. Ship construction and combat are easy to pick up, but they’re deep enough to satisfy the needs of a dedicated strategy gamer. More importantly, Airships reaches in and plucks out your creative spirit, no matter its size.
Airships: Conquer the Skies is currently available via Steam Early Access.