Above It All

HIGH A relaxing, chill city-builder…

LOW …that might be a bit too chill for some.

WTF Watching resource gliders consume forests like steampunk locusts.

If there’s one fantasy or sci-fi trope I’m a sucker for, it’s a good old floating sky-city. I just love the notion of getting everything that’s normally seen on the ground — buildings, streets, and urban life — and making it fly.

Unfortunately for me, sky cities are rarely used as positive metaphors. From Xenogears‘ Solaris to Bioshock Infinite‘s Columbia to Zalem in Battle Angel Alita, floating cities are an easy way for creators to depict a class of people who are literally above it all, lording their privileged status over the plebs on the ground.

Color me surprised, then, that Airborne Kingdom chooses to aim a bit higher with its take on skyborne urban environs. In its world, the titular Airborne Kingdom was once a force of unity, able to travel between disparate nations while serving as a hovering nexus of learning, trade, and culture. The plans to build it have been rediscovered, so players must reforge the legend of the Airborne Kingdom, growing it from a simple levitating building to a thriving city among the clouds.

What follows is fairly straightforward city-builder… except in the sky. Players will start with humble, hovering beginnings and lay down walkways, set places for structures, and conduct research to unlock new technologies and options. They’ll also be able to take advantage of the Airborne Kingdom’s mobility, moving from place to place and undertaking quests.

During this expansion, the city’s population will grow and place a growing strain on resources, necessitating further expansion. Despite the somewhat smaller scale compared to city-building titans like SimCity or Anno, Airborne Kingdom resists the urge to include RTS or combat elements and sticks to its genre. There’s no fighting at all here, the only real enemy is gravity.

Keeping the city from crashing plays a key role in Airborne Kingdom. While the city can stay aloft thanks to magical technology, other rules of physics still apply — one such is balance. Players need to build their city in a somewhat planned manner, as building too far in one direction can cause the whole complex to tilt. Tilt too far, and the residents will be annoyed, and the stability of the structure threatened.

In practice, this makes for some entertaining considerations when developing the city’s beautiful, middle-eastern-inspired aesthetic, as one searches for just the right place to put a heavy structure, or when deciding just how far a housing block can extend before the city starts sagging. It’s a unique spin among city-builders, and it’s a pleasant bit of tension.

As they journey through biomes randomly generated at the start of each campaign, players will need to maintain a certain level of resources to keep the city aloft. The availability of resources can constrain players’ actions, but things never get too stressful. Frostpunk this is not, and for better or worse, Airborne Kingdom is dedicated to maintaining a chill, relaxing atmosphere. As someone who doesn’t mind a game that’s willing to step back and let me tinker rather than making me work hard to ‘win’, I can appreciate that.

That said, the relative lack of challenge may be off-putting for some players as the resource pressure isn’t enough to force interesting decisions about where to go and what to do. While it doesn’t need to be harsh, I would have appreciated having to make a hard call or two, or exploring my tech tree from necessity rather than curiosity. Still, Airborne Kingdom isn’t large enough to let ennui settle in, so any boredom that could’ve resulted from the relaxed pace didn’t have a chance to manifest.

Rather than trying to beat the giants at their own game, Airborne Kingdom carefully selects its core tenets and takes flight without getting weighed down by steep difficulty or stressful play. It might not be the kind of city-builder one comes back to again and again, but I enjoyed my time floating above it all.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by The Wandering Band. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game is based on retail build provided by the publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 13 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. There is no multiplayer mode. The game was completed.

Parents: At the time of writing, this game is unrated by the ESRB, but if it were, it would likely be rated E. The description might read something like This is a strategy game in which players manage and construct a mobile, airborne city. As players explore the world, making connections with land-based kingdoms and expanding their city, they gather resources and conduct research to unlock new structures and technologies. There is no combat in the game, though running out of critical resources may cause the city to fall and be destroyed in the crash.

Colorblind Modes: The game has no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All voiced dialogue is accompanied by subtitles. There are no text size or presentation options. No audio cues are necessary for successful play, this title is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: This game’s button controls are not remappable.

Josh Tolentino
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