Before We Leave Review
Games such as Age of Empires, Civilization, and Endless Legend may be titans of the 4X-strategy genre, but they all have one thing in common that some people just might not be into: violence.
Before We Leave is a 4X-strategy game that has absolutely no combat. The game takes place in the far future, long after wars and other atrocities wiped out almost all life. A number of beings known as “Peeps” managed to escape annihilation underground and have since decided to remerge and resettle their planet.
As in most strategy games, the player acts as an omnipotent god, dictating over the Peeps and how they will expand throughout their planet (and soon, the universe). The tutorial tricks newcomers into thinking this will be a simple strategic romp before dumping tons of information at them that can get quite overwhelming. With time and practice, however, figuring out what you need to do becomes fairly easy, and 4X veterans should have no trouble jumping in headfirst.
4X without the combat
After gaining a basic overview of the game—how to gain resources, how to keep your Peeps happy, and what your objectives are—things begin to pick up fairly quickly. One might assume that a complete lack of violence or combat in a game would lead to a tedious, boring experience. After all, combat is usually the most appealing part of most games for many players.
Before We Leave, however, shines specifically because of the lack of violence. You’re picking up the pieces in an already dead world: one that has died because of said violence. Thus, it’s clear that the best way to succeed as a species is to do so nonviolently. In the absence of violence and combat, players are left with an overwhelming amount of managerial tasks as you expand your Peep’s presence on each planet. This may start out as a bit much, but I quickly found myself falling into a rhythm: go to this area, produce this item, research this thing, move to the next settlement, and so on and so forth. This process absorbs you in completely, as you unwittingly sink an increasing amount of hours into the game.
One thing that sets Before We Leave apart from its contemporaries is its stellar presentation. Each planet is presented in grids that fill out as you explore, adding a new spin on the oft overdone “fog of war” that usually covers unexplored areas of in-game maps. Before We Leave might not be the best-looking game, but looking at them from a bird’s eye perspective delivers a splendid view, with each tile shining in their own characteristic way. Zooming into each of them reveals their flaws—blocky, lower resolution textures, low detail Peeps—but none of this detracts from the experience, instead adding to the game’s charm.
Before We Leave revels in its quiet moments. When you reach new areas that haven’t been settled, or have simply strayed out of your bustling villages, the game rarely has any music, making these new areas feel unexplored and even a little unsettling. Upon returning to your settlements, some fantastic tunes from composer Benedict Nichols inspire a feeling of adventure.
A great introduction to 4X
While Before We Leave excels as a 4X-strategy game, it’s far from perfect, however; one of the only issues with Before We Leave is its repetitiveness. Though there are multiple scenarios that place you in specific worlds with different objectives, the overarching goal is largely the same: expand your reach and colonise other islands and planets. While this is a blast the first time, it doesn’t have enough random elements to make new playthroughs feel unique. After you craft your perfect civilisation, there’s no point in starting from scratch again.
While removing combat adds heavily to its charm, it’s also usually what brings me back to 4X-strategy games. With the thrill of warmongering, grinding for minerals and building the same settlements over and over again can only be entertaining for so long.
This leads to one of the game’s biggest contradictions: the tedium of peace. Sure, peace is what we should all aim for, but—at least in games—it’s just a bit boring. One can only go without strife for so long before wondering what is pushing them to continue. Almost all pieces of entertainment have some form of conflict, whether it’s physical or metaphorical, but without that, it feels like there is little to keep one going.
Such is the case with Before We Leave. It is, however, still an excellent introduction to the 4X-strategy genre. You can make it as complex as you want by diving into its in-depth menus and trying to elevate your Peeps’ happiness, or you can simply focus on the task at hand without caring about such minute details. Those looking for a break from violent 4X fare will find respite in Before We Leave.