If you’re someone who’s roamed the streets of Bioshock Infinite’s floating city of Columbia and found yourself wondering exactly how a city like that might actually be feasible, you’re in the right place. Airborne Kingdom is a city builder that takes to the skies, tasking you with creating your very own floating steampunk city. It’s a nice little twist on the genre that makes you think a bit differently about how a city should be structured, but it’s also one that doesn’t quite fulfil its potential.
Booting up the main campaign you start off with a simple town centre, and it’s your job to begin expanding your fledgling community into a thriving utopia complete with its own council. Naturally, in order to do so, you’ll need to utilise your workers to gather resources and create new buildings and structures.
Since you’re floating way up in the sky, however, resources must be gathered from the world below. The good news, though, is that once you’ve built yourself a hangar you can send workers out via airplanes to nearby forests, caves, settlements, and other areas of interest. The workers then automatically recover vital resources until a particular area’s supply has run out.
From a gameplay perspective, the mechanic works well and is easy to wrap your head around, but it’s a shame there is little focus on this from a narrative point of view; in an age where climate change is such a hot topic, flying down from your city to essentially strip the world of its natural resources could have made for an intriguing story thread. Nevertheless, it’s a convenient way to ensure your kingdom remains thriving as you look to continue expansion.
Once you have the necessary resources in place you can start expanding your city. Your first point of call will be to ensure that your workers have somewhere to stay. So, utilising wood from nearby forests you can start erecting settlements, with each house providing shelter for one worker. As you progress through the game you’ll need to consider where these settlements are located in relation to other structures. For example, workers really don’t like it if they have to live near Adobe Kilns due to the fumes, which will directly affect their overall levels of happiness.
The key aspect to keep an eye on when building your city, however, is how the structures and pathways affect the overall balance. Build too many structures on one side, and you’ll find the city will start to keel over. You can alleviate this by placing wings, balloons, and other ‘floaty’ objects to offset the weight from the structures. Again, an imbalanced society is an unhappy society, and if you happen to take it too far, you run the risk of destroying your city entirely.
Gaining access to new structures and perks requires research, which you can access at any time during the campaign. Learning new tricks of the trade takes a certain amount of in-game hours, and you can only ever learn one new thing at a time, which we assume is to ensure you’re not overwhelmed with the game’s generous helping of options. Gaining access to new abilities and structures is also performed by visiting the world’s twelve kingdoms; taking on quests and helping them with their own development will in turn grant you with unique resources, structural blueprints, and other nifty perks.
Ultimately, your goal is to build your population up to 150 and visit each of the game’s kingdoms to earn their favour to become the most prosperous city around. Compared to other city builders, it’s a fairly breezy experience; as you grow your population, you can send out dozens of workers at a time to gather resources, so you'll never really find yourself stretched in terms of difficulty. There does, in some ways, feel like the game lacks some depth; it would have been nice to see a bit more focus put on actually maintaining your city, perhaps by fixing broken machinery or ensuring buildings and foliage don’t degrade. As it is, much of the focus is put firmly on resource management and expansion.
Even with this in mind, the game includes a Creation mode if you’d prefer an even easier experience, which effectively does away with all the resource management that comes with the standard campaign mode. Here, you can really flex your creative muscles and build whatever kind of city you desire; want a pink city with bright green lights? Go right ahead. Of course, you still need to keep in mind the city’s balance, so don’t go mad and start stacking a bunch of farms or warehouses down one end.
In terms of gameplay, Airborne Kingdom is relatively simple to pick up, although we found the menu and overall UI to be a bit confusing at times in terms of its layout. Moving the camera around feels natural, but even at the highest sensitivity it can feel a little slow and sluggish. You can speed up the in-game clock, if you wish, which is a nice quality of life feature if you’ve only got a few moments spare. Finally, the actual act of placing objects and buildings in the world feels pleasantly hassle-free; provided you’ve got a path with which to connect your structure, the game will automatically place it in the most sensible position (but you can alter this, should you wish to do so).
Airborne Kingdom is a perfectly fine city builder that puts a nice spin on the genre by focusing on weight and balance to ensure the survival of your community. The act of gathering resources and building structures feels easy, although some may wish for a bit more depth in the overall management of the city’s population. A few gameplay quirks might also frustrate, with a camera that feels way too slow and a UI that’s just a tad confusing at times. If you’re after a city builder that feels a bit different, though, then this might just be the one for you.