Before We Leave Review – Civilization on training wheels
Before We Leave Review
Civilization-style real-time strategy games can be a stressful but fulfilling affair. As the genre continues to expand and improve, titles that revolve around the “god”-like observer system have gone in and out of our consciousness, with only a few titles here and there.
Before We Leave is a quirky strategy/4X title from Team 17 (publishers of the equally fun and quirky Greak: Memories of Azur). An interplanetary disaster forces the sentient civilization, The Peeps, to live underground. Generations pass, and when they finally emerge from their hiding places, they find their civilization has reverted back to the Stone Age. Quickly learning from the civilization that came before, The Peeps retroactively engineer this knowledge and eventually find a way to emigrate from their respective planets.
Before We Leave is a curious, family-friendly game that serves as an entry point to this genre, something I would bequeath to my hypothetical children who are curious about how it feels to act like a god. As with games of the same genre, there’s usually a lot to unpack here, so thankfully there’s a tutorial that walks you through parts of what makes the game tick.
I suggest taking the tutorial to learn about Before We Leave as it walks you through the basic controls, the general concept of the technology tree, and more, all while having you progress through the game. You don’t need a keyboard and mouse to go through everything as there are a lot of menus to peruse. It’s not too much of a burden at the start of the game, but it tends to be a bit much as you go along.
Even with the rather simple control scheme, with the sheer amount of menu items and icons to go through, it does take a while to learn Before We Leave, you still would take a breath to go back and figure out what to do next. The good news is that you really aren’t under some kind of time pressure, so you’ll be able to catch up if you want without much repercussion.
Unlike other similar games of its type where you micro-manage units, tech trees, and defend against invaders, the main focus of Before We Leave is to lead your Peeps to a golden age of discovery and exploration. For the most part, the tech trees starts off from building to improving technology and finally space exploration. There is no combat to worry about as well as no invading party to watch out for.
Speaking of units, you don’t really need to build individual or specialized Peeps. You build huts for Peeps to live in, and the underground bunker will just provide more Peeps from the unending well of bunkers. It is as if the long-term vision of Vault-Tec from Fallout actually worked, and you have an endless supply of easily pleased workers at your disposal.
With regard to managing specific Peeps, you don’t necessarily build them or even directly control them. They move according to your commands while they’re happy, but there are no other ways to elevate the experience. The most you’ll get is the flavor text attached to each particular Peep that describes their personality giving that cheeky humor that’ll make you chuckle.
No Hand Holding
Despite its family-friendly visuals, Before We Leave quickly lets go and doesn’t hold your hand, leaving you to rely a lot on trial and error and quite possibly restarting some runs that didn’t go the way you want.
I did rely a lot on repetition and trial and error during my runs of Civilization, so it is par for the course that you may be doing the same with your first few runs of Before We Leave before getting the hang of it and ending up with an optimized campaign that’ll work for you.
Getting started with Before We Leave is the part that needs a bit of practice. It is really a cyclical way of learning what resources to focus on, what technology you need to master, and moving on to your next conquest, all while managing your Peeps’ happiness. Once you get a hang of that gameplay loop, you’ll be able to really have fun with the game – managing charts, figuring out the most effective supply chain, all while never losing sight of the end goal to turn your Peeps into a spacefaring civilization.
Before We Leave really focuses on building, progress, and finally managing your Peeps’ happiness. There aren’t a lot of factors in play here so while there’s really not a lot of hand-holding, it doesn’t affect your playthrough negatively at all.
There are really not a lot of consequences over the course of your playthrough in Before We Leave. If your Peeps don’t get enough food or are exposed to too much pollution, they basically just become lazy and won’t build things, slowly impeding your progress. Worst case scenario, it really just becomes an annoyance until you improve happiness ratios.
This may sound like blasphemy to veterans of the genre, but is perfect for players who don’t want to stress out too much on the experience, something a bit more relaxing.
I Kinda Want More
As you improve your peeps and enable them to be a space-faring civilization through a whole campaign that spans about 8 hours or so, Before We Leave offers next to nothing in terms of replayability, unless you want to see what every selection on the tech tree will net you or even trying out different ways to progress the Peeps to their eventual final form.
After a while, the game really becomes more like you’re running a company made out of Peeps. That different charts that annoy you throughout the game just become unnecessary reports. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the gameplay loop, the most you’ll really be doing is shifting Peep allocation to your different structures. Once you’ve identified your current objective, you really just need to complete that and you move on until the credits roll.
Low-stress eventually becomes low-reward, prompting me to play the game on a slightly higher level speed to progress through my builds quicker, leaving its draggy pace behind. There are times where I’ve cranked up the speed to 4x, but my overconfidence resulted in a bunch of lazy Peeps as I missed building more farms and managing pollution at one point, focusing too much on speeding up the technological process.
More experienced Civilization players will probably look for something more substantial to play such as the new Humankind game. Before You Go starts out a little challenging but loses its luster, especially for more experienced players, as they go along. While the game starts out charming and quite intensive, once you’ve established a supply chain between your colonies, there’s really nothing much else to go on besides keeping your Peeps happy and letting your biodomes work like a well-oiled machine.
What we liked:
- Accessible Civilization type strategy with an involved tech tree.
- Simple interface allowing you to get into the action.
- Family friendly and good for the kids.
What we didn’t like:
- Experienced players may want something more challenging.
- Console controls takes a little bit to get used to.
- Annoying charts and reports that becomes clutter at a certain point.
Verdict: Wait For It.
Before We Leave starts out a quirky curiosity, winning you over with a charming premise and a low-stress experience that’s good for the family or even for those who don’t really like the fast-paced and high-stress nature of Civilization games. However, for more experienced players, this easy-going interface can get somewhat tedious and a little less challenging compared to other titles in the genre.
For starters though, Before We Leave is a pretty good low-investment title that teaches you the ropes before you jump into something a little more involved. Its addition to Xbox Game Pass only makes this offer even more tempting, letting you try the game out with very few setbacks. That said, I would have wanted more from the experience but not even the cutesy antics of the Peeps motivated me for another go.
Before We Leave is now available for the Xbox and Xbox Game Pass.
*Before We Leave was reviewed on an Xbox Series X with a review code from the publishers.