Since my last post over a month ago, also about this game, I have played a little bit of many games, as usual. However, the game I’ve played the most by far is, still, this game, They Are Billions for the PC. As a result I have a bit more to say about it, so here it is. I am working on some other things for the site, but first I wanted to write about this game again. Please note, this is a criticism of the game, but there is also plenty I like about it! I wouldn’t still be playing it otherwise, after all. But there are some things I wish it improved on, one particularly that I need to expand on.
So, yes, I’m still playing this stupid game. I’m not really sure if it is actually fun, and still can’t beat anything, but I’m hooked… it’s addictive, for good or bad. There are things about the game I really like, to be clear. It’s really good in a lot of ways! But it’s also very frustrating. One way it’s frustrating is that most games end with you losing because a random zombie got through somewhere and once that happens it’s pretty much over, the zombies will infect your houses and you’ve almost certainly lost.
Even worse, though, is the final wave. So, They Are Billions starts out hard. The game starts out tough, and gets even harder as you go along. In particular, that day 60 wave is very hard, and more often than not wipes me out, when I get that far. But if I actually do manage to survive day 60… well, the next couple of waves are pretty easy. If you get past day 60, you’re almost guaranteed to make it to the final wave, pretty much, unless you badly mess something else. Until the second-to-last wave, waves attack from one point on the map. By this time you should have the potential attack points defended decently, and in those few times I get past wave 60 it’s not hard to survive to the end.
However, the final wave is different, very different. Again, the final wave attacks from all directions. The zombies attack from almost every point they can, so you need every single potential attack point defended STRONGLY if you want even the slightest chance of surviving. I haven’t survived yet, again. Usually I manage to stop the zombies on some fronts, but they blow through on others. It’s crazy hard.
The problem is that you need a massive amount of defenses to survive the final wave. The difference between every other wave and the final wave cannot be understated, because it’s orders of magnitude harder due to how many directions you need to defend from at the same time. I have a problem with this because games of They Are Billions last fairly long if you don’t lose early, so in games where I survive I have to wait a LONG time before I finally, at long last, learn where I didn’t have enough defenses and will lose because of. It’s a bit like SNK Boss Syndrome, named for all those fighting games where most of the game is pretty easy, except for the final boss which is crazy hard and will kill you a hundred times after you probably didn’t die even once up to that point. Sure, this game is harder than that along the way, but it’s still on that scale! The gulf between the kind of base you need to survive any other wave and the massive fortress you need to have any chance at the last one is obnoxious and, honestly, is kind of bad design in my opinion.
I mean, this is a base-building / defense focused game. Why is focusing on defense a guaranteed-loss strategy? Because it is. You’ll need a very large, aggressively expanded base to survive the end, and I never expand fast enough because I do not like playing strategy games that way. You can get TO the final wave just fine, with some luck, with the way I like to play RTSes… but then I lose for sure because of the stupid-huge difficulty spike right at the end. It’s frustrating and not fun at all, and really SHOULD get me to stop playing the game, because come on, this isn’t good.
This isn’t just about this game, either. I have long believed that great games scale their difficulty well, and don’t have sudden massive spikes in challenge. This is one of the reasons why my favorite fighting game is The Last Blade 2; yes, it is an SNK game, but it entirely avoids SNK Boss Syndrome, and instead has a nice, smooth difficulty curve though each playthrough of the single player game. It’s a fantastic game for a lot of reasons beyond that, but this helps too. They Are Billions does the opposite of that and it holds the game back a lot, particularly when you consider that getting to the final wave can take hours, depending on the game length you choose. That’s a long, long time to wait to know how unprepared you are. There is a definite audience for the kind of play this game requires, but that isn’t what I want.
I hope that as they continue to work on it they adjust the final wave at some point, at least optionally, because it needs it. Either the final wave should be easier or the earlier waves should be even harder, pretty much. There should be no insane spike at the end; it should just be a summation of everything you have seen in the game so far, not a totally different insane challenge you have no hope of surviving without some very specific strategies. I like that the game is challenging, that is part of the appeal. It’s just that it should be more balanced in how it applies that challenge.
Apart from that, the most frustrating thing about the game is how easy it is to randomly lose because one zombie snuck through somewhere, but that’s just the way the game works, so I can accept that, as awful as it is sometimes. But the final wave is different, and I do think that you should be able to beat a map with the same strategies that got you to the last wave. Having very hard final waves makes plenty of sense for the higher difficulties, but why is it this hard in ALL difficulties? Ah well…
Despite all that They Are Billions is, I guess, a good game, and it’s well worth trying, but it has issues. Not least, I badly wish that they would fix the still unforgivably horrendous pathfinding… focus on that, above adding new features! You can get used to it with practice, but it’d be nice if the game just worked without that. What you need to do to have a chance at final waves is probably my biggest complaint, though, so that gets a deserved focus here.