Review: Before We Leave (Nintendo Switch)

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What if the post-apocalypse was fun?

Not the apocalypse itself, mind you, but a period after, when the survivors emerged and things were mostly OK but they had to rediscover technology while eating potatoes until something better was discovered?

Welcome to Before We Leave, a city-building game that promises to be “gentle” and “relaxing” while also containing some game-breaking bugs in its current version.

So! Collapse of a galactic civilization! Many years ago! The game starts here with your hearty band of meeples emerging from the shelter to discover, and rediscover, the island, islands, planet, and planets left for them to explore.

If you’re familiar with city building or 4x games, you’ll understand Before We Leave; you gather resources, expand your knowledge, and build your tech tree so you can explore further, and further, and further.

The game has a fun, colorful style based around a hexagonal map. It reminds me of Settlers of Catan, especially in the way your citizens (who more than anything resemble Fisher Price Play People) trundle across the hexes, going to work and gathering resources.

There are no other violent civilizations; your only obstacles are pollution and keeping your people happy with food, drink, and entertainment. The pollution problem can be mitigated (but not eliminated) by building “cleaners” who scrub the soot away. The happiness issue becomes a problem as your population grows bigger. It’s not simply enough to give them their basic needs, they’ll want luxury goods and musicians.

If you don’t keep your people happy, they start working slower, starting a vicious cycle where workers don’t produce the base goods (iron, stone, raw crops) quickly enough to turn them into things you, the player, want (new buildings). This leads them to become unhappier and unhappier until the game slows to a crawl.

Another obstacle is that every planet is broken into several islands (which you must build ships to explore and colonize), and not every island produces every kind of resource. You’ll need sand to make glass, so you’ll have to find a desert island, which of course also has very few spaces for crops.

That’s the next level of gameplay: trade (making sure every island has what it needs, even if it can’t be made). To mitigate pollution, you can even set up a system using multiple routes, say, to harvest ore on one island, then ship it to an island that can already smelt iron, and then ship the iron ingots to the island where you need steel to repair the spaceship.

Oh yes, spaceship, because, once you get the feel of the game on one planet it’s time to explore your solar system and set up colonies on new worlds and start the process over again. This will allow you to discover even more new technologies, and, of course, set up interplanetary shipping. Somehow the game manages to keep this system manageable and mostly fun as you transfer research and resources to keep your little star system happy.

And then…you find out why things collapsed in the first place. I won’t spoil it for you—it was far too much fun discovering it for myself—but despite being “nonviolent,” Before We Leave has a few horrifying secrets up its sleeve. But even these are strangely weird and fun.

I liked this game a lot. Until I didn’t.

Here’s the problem; there are recurring game-ending bugs in the Switch version. I reached out to Team17, who did the port, and got some advice that was momentarily helpful (clearing the Switch’s data cache), but the bugs kept returning, and eventually the save game files wouldn’t load even after 10 minutes of waiting.

Hopefully Team17 issues a patch to correct these issues, because they frankly break a game I was really loving. That the problems seem to accumulate late in the game, when I was at the peak of building, only made it more frustrating.

But before I gave up in frustration, it was a joy just to watch my civ expand and expand, in a relatively low-stress campaign to help people survive and be happy. Hopefully there’s a bug fix on the way.

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