They Are Billions – A 100-hour review

They Are Billions is a cross between Age of Empires, Call of Duty’s Zombie levels, and an apocalyptic steampunk novel.

You are tasked with building towns in a land under siege from undead hordes, making farming for food and producing electricity as important as building guard towers and training soldiers.

What makes this game stand out, and saw me neglect my social life every weekend for two months, is the scale and the difficulty.

They Are Billions is hard. Not Crash Bandicoot hard, more like Bloodborne hard.

When you die you are dead.

You can save your game when you need to leave for work on Monday, but there is no “let me save quick before this next wave of zombies come and if I die I will load my game and change strategy” option.

Here is a typical They Are Billions scenario:

  • You start your game, and begin building your little base.
  • You balance economy and armed forces production excellently.
  • 45 minutes later, you are so proud of your village you take a screenshot.
  • A zombie horde arrives and infects your buildings, destroying everything in its path.
  • You are dead.
  • You stare at your screen for 3 minutes.
  • You start a new game.
  • The same thing happens again.

How the game works

They Are Billions has two main modes: survival and campaign.

The campaign was launched recently after the game left Early Access on Steam. It has some sort of storyline and different kinds of gameplay, I think.

I have played exactly zero minutes of the campaign, so I cannot provide feedback on this.

The survival mode is where the real action is.

You select your map, which has a cool-sounding name but is basically a nice countryside, a snowy tundra, a desert, a dark forest, or a barren wasteland.

Players then select the population density of the zombies on the map and the number of in-game days before the final zombie horde arrives.

These two variables produce a game difficulty factor as a percentage score – the higher the percentage score, the more likely you are to get pwned in the first 30 minutes.

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Building and killing

You are on the map now, with your town centre building the only structure in sight and your five soldiers protecting it.

To survive the map, you must build a thriving town and a strong military force. You will also need to build houses to ensure there are enough workers to run your buildings.

Food must be farmed to feed the population; wood must be chopped from trees; iron, stone, oil, and gold must be mined; and electricity must be generated.

At the same time, you must build walls and guard towers; train rangers, soldiers, and snipers; build automatic guns and shocking towers; produce advanced mechanical units like Titans, and generally gather enough firepower to kill hundreds of thousands of zombies.

This figure is not exaggerated. It is not uncommon to kill over 200,000 zombies on a survival map – and you see every single one. They are everywhere.

You can examine the individual undead units when zooming in during the game, but zooming out to the maximum level shows the scale of the horror.

While pockets of zombies which will kill and destroy if you draw their attention are scattered across the map by default, the game also sends zombie hordes to attack your base at regular intervals.

For example, on game day 15, around 30 zombies will come from off the map and charge your base – and you must be ready.

Then on day 25, 70 zombies will charge, and so on and so forth, until the final attack wave comes on the pre-selected final game day.

The zombies kill your soldiers and infect your buildings, transforming the workers and townsfolk inside into zombies too – increasing the zombie attack force.

Zombies come in a range of sizes – from the weak and slow “old infected” all the way up to the zombie giant, which will eff your base up with a couple of swipes.

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Map maker and Steam Workshop

The game’s enjoyment factor is further enhanced by its inclusion of a map editor – which lets you make your own maps – and the Steam Workshop, which allows gamers to share their maps with other players.

Custom maps in survival mode are great, and many feature a large, resource-heavy area to build your base and a single choke point where the zombies enter.

This results in you building a staggeringly-large colony and a huge regiment of armed forces to face off the equally large and staggering zombie hordes which seek to destroy you.

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They Are Billions is fun, challenging, and addictive – great qualities for a PC game.

Is the game perfect, then? No, it is not.

They Are Billions suffers from intermittent freezing. You will be playing and the game will hang for 15-20 seconds with the sound playing on a loop, and then the game continues.

This often happens when putting down a new type of building or selecting a big batch of troops.

Online forums attribute this to memory leaks and other development issues – and after several patches, the issues are still there.

For those questioning whether it is a hardware issues, I have an MSI RX 5700 XT, Ryzen 5 1600X, 16GB RAM, and M.2 PCIe 500GB SSD.

The important takeaway is that this does not make the game unpleasant, and the freezes do not happen too often to ruin the experience.

As for the campaign, I have not opened this yet – but there have been complaints about it being poor.

Again, this is not a dealbreaker as the survival maps alone will show you a great time. At R175 on Steam, it was well worth the buy.

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Now read: The best graphics cards for South African PC gamers

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They Are Billions – A 100-hour review