Against the Storm review - here be monsters

Into the woods

An Advanced Settlement centered around a hearth in Against the Storm
(Image: © Eremite Games)

TechRadar Verdict

Against the Storm is an excellent strategy game, selling its mysterious dark fantasy setting and challenging city-building with confidence. Though a significant learning curve and the occasionally outdated presentation hold the title back from perfection, Eremite’s PC debut is a strong addition to the genre.

Pros

  • +

    Rich strategic challenges where your choices matter

  • +

    Sophisticated production and trade systems

  • +

    Engrossing dark fantasy aesthetic

Cons

  • -

    Challenging learning curve

  • -

    Mixed production value at times

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Review information

Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC
Release Date: December 8, 2023

Against the Storm is a meticulously well-constructed town builder with a twist of dark fantasy horror. From Eremite Games, this challenging strategy title frames intense bursts of city management within a wider, roguelike campaign setting which tells an emergent story all of its own. Despite a considerable learning curve and occasionally dated visuals, Against the Storm will thrill and delight strategy fans with its meaningful decision points and deep systems. 

The first thing you’ll notice about Against the Storm is its bleak dark fantasy setting. You play as a Viceroy, an expeditionary leader charged by the queen of the Smouldering City to found new towns, gather resources on her behalf, and locate and bolster the seals - mysterious prisons that keep ancient evils locked beneath the earth. 

To make matters worse, the entire land is ravaged by a magical scourge called the Blightstorm. Not only does this storm lead to constant inclement weather for your settlers, but every few dozen years, the storm intensifies, wiping the land clean and forcing you to retreat back to the Smouldering City. It’s dramatic and engrossing stuff, luring you in with a setting full of mysteries and intrigue. Who is the queen? What’s underneath the seals? What causes the Blightstorm? To even begin to answer these questions you’ll first need to embark on missions and gather as much food, machinery, and artifacts as you can before retreating back to the Smouldering City at the end of the cycle.

Inspecting a shelter

(Image credit: Eremite Games)

Each town you attempt to found offers its own self-contained city-building mission, riddled with unique modifiers based on its location in the campaign map. Once you gain enough ‘Reputation’ with the queen to prove that your town is self-sufficient, you move on to your next project. Accumulated by fulfilling her demands and appeasing your villagers, you’ll need to accrue a certain amount to win each mission.

Between missions, you use the resources you’ve extracted to unlock upgrades including new building blueprints, powerful buffs, and even fresh game mechanics at the Smouldering City before continuing your expedition. In addition to subtle improvements to villager speed and resilience, you can unlock entirely new technologies, including the ability to power your buildings with rainfall. Throughout the game, you’re also bound to only a single save, too, ensuring that every choice you have to make feels weighty and significant. 

Under pressure 

A thriving city in Against the Storm

(Image credit: Eremite Games)

Over the course of a mission, your handful of villagers, humble storage warehouse, and warm hearth gradually expand into a full-on town as you cut your way through the surrounding forest in real time. However, this is far from a relaxing countryside stroll. In your quest to amass enough Reputation to finish the mission, the Blightstorm ensures that you’re bound to a seasonal cycle, where consistent storms keep you under mounting pressure. 

The forest itself is also hostile. The more you meddle, the tougher it’ll get for you and your villagers. But, since you need wood to keep the hearth going and food to prevent starvation, sooner or later, the forest will be alerted to your presence, complicating your life with bespoke debuffs unique to each mission, ranging from mysterious curses to deadly plagues. Villagers may leave if you fail to keep their spirits up. Sometimes they might die outright. On top of all this, the queen herself is watching; an ominous ‘impatience’ meter imposing a time limit on your attempt at city-building. This serves to light a fire underneath you as you play. Your decisions concerning what to build, where to build it, and what sorts of production to focus upon carry a deliberate weight that adds to the sense of drama and tension. 

Best bit

A Bronze Seal in Against the Storm's overworld map

(Image credit: Eremite Games)

Cycles of Against the Storm end with climactic ‘seal’ missions where you must work to trap an ancient evil below the ground. Braving tricky curses and powerful debuffs, I wasn’t sure my plucky townsfolk would make it. Reforging my first seal with moments to spare felt like a staggering achievement and left me hungry for more. 

However, as much as she’s a threat, the queen can also be a lifeline. The queen will also approach you with ‘Orders’, giving you objectives to fulfill in exchange for significant rewards, including 'Reputation'. As time goes on, new ‘Orders’ slots open. Each one gives you a choice between two potential missions, adding another layer of consideration to the game’s thick strategic weave. 

Against the Storm is all about such pivotal decision points. Whenever you unlock a new building (usually as a result of Reputation gains), rather than just getting access to another structure, the game has you pick between several possible new unlocks. What’s more, your villagers will need to be manually assigned to buildings, forcing you to consider exactly which sorts of production are worth your attention. As circumstances change thanks to discoveries in the forest or changing seasons, you’ll find yourself constantly tweaking your villagers’ work assignments, trying to keep your economy as flexible as possible. The need to be optimal and to respond to evolving pressures keeps you on your toes, ensuring that Against the Storm’s duller moments are few and far between. 

Trial by fire

A woodcutting operation in a dark forest

(Image credit: Eremite Games)

The game’s sophisticated web of resources and products enhances this satisfying feeling of weightiness, too. Everything you amass from the humblest berry to the finest wine has multiple uses, both in and of themselves and as part of the production of other resources. For instance, wine can be used to make luxury goods to help you earn money with traders or it can be distributed at a tavern to keep your villagers happy. It can also be used in place of pigment to make scrolls. Many resources can be substituted during the production process like this, letting you get clever with your supply lines. 

Accessibility

Options menu in Against the Storm

(Image credit: Eremite Games)

Unfortunately, Against the Storm has little by way of accessibility options. Camera, keyboard, and mouse sensitivity can be adjusted, but there’s no support for colorblind players. That said, Motion Blur can be disabled and keybindings can be freely reconfigured to your personal preferences.

However, this complexity reveals a weakness in Against the Storm; namely its steep learning curve. While far from insurmountable, Eremite’s PC debut has a lot of moving parts and requires ample investment in its tutorials before it becomes truly rewarding. To the game’s credit, the tutorial missions are fit for purpose, if a little by the numbers. However, they’re also time-consuming, meaning that Against the Storm’s first few hours can drag.

Additionally, though the game’s old-school Warcraft 3-adjacent art style may delight nostalgic players, some may equally find Against the Storm’s production value to be a little lacking in some areas. For instance, the game has no voice acting beyond the occasional grunt, murmur, or burble of your villagers. Though the game never feels unfinished, it does occasionally feel dated. 

However, despite these niggles, Against the Storm is a fantastic entry in the strategy library. Bursting with meaningful decision points and plenty of tension, this deep and rewarding city-builder offers a fulfilling and demanding suite of systems wrapped in a dark fantasy package. 

Want more intense gaming experiences? Check out our guides to the best PC strategy games and the best single-player games.

Cat Bussell
Staff Writer

Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent. 


Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure. 


Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.