Early Access Preview: Clockwork Empires

Posted by: 9/22/2014

Steam Early Access has a weird notoriety right now in the gaming community. There are some great successes (Kerbal Space Program) and some take-the-money-and-run games. Clockwork Empires falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. With frequent updates, it is improving all the time. But with a steep asking price for a game in the early alpha stage, Clockwork Empires should only be purchased right now by someone really wanting a steampunk inspired city building game.

For this preview, I am going to just write out my experience with my first colony in the game. You can see the direction the developers are hoping to take the game in, but as of right now, you feel kind of lost while playing.

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Clockwork Empires starts with you choosing between two colonies that you can take control. You are given around 15 colonists to start building up your colony by knocking down trees for wood, mining stone, and other resources to get your buildings up and running. There is very little in terms of a tutorial. Other than very lightly explaining how to build and move the camera, you’re pretty much on your own.

A majority of the time with Clockwork Empires I was confused at what is going on. The game doesn’t do a great job of giving you feedback on what you need to improve on, or how to remedy bad situations, like starvation for instance. At times your home country will offer supplies, but you must choose between building materials, food, or guns. Declining any help from the homeland will grant you prestige, which I am not sure what that feature does. I am guessing a higher prestige will bring more immigrants to your colony.

I started off by building a house with multiple beds, a kitchen, and a wood workshop. After watching my colonists chop down trees, gather berries, and mine stone, they just sat around, gossiping with other colonists while these projects went unfinished. It took me about 10 minutes to realize that the colonists needed wooden planks to finish these projects, not just raw wood. A way to fix this would be some automation from the colonists, or a better description about each building. Actually any description about what tasks the buildings handle would be better than what is currently in the game, since there is no description about the buildings other than the name.

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My next task was setting up a plot of land for my colonists to farm. At first my farmland was looking great, with wheat growing taller than anyone living in my colony. But when the wheat looked ready to harvest, I couldn’t figure out how to get someone to bring the wheat to my kitchen so I could make bread. This led to the crops spoiling, which inevitably led to starvation in my colony since the kitchen wasn’t running. I did set up a stockpile for the colonists to keep resources in, but I couldn’t find a place to store food.

If I was supposed to build a food storage area in my kitchen, I was out of luck since it wasn’t in my original plans. Once you design a building and where you want all the features in a building set, that seems to be final. I couldn’t figure how to modify existing buildings to change the design or add new equipment.

After my colonists were starving and tired from lack of sleep (beds need the refined wood, and once they became hungry and tired, they seemed to stop working), a group of Fishpeople rose out of the sea and started attacking my colonists. Clockwork Empires has a really interesting fantasy element to the game, and it does add something new to the colony building gameplay. My soldiers were able to take out the Fishpeople, but the creatures attacking my colonists was the least of my worries.

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Some colonists start cannibalizing dead colonists, which you can see in the screenshot above. When a dead colonist has been hacked up, you can order the kitchen to cook the human flesh. But my chef seemed more keen on repeatedly cleaning her kitchen than cooking food for the starving colonists. It was about this time that I realized my colony is a failure, and sent it to the depths of hard drive hell.

I can’t really say if I enjoyed my time with Clockwork Empires or not. Looking at screenshots and footage from the developers leaves a lot of yearning for latter parts of the game, but figuring out how to get to the latter parts of the game is challenging with very little feedback from it. The developers are updating the game almost weekly with new features (the latest update added the ability to save, that is where they are at in development), so that is positive. But with an asking price of $30 for an Early Access game, I can’t recommend it yet. Unless you have $30 burning in your wallet and you’ve been waiting for a steampunk inspired colony building game, I would wait until the game is more stable.

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