Abandoning his flying carpet, prince Aladdin has decided that the choice means of travel is a Middle Eastern floating steampunk metropolis. Welcome to the Airborne Kingdom—an exploratory city builder where you manage a flying city set on terrestrial domination. Your goal isn’t to subjugate people per se but to strategically conquer the environment. Drain every manner of natural resource for the sole purpose of showing the inferior land humans that the stratosphere is the place to be. Obliterate whole forests in an instant, sap up complete bodies of water in seconds, or convert entire regions to the ways of the sky people without batting an eye. The world of Airborne Kingdom is your oyster.
Developed by The Wandering Bard, Airborne Kingdom is available exclusively on the Epic Games Store.
Completing the Ancient Tapestry
Long forgotten and neglected, the bygone Ancients of the Airborne Kingdom have left little trace of their existence. All that remains is a woven Tapestry that outlines the diagram to rebuilding the lost aerial technology. To revive our kingdom to its former glory, we must travel to several nations near and far to demand their aid in restoring the Airborne Kingdom. Surprisingly every dominion is overwhelmingly agreeable to our cause; then again, who wouldn’t submit to the requests of a monolithic castle floating in the clouds above them.
Rather than sending out your lackeys to complete missions or progress the story, you’ll be using your entire kingdom to traverse and explore the landscapes below. Every domain will have a necessary quest to complete for gaining their support in terrestrial unification under the Airborne Kingdom‘s sovereignty. While some of their stories portray unique characteristics or ideologies of a particular region, most narratives are too barebones or short in length to offer any intriguing lore or backstories. Not to mention, Airborne Kingdom doesn’t feature combat or any conflict for that matter. As a result, the overall narrative is casual and relaxing at best but dull and unengaging at its worst.
Physics-Based City Building
Those accustomed to city-builders will find Airborne Kingdom‘s gameplay mostly similar to the resource management archetypes. However, the unusual twist here is that everything is taking place in the air, meaning you’ll be in a constant tussle with gravity. All structures are built from and connected to the center of your kingdom. Every building you add causes Tilt and Drag, which can affect the Speed and Angle at which your metropolis sails in the sky. To counter this, you’ll need to add propellers, wings, and fans to the point where flipping the whole thing over will resemble the most unorganized gaming hardware setup you’ve ever laid your eyes on.
Proper arrangement and infrastructural balance are critical in Airborne Kingdom. As the floating town’s master architect, you need to make sure your inhabitants are content with the tilt of their homes and workplaces. You otherwise risk their abandonment of your cloud city. After all, eating and sleeping at unnatural angles would probably be considered uncomfortable. Keep your building sprees in check as the Lift on your kingdom is limited. The worst scenario would be your empire tumbling to the ground in a not so gentle manner.
However, a mechanical problem the game faces in this area is the inability to move or deconstruct more than one structure at a time. Later, you’ll find yourself in pure distress at the tedious “inventory management” of rearranging building after building to balance out the physics aspect of your kingdom. Additionally, there is a persistent bug that causes an inaccurate display of the Lift in the UI. Closing and reopening your save file is the current quick fix for this issue. The periodic need to address this bug a couple of times throughout a playthrough may cause a slight annoyance for some.
Governing Your Sky People
The majority of structures will require a vital supply of human resources to run them. Constructing something like a Clay Kiln will automatically assign three workers for its operation, regardless if you’re refining clay or not. It’s important to mention at this point that every necessary resource in the game is available for trade at the markets of every major city. This means that your “actively idle workers” will be rendered relatively inefficient. It would be best to direct your labor force on structures that increase Speed, Lift, and Research.
Every time your empire reaches a new milestone, your subjects will become evermore needy, demanding structures that will fulfill their desires. Recruiting too many people in the early stages will see you suffering a hit to the people’s morale due to the lack of necessary buildings locked by progression. The game does offer a linear tech tree that’s rather basic but serviceable. There’s notably not much room for diversity when it comes to city building in Airborne Kingdom other than the decorative manner you place your structures.
Environmental Subjugation and Exploration
To construct buildings, carry out tasks, or complete quests, you’ll need a considerable amount of resources. Your townspeople will need food and water, while many activities will require refined materials such as glass, adobe, or fabric. A primary resource will be coal, the fuel used to keep your kingdom afloat. As you traverse the world, you’ll come across regions that provide less of a particular essential resource, resulting in the need for preparation in advance before entering the area. Movement is slow, so constructing speed enhancements to preserve resources will become a priority.
To gather resources from the ground, your workers will fly about like bees in these cute, single-seat airplanes. Sending out ten or more from the hive will create the satisfying spectacle of whatever coal, water, or wood you’re collecting to disappear off the map within literal seconds. While the aforementioned scarcity of resources in certain terrains does exist, the game honestly lacks a challenge in this area, with resources spawning in your path at every turn. Casual players will find this to be a delight, but even mid-core gamers will have trouble finding engagement. Coupled with the fact that Airborne Kingdom contains no conflict or random events/encounters leaves much to be desired in terms of gameplay excitement.
Charming Aesthetics and Soundtrack
Graphically, Airborne Kingdom runs fairly well with a few occasional stutters when your flying megalopolis size reaches the complex size of a gigantic sky kraken. However, one visual issue some may have is the abundance of clouds, especially in regions like the Highlands. In a game where finding resources is essential for sky survival, not being able to see clearly can cause a bit of frustration. Some places are so thick with fog and cloud cover that it will seem like the screen’s been layered with an immovable glaucoma filter. All graphical options are unfortunately locked into specific presets, meaning that if you wanted to turn down the “quality of the clouds,” you’re out of luck.
On the bright side, the Airborne Kingdom‘s architecture breathes such charm and style like kinds you’ll see in the Monument Valley series. Lovers of the Middle Eastern setting will find the grand design of buildings, towns, and major cities to be an absolute treat. The paper-like mosaic tiles on the ground below give an almost pop-up storybook feeling to the environment.
The music has adventure vibes running through it with bagpipes, guitars, lutes, tambourines, and violas with the occasional soft piano in the mix. The Wandering Bard did an excellent job creating an atmosphere reminiscent of Arabian Nights and similar Middle Eastern soundtrack styles. On the other hand, the sound effects in the game are decent but lacking in some areas. There’s a noticeable lack of variety when it comes to the sound throughout the game. For example, clicking on every structure will produce the same noise, making it difficult to distinguish if you’ve chosen a tiny house, path plot, or the hangar right next to it.
Unfortunate Lack of Atmosphere or Long-Term Engagement
What you do hear is serviceable, but you’ll have long stretches of zero background ambiance or anything to get you in the adventure mood, especially when the music’s died down or absent. It can significantly affect the gameplay in these kinds of games where most of the time, you’re waiting for your playable unit to go from Point A to Point B. Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies did a fantastic job with making long event-less traversal feel moody and atmospheric, whereas Airborne Kingdom doesn’t do itself any favors with a lack of pretty much anything to do while you’re cruising over to the next generic ruins quest.
And this is where Airborne Kingdom‘s problem lies. By removing combat or opposing forces, the player has little to do but stare blankly at the screen while their magnificent floating castle dully drifts along the deserted plains of the environment. The late-game adds no variety as players will do the same thing they did in the first hour. It becomes a rinse-and-repeat loop of “move, stop, wait.” Granted, there are discoverable color palettes to make your flying Arabian utopia look like a futuristic steampunk palace or comical flying carnival. But other than taking fancy screenshots of your creation, the player is trapped in following monotonous fetch quest after fetch quest that requires little to no brain activity. The game would have been so much more engaging if the developers added something like random events or even puzzles. Just because the city building aspect is casual doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun.
Airborne Kingdom is a fresh style of city building intertwined with exploration. The innovative physics-based building management adds a new twist on the genre’s formula. The lovely visuals and architecture, along with its remarkable musical score, are undoubtedly the highlight of the game. Nevertheless, Airborne Kingdom‘s gameplay lacks a compelling narrative and bogs itself down with its repetitive gameplay, especially in the lackluster latter half of the game. The overall lack of engagement in makes for a peaceful but uneventful city-building experience.
- Aesthetically pleasing graphics
- Sublime soundtrack
- Unique city-building mechanics
- Lackluster and repetitive gameplay
- Uncompelling story and quests
- Bugs and visual issues
- Lack of necessary ambiance and sound effect variety