There is something incredibly satisfying about Airships: Conquer the Skies’ basic concept. Build giant floating Steampunk fortresses and then watch them take flight and shoot the hell out of each other. This mainly works because of the game’s core tenet: simplicity.
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Assembling an airship is easy. You choose from a generously long list of different modules and snap them together however you see fit. Certain rules have to be observed, but the game is actually helpful enough to notify you of missing parts. You won’t have to endure the embarrassment of noticing that, uh, your ship doesn’t actually fly when you face your foe on the aerial battlefield.
It really is as easy as putting a bunch of Lego bricks together – and just as satisfying. Positioning is important, as you don’t want your munitions depot to be the first thing that incoming shots hit and destroy. Additionally, there might be budget restrictions, depending on your chosen game mode. Other than that you can let your creativity run wild and even decorate your creation with garish colors and ornaments. (Yes, I built that thing up there. Yes, it looks like it has a plunger on its head. I’m no professional airship designer, okay?)
Once in battle, there are not too many options for you. You can order your ship (or fleet of ships) around and position them in strategically advantageous ways, but mostly, you’re reduced to the spectator role. The meat and potatoes are in the planning. This is just the ever so satisfying outcome of your hard construction and design work.
The rough pixel graphics appear simple at first, but convey a lot with a little. You can see your airship’s little airsailors manning their stations, reloading weapons, and scurrying around to repair damages. Boarding crews will drop down on your enemies’ ships and crawl along the outer hull, looking for a way in to wreak havoc. Fires will break out in all their pixelated glory and smoke billows menacingly.
There are skirmish modes against the computer and of course online multiplayer battles, where players can pit their creations against each other. In addition, there is a single-player campaign mode that has you building a fleet and researching new weapons while conquering the surrounding lands and preparing for hostile invasions. The world map operates in pausable real time, and it’s almost complex enough to feel like a basic grand strategy game… which is to say that I am very bad at it and there is a steep learning curve.
At it core, however, Airships: Conquer the Skies is all about the simple pleasure of building and refining ridiculous machines and watching them do badass things high up in the skies. The whole game is masterfully built around this core concept, and this is what makes it so satifying and great.