EARLY ACCESS REVIEW: ‘Timberborn’ Brings Even More Lumberpunk Goodness With Update 4 (PC)

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Timberborn — But Why Tho

Having been in Early Access since September of 2021, Timberborn has managed to get bigger and better with every update. Having just launched Update 4, now is a great time for new players to jump in. From Polish developer Mechanistry, Timberborn is all about achieving harmony with your environment and fueling your creativity with limitless beaver builds. A city-management simulator where you play a community of beavers, you build bigger builds, irrigate the land, and survive droughts throughout cycles. Dubbed “lumberpunk,” the aesthetic is just as it sounds, and it’s honestly glorious.

With various maps with multiple levels of elevation that push the player to build bigger structures to take advantage of every plane, you actively work to keep your beavers fed, watered, and sustained through the toughest parts of the cycle: droughts. While the game would have been fun enough just working on the land, the fact that you can reshape through a system of dams, levees, dynamite, and more makes a simple game the right amount of dynamic. But while that is fun, the best part of Timberborn is learning how to build your colonies and architecture higher and higher, utilizing every square of irrigated space to the fullest.

When a building is marked as “Solid,” you can build structures and roads on top of it. By implementing different heights of platforms with stairs, you can build beaver skyscrapers. The difficulty in building the height? Every single one of them needs to be connected to a road, which gets more difficult the higher you get and the more platforms you need since every staircase points out from the connected structure. You can also use Suspension Bridges to bridge wide gaps and expand into metal platforms in order to do more. And while “do more” may not sound like the most descriptive writing for how to vertically build, well, that really is what you do. If you plan your structures correctly, you can just keep doing more, limited only by how you envision the space.

With a diversity of designs open as far as your creativity will let you, the game also offers two factions with the adorable hat-wearing Folktails and the more gruff Iron Teeth. While you only have Folktails unlocked at the beginning, it’s hard to get anywhere close to bored with them as you unlock their different buildings, farms, decorations, and living quarters. Folktails are expert farmers that respect nature and make sure it is cared for properly – they use Beehives to make sure their crops grow faster and hide large quantities of resources in their Underground Piles. Even cooler, instead of only relying on the water wheel or hamster wheel to provide power to your beavers, Folktails also have windmills to generate power.

Timberborn — But Why Tho

Then, you get the chance to play with the Iron Teeth faction once you achieve a Wellbeing score of 15—which isn’t extremely difficult, but just enough to make you work for it. Iron Teeth faction isn’t about farming. They’re about, well, iron. Iron Teeth have mastered iron and science to build advanced machineries such as Engines, Breeding Pods, or even stackable Hydroponic Gardens. They are an industrious bunch living in barracks and rowhouses and have access to upgraded buildings such as Deep Water Pumps and Industrial Log Piles.

Each of the factions allows you to manage your colony and the elements differently. While you have the ability to change the map how you see fit, that terrain manipulation is even more interesting when you build it all around surviving longer and longer droughts. You can’t just hoard food or water in tanks of three sizes; you have to engage with the terrain in order to build reservoirs and create new land features like lakes and rivers, dams, canals, underwater paths, and river control. Dams, Levees, or Floodgates ensure that once the drought comes, all the water behind them stays – until it evaporates or is used up by water pumps. Tapping into the ingenuity of beavers, you have to balance different elements of the colony in order to keep the land and those living on it helping each other.

But the beaver building doesn’t just stop at what you expect. As you continue to build up and out, your lumberpunk colony unlocks dynamite that allows you to destroy the terrain block underneath it, allowing you to change the course of rivers or create deep lakes that can store a lot of water that won’t leave the map. You can also artificially move water with the help of a Water Dump. This allows you to take the water you saved and pour it back into the map, which can also create a reservoir which is even better than damming off areas.

That said, lumberpunk takes a different look when you unlock Dirt Excavators to destroy terrain below them and allow you to use the mined-out dirt to create new terrain elsewhere, really allowing you to get creative with how and where you build—or undo some mistakes you might have made with the dynamite. And with that late-game excavator comes bots…adorable blue-eyed wooden robot beavers that add a whole new element to the game. While these adorable bots can work 24/7 with enough biofuels or after spending time in a charge station (depending on the faction), deciding what percentage you’ll work them versus your beaver citizens also has its own difficulties in balancing.

This plays directly into the need to make sure to manage your roads and buildings to maintain the productivity of your colony. Stretch out too far, and you’ll wind up with overextended workers that cause dips in productivity no matter how many times you try to push it up in priority. But, if you pack too much into one central area around your district outpost, well, it’s easy to bloat the city to the point that productivity also suffers. Management is key, and resources need to be productive enough to last, but not too much for you to become overwhelmed by the product.

One of the easiest ways to fix this is to plan your district effectively by planning on where to build a new district that can build its own population and run its own production. However, the districts aren’t siloed away from each other, instead, you can easily exchange resources with each of the outposts as long as they are connected by a District Crossing. Split into two halves, the District Crossing allows you to use special haulers to bring goods imported from another and export goods too. While you can let it run automatically like I did for most of my games, you can use the Settlement Panel to adjust it all manually. Additionally, Beavers and Bots can be freely migrated between districts with that same tab where you can either move them manually or set minimum population levels, which the districts will try to maintain automatically.

And for automation? Well, it’s not too bad. There were some hiccups initially, running both the crossing and migration through the automatic process, specifically when your colony becomes too big to manage effectively manually, and you need to shift back into allowing the automation to do its job. That said, Timberborn isn’t there to be so overwhelming that you can’t keep track of what you’re doing. This means that snowballing once you’ve made a mistake doesn’t happen as easily as with other management games. The reason? Well, the mismanagement will get caught in the drought.

Timberborn — But Why Tho

There are four difficulty modes that allow you to craft the game to a playstyle that works for you. You choose between Easy, Normal, Hard, and Custom. Easy offers up a relaxed experience with a focus on building a grand city rather than on surviving. This means that droughts are sparse and short, with your colony starting with more and using fewer resources.
Normal gives you the standard Timberborn experience, with droughts getting longer and longer after each cycle. Hard mode offers up a challenge with the smallest amounts of starting resources and droughts that get longer to a point where after a few times, it’s dry more often than not.

Finally, the Custom mode offers players customization to Timberborn where you can choose how many beavers you start with, how much water and food they need, how many resources they have at the beginning of the game, and how long the droughts will be. Custom doesn’t mean that it’s automatically hard, but rather that you can choose to make it a walk in a well-irrigated park or pretty much a dessert, the challenge is what you make it.

There is an element of whimsy to Timberborn’s straightforward beaver-driven city that makes the game a special level of charm. As a city-management sim game, Timberborn is simple but well made, with smart choices made around adapting beaver habits and habitats. The simplicity means that it isn’t as complex in terms of management as some others in the genre, but it also means that it’s a great entryway into the genre for newcomers. That said, the drought system and varied difficulty levels allow players to seek a challenge if they want to. While I was able to breeze through the game at an accelerated speed in the easy and normal modes, the higher difficulties were a fantastic way to push myself.

A dynamic game that hits adorable at the same time as it does engaging management gameplay, Timberborn is just a great game to invest your time with. While you can have massive amounts of fun fighting against the environment and optimize as much as you can, it also allows you just build for building’s sake as well. And building vertically offers a dynamic challenge to take advantage of the terrain—work in some decorations, and you can build intricate lumberpunk colonies worthy of any city-builder /reddit post. If you’ve been waiting to pick this game up, well, entering with Update 4 is the perfect choice.

Timberborn is in Early Access now on Steam with Update 4 just launched.

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