Rise to Ruins: A Relaxing Retro Time

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Tan Montana
By Tan Montana on December 16th, 2020


As of right now, I have precisely 42 hours in Rise to Ruins, and 8 of them I gained in one sitting. Listen, there’s a pandemic, and if I want to spend 8 hours of my precious weekend clicking things, then that’s my business. 

The point is I don’t usually sit and play a game for that long. I used to be able to in the long past ages of my youth but find that these days my mind just can’t bring itself to do one thing for that extended amount of time. Rise to Ruins just clicked for me. It was a game I could fall into for a nice little bit. Here’s why I think that is.

A Melodic RTS

There’s something very pleasant, almost delightful even, about the game. The villagers are charming, the colors pop, and the music and sound design are melodic. I can still hear one particular track featuring a trumpet solo laid over a ukulele strumming major chords to a bouncy rhythm. Between the music and general look of the game, Rise to Ruins doesn’t really feel like other civ and RTS titles I’ve played. It isn’t gritty and overbearing, but rather bright and expressive. Pixelated storms of colors swirl and buildings begin to slowly branch out, carving a capital through the mountains and dense forests. It feels like I really am making something. I’m leaving the mark of my little civilization. And despite the gentle music and sweet palette of the game, it’s surprisingly in-depth and at times deeply challenging.

From Ruins

The game starts as most in the genre do. I have a few villagers and enough supplies for me to hopefully figure out how to play before they all starve to death or get killed by some charming looking skeletons. I’m immediately given a wealth of easy to read and genuinely useful tutorials that I ignore. I start building things, assign my workers jobs, and bam, we have a little tiny village. The early game is pretty simple, and when the first enemies show up at night, I can use my god powers to catch them on fire or toss them into the ocean. This buys me some time to figure out how to set up defenses.

A God Amongst The Ruins

The game progressively blossoms outward from there into more complex jobs for villagers, new resources, and strange magical artifacts that seem essential to the late game. It’s a lot, but fortunately easy to master, especially if you’ve played other civilization builders. The combat is a big part of why I can sit and play this game for hours at a time, and something that I think adds a neat game within itself.

As you build your small town, so too does the malicious evil blight across the map. Just the same as you, it grows and makes its own building to spawn more creatures of the night to throw at your tiny palisade walls. Walls are the key here. Not just strong walls but wall placement. The enemy AI is designed to behave as mobs in a tower defense game. So that’s exactly how you fight them. While your inner city is a communal utopia of cabins, wells, and lumbermills, the outer wall is a death maze of wood golems, stone slinging towers, and knight beating skeletons back to bone dust. At times it feels like I’m playing two different games at once, and I’m completely ok with that because both games work together, and more importantly, they’re fun.

As a God

Rise to Ruins works surprisingly well as a 90s era RTS style game and as a village and city-building sim in the vein of ActRaiser. Beyond planning the location of your defenses and township in proximity to natural resources and defendable areas, you also have the ability to subtly nudge the world with god powers. With enough power, sometimes the nudge can be a bit more like a push. There’s a surprising amount of abilities to choose from that range from urging the land to a higher and faster yield of cultivation to outright summoning holy golems to fight hordes of attackers. These skills aren’t necessary to survival, though, and I found myself getting through a fair bit of the game not using them. I would consider this a secondary gameplay mechanic to the town building and tower-defense design. Still, it feels nice to have a backup defense for when things got truly hairy.

Relaxing and Rebuilding

That’s where I really found myself enjoying Rise to Ruins. I think there’s an idea when designing a game that is laid back or relaxing that it can’t necessarily have a certain level of difficulty. The learning curve and amount of enemies thrown at me at specific points made my experience far more harrowing than I expected and yet, I never felt stressed. At least not stressed in a way that ever caused me to want to stop playing or enjoy my experience any less.

In summing-up, if you’re looking to wind down, hear some nice tunes, and build a colorful little town on the water’s edge, Rise to Ruins is a game to lose a few hours to. I’ve had a great time just taking a few hours off from my work week’s typical stress to genuinely feel like I’m building something and working hard to do so—all without feeling the unnecessarily heavy punishment of a spiking difficulty curve. Those things have their place in like-minded games, of course, but I’m quite happy with where Rise to Ruins sits. I hope it hits just as right for others as it does for me.

Rise to Ruins is a retro-style RTS with layers of different mechanics. More than that, it’s a great way to spend a few hours.

Tan is a Tabletop RPG writer with a deep love for give-'em-a-chance indie games and music made on a ten-year-old laptop in Audacity. They drink their seltzer warm.


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