Airborne Kingdom review: This city-builder soars to new heights

This new sim brings charm and innovation to a mostly stagnant genre.

Airborne Kingdom
(Image: © The Wandering Band)

City-building games have been around for decades, and they're one of the best types of games if you're looking for something relaxing. That being said, the gameplay of the genre has largely remained identical — increase your city's population, collect and manage resources, place new buildings, research technologies that improve efficiency, and repeat until you either get bored of expanding your utopia or you achieve the win condition. For some, the uniformity of this formula may be enjoyable. For me, though, it just makes every city-builder feel (presentation differences aside) the same. It is for this reason that I've struggled to really get into the genre, though on occasion, games such as Frostpunk release that stand out.

Airborne Kingdom, a brand new PC city-builder from developer The Wandering Band, is the latest title in the genre to impress me in this way. Between its unique flying city concept, creative new city building mechanics, and exploration-driven gameplay, Airborne Kingdom is full of the innovation I've been looking for.

What you'll love about Airborne Kingdom

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The best part about Airborne Kingdom is its unique flying city concept and how the game capitalizes on the gameplay opportunities that emerge from it. On top of standard city-builder mechanics like managing food and water and making sure that residential structures aren't too close to pollution-heavy factories, Airborne Kingdom introduces several new factors to consider.

For example, if you build all of your structures on one side, your entire city can tilt, causing your citizens to become annoyed and reducing their happiness. Tilt too much and you'll knock your utopia right out of the sky. There's also thrust to consider; your entire city is mobile, but it's not going to go very fast if you build a ton of structures without adding extra propulsion. Ignoring this problem eventually leads to flying at a snail's pace, which makes it significantly harder to go where you need to. These types of flight-focused mechanics help make Airborne Kingdom feel incredibly fresh and interesting.

Airborne Kingdom also focuses a lot on exploration, which is a rarity in most city-builders. You need lumber, metals, coal, and more to survive and thrive, but you're not going to find it in the clouds. Therefore, you need to travel the lands and take what you need from forests, lakes, ore deposits, and other pockets of natural resources.

Along the way, you'll find tons of neat little secrets like hidden temples and secret ruins, which come with unique snippets of lore and helpful resource caches. You can also run into settlements and ground-based kingdoms — recruiting new citizens in the former while the latter offers quests as well as opportunities for resource trading, purchasing technology schematics for new structures, and more. Completing quests for kingdoms will result in them allying with you, which is how you win the game. Your goal is to unite the lands by forming a coalition with all 15 of the game's kingdoms. Overall, Airborne Kingdom's emphasis on exploration is very enjoyable and fits right in with the core "your city can fly" concept.

All of the great gameplay experiences are wrapped together with a beautiful art style and a fantastic soundtrack. The visuals are colorful and soft in nature, which makes the game feel like a fantasy adventure. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is energetic and catchy, which fits the active, exploration-heavy nature of the gameplay.

There's also a surprisingly robust photo mode that includes full sliders for depth-of-field, contrast, saturation, and more, alongside things like color filters and film grain. This allows you to take some beautiful screenshots of your utopia whenever you please.

What you'll love less about Airborne Kingdom

Source: The Wandering Band (Image credit: Source: The Wandering Band)

I only have two small gripes with Airborne Kingdom. The first is that I think the game is a little too easy. As someone who likes a good challenge, I would have appreciated a hard mode option (I'm sure some players out there would appreciate an easy mode out there as well).

Secondly, I wish that there was a "sandbox mode" for the game that gave you infinite resources and allowed you to build a flying city without worrying about traditional city-builder gameplay. I've always loved when developers include these kinds of modes since they're great for creativity, and I would have a lot of fun playing around with Airborne Kingdom's many structures. Maybe this is something the developers can add in the future?

Should you buy Airborne Kingdom?

Source: The Wandering Band (Image credit: Source: The Wandering Band)

While the lack of more difficulty options is a bummer, the fact of the matter is that Airborne Kingdom is a superb game regardless of that minuscule downside. It's one of the most creative city-builder games I've ever seen, and it's the most fun I've had with the genre in a long, long time.

Between the unique concept of Airborne Kingdom, its fresh and innovative gameplay mechanics, and the amazing presentation, there's a lot to love. It's easily one of the best PC games to release in 2020, and I can't recommend it enough.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.