Timberborn, from developer and publisher Mechanistry, is an Early Access “City-Builder” game featuring beavers and a novel woodpunk theme. It describes itself as “Lumberpunk” and tasks you with building up a settlement of beavers in a world ravaged by mankind. It’s now in its second year, just received its fifth major update – “Badwater” – and is still growing in scope. As such, we were interested to see if Timberborn was worth diving into, and whether we had what it takes to detoxify the rivers and eke out an existence in the harsh conditions of the wild.
As a newcomer, Timberborn is still extremely rough around the edges when it comes to the onboarding process. Not only is the UI rather small but it’s also very subdued and homogenous. If you aren’t specifically looking for an icon or alert, chances are you are going to miss it completely.
In the first 15 minutes I spent with the game, I floundered around trying to complete a handful of objectives that were displayed in a tiny text block in the bottom right corner of the screen. Mercifully, there is a UI size slider options but that doesn’t make the icons any less indistinct.
Players have to establish their beaver’s settlement by, naturally, gnawing down trees and using the logs to construct buildings. Each building that you have access to performs a specific role when it has a worker assigned to it – something that is standard fare in city-building games that involve gathering or producing resources, so there’s nothing remarkable here.
Where Timberborn starts to set itself apart from other titles in the genre lies with the fact that it revolves around water, rivers in particular, to provide a source of power to the villages. This means that you will have to plan your city-building around waterways that are essential to progress.
It’s a neat beaver-centric idea, but I felt it was a missed opportunity to truly lean into the anthropomorphic angle and educate players about the species and the need for their conservation. They ultimately play like human sims, with many of the same needs we’ve seen in other city-building titles – think housing, food, and water.
The housing in particular could have used a bit more effort in getting it to look like a believable beaver habitat but, alas, it’s just a lodge made out of wood. In fact, most of the buildings have a far more human aesthetic to them than animal, which is truly disappointing in a game that’s supposed to be about beavers demonstrating how to build sustainable settlements after humanity has wrecked the place – but I digress.
Dam it all!
Circling back to the gameplay, Timberborn is fairly straightforward once you get past the rough UI and initial learning curve. You’ll establish your village, gather resources, build up your stores of water and food, and slowly but surely develop new technologies to help you cope with the harsh conditions of the ravaged world.
Harsh conditions include the new “Badwater”, which is toxic and needs to be quickly decontaminated. There are also droughts to deal with, which can really throw a wrench into the works by removing your ability to power your settlement. The theme of expanding with water in mind is what the game is centered around, and you need to factor in the possibility of droughts and toxic water ruining everything for you.
There is some variety as Timberborn features two factions. The friendly “Folktails”, which are woodland beavers, and the industrious “Iron Teeth”, which are beavers that favour mechanicsation and use steel and iron for construction. The Iron Teeth are more difficult to play as they require a lot more micromanagement – but players have to unlock the Iron Teeth faction first, ensuring newcomers won’t struggle from the get-go. You’ll want to have a solid grasp of the game’s mechanics before diving into a game with the Iron Teeth.
From our time spent with Timberborn, the game gives off a very addictive vibe and will no doubt hook the type of player who loves micromanagement. If, however, you lack patience and don’t want to sit around waiting for hours for resources to be gathered and buildings to be built, Timberborn might infuriate you.
It suffers from the same problem that many titles in the genre are still plagued with – the waiting game. It’s simply not enjoyable sitting about waiting for things to happen, and unless you’re playing the early game while doing something else, it’s going to bore those who crave constant demands. Even when random events like droughts and toxic water are thrown into the mix, the core gameplay loop still relies too much on the player waiting for beavers to gather resources and build things to mitigate the threat.
This problem is compounded by the fact that once you’ve deforested an area, you’ll have to wait for more trees to grow to be harvested. This is problematic, even with multiple foresters assigned to regrow trees, and it really slows the pacing. Some maps can also be quite difficult to build on because of the layout, and you’ll have to plan every step of your expansion lest you waste precious resources and find yourself sitting around waiting for more.
That said, if you’re a fan of slower-paced games that don’t require too much interaction from you once supply lines are set up, Timberborn might satisfy you. If you want to build complex villages, you absolutely can in Timberborn. Stick with it long enough and you can construct huge dams and large cities. However, if you’re craving something more novel, this game might annoy you more than anything else thanks to the micro-managing aspects, frequent wait times, and UI choices that hamper your progress.
Since Timberborn is an early access title and is still in active development, we suggest keeping an eye on it. The latest update added the Badwater threat and buildings centered around it, but we’re hoping future updates address issues like the bland and indistinct UI and the onboarding process. Still, the game is oddly satisfying to play when it gets going and will no doubt have its fans who enjoy the slower pace.
Timberborn was previewed on PC using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher.