Ever since Frostpunk released in 2018, I have been craving something similar. A city builder that was focused on survival in a grim world was a surprisingly addictive game loop, and nothing hit me like its writing did before.
Its gameplay was tight and I wanted more, but 2 of its 3 DLC packs were disappointments and little like it has come out in the years since. This thirst for more hasn't been slaked for years.
Thankfully, IXION was released this month by Bulwark Studios, and man does this taste good and bitter. This will sound like a very odd compliment to give IXION, to say its grim universe is a good quality for it to have; but for these kinds of games, which I will call “Bleak Builders,” a depressing setting is a great amplifier for eliciting emotion from viewers or players.
What's IXION's Premise?
You are the Administrator, the person in charge of operations in the Tiqqun, a giant space station about to be sent off for a test flight of its folding space drive. You are given tutorial tasks disguised as test preparations and enter a universe with a dying earth and people wanting to start fresh.
When you're finished, the test run commences, and everything goes bright. A space fan rally sponsored by your company is on the ground to witness a moment in history, and the end of it too.
It barely felt like a moment when you pressed the button and the universe folded. You're back in real space, but nothing is where it should be. Your probes found Earth, but its quiet, no communications. You order ship to enter orbit and slowly see the test's results.
The Earth is no longer a blue pearl in an endless sea, but a disgusting, caustic, brown and green orb. The moon? Desecrated, shattered, and raining down onto its mother planet. What do you do now? How did this happen? Finding these answers and the survival of humanity is up to you now.
IXION’s Content in Brief
IXION is a very well-designed city-builder with some quirks that you will need to get used to. Gameplay can be divided into two sections: the Tiqqun and the Solar System.
The Tiqqun’s interior is where you will develop the infrastructure and logistics for your population and industry. You have limited floor space in each sector, and are incentivized to specialize each for specific purposes. Nearly every building will draw from the “global” power bar at the top of your screen.
You need to balance this with the resources you’re able to mine to accommodate growing power needs, hull repair quotas, and population needs. Keep your population fed and happy or they'll strike and cripple you. Lose their trust completely and you'll go out the airlock.
The Solar System is where you send out probes to find locations of interest for science work and resource rocks for mining. The Solar System view is where you will most often experience events and reposition the Tiqqun. Coordinate mining and extraction priorities, encounter space weather, watch your fleet ships die to space weather, and more in this view.
All of this combines into one package of juggling resource gathering, management and efficiency. It sounds daunting, but you’re able to pause the game at any time and think things through or talk strategy with others.
Since you’re able to save at any time, you’re free to try strategies and load a save if it doesn’t work. If you’re in an Ironman mood, you’ll have to keep to the honor system for that.
IXION is different from other survival city builder games in that there is a central narrative that occurs throughout your play-through. You’ll encounter interesting events that will grab your mind with its possibilities, doubly so if you’re a fan of science fiction or bleak settings.
There’s one event in particular that sticks out in my mind that I will give a brief mention to: it involves a somber meeting with a cargo ship. I think I will remember the last words of that story until the day I say my own.
So much of the writing in this game has the ability to grab you and make you feel things. I’m normally not very emotive, but some of the stories contained in this game made me feel intense emotion that I needed to tell others what I had just went through. I can only imagine what those same stories will do for you and potentially your audience.
Speaking of things that will grab and make you feel, IXION’s soundtrack is genuinely superb. Composed by Guillaume David—who you may know from 40K: Mechanicus’ OST—the music in IXION is damn excellent, and you can just tell there was passion in the making of it.
Some bought Mechanicus' DLC just to get 9 more minutes of his music. IXION has an hour of his music, and the pipe organ makes its return.
Is This a Streamable Game?
IXION is a very streamable game—every moment is an opportunity to talk strategy of building placement, or which building or research option you should go for with your limited resources. Since you can pause the game at any time, this allows your audience to get invested in your game with less pressure on you to be ‘on’ at all times.
The events and their writing will grab your viewers with a heavy hand, everyone will want to react to the grim and cool stuff you’ll encounter in the cosmos. Lastly, the highs you get from this kind of game when you pull survival from the brink of death are contagious in a way like yawns. You will ride them—and so will your audience.
IXION is a game with a fully realized setting that it uses to its fullest potential. Its gameplay doesn’t detract from this setting and actually amplifies it immensely.
Even if you’ve never played a city builder, or even Frostpunk before, this game will capture you and won’t let go. It’s one hell of a game, and an excellent Bleak Builder. The universe may want you dead, but you can give it the finger and feel damn good when you survive to spite it.
It's available on Steam for $35. If that sounds steep, wait for a sale. With my ~30 hours of playtime, that's nearly a buck an hour. Well worth it.