A city-building colony-sim where a bunch of Beavers are building a society long after us pesky humans died off is not a thing I thought I needed but Timberborn is properly great. Note: key provided by Evolve PR.
It's playable on desktop Linux and Steam Deck with Proton, with it working without issues with Proton 8. On the Steam Deck specifically, it's rated as "Playable" due to the controls not being gamepad friendly and needing to manually bring up the on-screen keyboard.
While it's similar in many ways to other city-builders on a basic level, the game feels a lot more wholesome thanks to your furry friends running around doing all the work. And while the basics of it are similar to other city-builders, it pretty quickly becomes its own game thanks to the very clever vertical building system that can take a good bit of time to really understand properly to make use of it.
This actually nicely reminds me of playing through some of the early The Settlers games. This isn't just a city-builder though. It's also a game of survival, a colony-builder where you're responsible for keeping a whole bunch of critters alive through some tough times. The early game is very much "aww, little Beavers cutting down some trees" and it's slightly hilarious seeing Beavers work a farm which later evolves into "oh my god another drought, they're all going to die".
In terms of performance on my desktop with Fedora KDE 38 using an AMD Ryzen 5800x and an NVIDIA 2080 Ti, on max settings it's been a very smooth 60FPS the entire time. Absolutely no issues with performance and I've yet to see any issues at all with it there. The developers have certainly done a good job on optimization, even when there's a ridiculous amount of moving parts and it shows how good Proton is nowadays for all types of gaming on Linux too.
All the little details I've simply loved seeing here. It's the simple things like how building power lines isn't just straight cables. Say you need a corner, well you'll get two opposing cogs turning to keep it going. Such delightful design.
There's a lot to it and you don't get a whole lot in the way of an introduction, which in this case is actually quite good. The tutorial that's around an hour long gives you the real basic setup of how to become a little bit self-sufficient. As soon as you are, it waves goodbye and leaves you to fend off the elements. That first time you get a drought come in too — wow that was unexpected and it happens quickly too.
Getting to grips with how to effectively keep your Beavers alive through all the droughts is quite a learning curve. Learning how to properly manage water storage, building dams and properly routing it around your colony. It's easier said than done, or perhaps I'm just not as smart as your average Beaver. The reality is that Timberborn is a city-builder where everything revolves around the basics of water. If you don't have a supply of it your crops will die, trees will die, your Beavers will get thirsty and die and the ground just becomes a wasteland.
Eventually though, you will learn how to manage water through the droughts and once you do, the game opens up a whole lot more because it's less of a panic about staying alive. Then the real fun begins, because then you get to build a really big dam to expand what water you can control on the map, and let it flow once it's built-up to keep flowing downstream so you can keep power flowing too. However, you do need to ensure you've got some barriers in place because water finds a way…
For Steam Deck the experience is actually quite surprising. It works out of the box but the text and interface is a little on the small side. Thankfully, it has UI scaling in the settings and sticking it up to the max at 140% made it basically perfection. I shouldn't be impressed when a game has UI scaling but sadly it's still rare even in a lot of new releases now, so it's just nice to see it in an unfinished game working so well like in Timberborn.
Performance is the other surprising thing. Even with lots going on, on Ultra details it was hitting 60FPS without a problem. Back in May the developers released Update 4, and in the release notes they mentioned performance was improved by "by up to 80%" and it really shows even on some of the big busy maps. Even with no official controller support, thanks to the easy interface it feels just about fine with Steam Input emulating a mouse / keyboard and quite comfortable.
Timberborn isn't finished since it's Early Access but what's there can already give you multiple tens of hours of gameplay, and easily into the 100s of hours depending on what type of gamer you are. There's so many different ways to build up a Beaver colony in this game it could just keep you entertained forever.
You also have modding support in the game currently via mod.io, with a full map editor included in the game so there's a fair amount you can add into the game as extras too. Eventually the developer said they do plan to hook up the Steam Workshop too but no ETA on that.
If you're after a game to sink your big teeth into and chomp away for hours, Timberborn is a great choice.