Drifting Lands was released early last month on Steam after being on Steam’s Early Access program. This is the second game from Alkemi to be released on Steam, but this time around they bring in a very different game than their first title, Transcripted.
In essence, Drifting Lands is a brilliant mixture of elements from different genres, on one side it has the core gameplay of a shoot’em’up, and on the other it has the loot focus characteristic of a hack and slash or an action rpg. These two elements together make up for very compelling gameplay loop that has the potential to bring in people that normally wouldn’t be fans of a game with these characteristics.
In terms of story and narrative the game doesn’t offer much sadly. The game does provide a rather concise introductory scene that presents you to the game world. Basically there was this worldwide catastrophic event that shattered the planet into several pieces, thus creating the Drifting Lands. Now, remnants of Humankind fight for survival against corporations that turned into totalitarian states, and you’re part of one particular group of survivors that lives aboard the Ark, a massive ship that does their best to survive in this post-apocalyptic scenario. Other than that, you’ll be seeing text dialogue between characters that you’ll meet throughout the game.
The core gameplay loop is, as mentioned above, played in the form of a side scrolling shoot’em’up. However, despite the fact that, at first, Drifting Lands might look like just any other game in its genre, the game has a strong focus on loot. As you play, you’ll come across various pickups, which can go from simple health and energy pickups, to rare and unique items that you can equip. The game offers three different ship classes, each with their own unique stats, strengths and weaknesses. These include the Interceptor, a fast ship that packs heavy firepower at the cost of low damage resistance; the Marauder, which is sort of the in between ship class, which features moderate resistance and firepower; and the Sentinel, which can take quite the beating at the expense of mobility. Still, each ship has three main stats that you can upgrade, including Structure, which affects your health and armor; Navigation, which is correlated to your health and firepower; and Power, which also corresponds to your health and skill power.
Each ship can be outfitted with items from eight different categories, with these being armor plates, engines, thrusters, energy cells, shields, cpu’s, helmets and weapons. Items can also come with modifiers, which can be extremely beneficial to you during your missions, or which can also come with negative effects. Still, you can’t go around equipping every single item you find during your missions, in order to do equip one of these items you must first meet any requirements to do so, if there are any. These can require a specific amount of points allocated to your stats. It’s worth pointing out that the game lacks one thing that I’m sure every single player would love to see, and that is a real-time comparison between the equipped item and the one you have selected on your inventory, for comparison reasons. Having to manually select one and then the other back and forth is a waste of time, and I’m sure this wouldn’t be something that is hard to implement.
Combat is the main focus of the game, combined with the enormous variety of weapons, and, besides your basic attack you also have a set of skills that you can equip. These range from simple repair abilities to area of effect explosions to protection from projectiles. You also have your Focus level, which gradually increases, and this allows you to achieve higher scores, but the way you gain Focus is different between ship classes. With that in mind, you can have up to six different skills equipped at any given time, two of which are automatic skills, and the other four are active ones. Active skills use up energy and, once used, have a cooldown. On the other hand, automatic skills don’t cost energy points, but these are either passive abilities or are only triggered when certain conditions are met. One of the skills that you unlock right from the start is the Automatic Retreat, which essentially saves your ship when your health reaches 0. However, there’s a catch. Upon retreating you’ll lose all the cargo stored in your hold, and you don’t get to keep the credits earned during that mission, and some of the items that you have equipped have a chance of breaking. Obviously enough, if you don’t have the Automatic Retreat skill equipped, you won’t be able to save your ship, and therefore, upon death, you’ll lose everything you had on your ship. Afterwards, you’d have to start from scratch with a new ship. Still, you can manually retreat anytime you want, and by doing so, you’ll get to keep your credits and cargo.
When you’ll be outside combat, you’ll spend your time in the Ark, your homebase. From here you can access different locations, including the Command Center, the Hangar and the Market. The Hangar is where you’ll be able to equip abilities and items, change and upgrade your ship, as well as purchase a new one. If you’re running low on cash or you have enough to spend, the Market is where you’ll go. Here you can buy and sell items, as well as craft items from blueprints, or create those very same blueprints by sacrificing items. In contrast to these two locations, the Command Center acts as a mission hub, it’ll be here that you’ll choose your next task. The mission selection screen here is portrayed by this blue holographic map that does a pretty good job in conveying information about the several different assignments that are available to you. Overall, the game provides with you an abundance of optional missions that you can complete multiple times in order to acquire more items and credits.
As far as visuals go, the game is extremely aesthetically pleasing and satisfying to look at. A mixture, that I can’t quite describe accurately, of something that looks that came out of an anime, mixed with a futuristic, but yet, post-apocalyptic setting fits the game very well, and does a pretty good job in creating a believable world. Fairly enough, the soundtrack does not fall behind and manages to keep up the pace with the combat exceptionally well. From the background design, to the way enemies look, and even your ship, this is most certainly a pretty game to look at.
Now, while some people might’ve never got into side-scrolling shoot’em’up’s because of their tendency to be rather difficult, the game does help mitigate that somewhat. It offers two game modes, Normal and Forgiving. Essentially the only difference is that, in Forgiving, you’ll never end up losing items and ships, while if you play in the Normal mode, the way the game was originally designed to be played, you risk permanently losing those very same items and ships. You also have a fairly extensive guide at your disposal, which provides some insight on how all the game mechanics work, and it also gives you some good tips in order to get you started.
In the end, Drifting Lands is a good game on its own, with its most striking accomplishment being the way that it blends elements of different genres into a unique experience, but it’s backed up by its musical score and astonishing visuals. Still, it’s worth pointing out that it felt that it can get repetitive fairly quickly, if you prolong the time of your play sessions.