In a recent review I started off by talking about the real time strategy market and how bland it is, with the majority of releases being Age of Empires clones. Well, a British phrase about waiting for busses comes to mind as I write this, having stumbled across another gem in the early access program on Steam! Driftland: the magic revival is a real time strategy game by Stardrifters that breathes new life into the genre.
In Driftland you play the role of a newly awoken mage. In a previous age, a war between rival mages nearly destroyed the planet. The world’s crust shattered and threatened to end the existence of the very planet itself. The warring mages set aside their grudges and worked together to bind the planet so that the fractured crust couldn’t disintegrate any more. The result is Driftland, a world of floating islands in which the various races live separated on their own continents floating above the molten core of the planet. After the last mages sacrificed themselves to save the planet, they were thought extinct for a long time, until you came along!
This backstory serves to set the scene for an exciting campaign, one which looks set to take you on a journey that is different for each race. With the game being in early access there is no story driven content just yet, but, as development continues Campaign mode looms ever closer! For now though we have access to skirmish mode so we can see what most of the game is about, let me tell you now, it looks set to be incredible!
The gameplay steps away from the traditional “Age of Empires” style of play and takes on a broader perspective. You manage resources on a wider scale, building resource buildings and assigning workers from either a slider for that specific building, or from a global slider on the left of the screen. This shift towards a broader management system gives a better sense of managing your civilisation from afar. Units have free will and when they have no orders they will wander around and do their own thing. If you want them to do something specific, like explore a new island or conduct geology to search for new resources, you have to set a flag. Flags are set by right clicking an island and choosing the action you want performed. This then places a flag that costs ten gold, this is the bounty for that task and it incentivises your heroes to go and do it. If you want said task to be completed faster you can increase the bounty in increments of 10 gold, this makes more heroes head off to complete it in a shorter time. Who says capitalism doesn’t work, right?
Now any game centred around being a mage needs a magic system! As a mighty mage you have access to a complete spell book, with each spell costing a certain amount of mana. You have the basic stuff in there like fireball, thunderstorm etc. But, the really cool stuff comes when you want to affect the world! To expand your empire you will need to capture other islands and bring them under your control. This is achieved with magic, you can scout the island with the magic eye spell, you can then move the island closer to your empire to begin to build on it! This mechanic is what makes the game stand out, it’s like playing pokemon with continents! Not only can you move the floating landmasses around, you can create and destroy them when you reach a high enough level!
Outside of these unique mechanics and ideas the game is still a familiar RTS, manage your economy, build a fighting force of heroes and conquer your opponent by destroying their stuff. This familiarity mixed with new mechanics and a fresh look at how we play RTS games makes the game feel new and exciting, but not daunting. There was never a feeling of discomfort when learning about the new aspects of Driftland which shows how well the developer did with creating these new systems.
So we have established the gameplay is solid, but much like first dates, people are going to be a lot more interested in how you work if they think you are good looking. So, how good looking is Driftland? The short answer would be not bad, but we don’t do short answers here! Visually the game has a lot of good elements! underneath the floating islands we can see the world torn apart and the exposed core of the planet. This is done well, it’s interesting enough that you notice it but not too visually exciting that you get distracted by it. The visuals overall feel very magical. Like a panel taken froma children’s fairytale book. Bright colours and nice animation that are pleasing to the eye make you want to keep exploring and seeing what new things look like. There is a depth to the details that charms you the moment you decide to look closer. The only issue is that there isn’t enough of it. It’s understandable, the game is in early access after all, but it’s so pleasing to the eye that I can’t help but want to see more!
Now we have covered the basics, so it’s time for the real question:
Should you buy Driftland?
As far as early access titles go, this one is one of the better ones. It has solid gameplay that is both familiar and fresh, it is visually pleasing and I have yet to run into any major bugs. Not only that, but buying into the game during early access helps push it one step closer to full release, and with a new race being released in yesterday’s patch it’s a no-brainer! If you are going to buy into any early access strategy game right now, it had best be Driftland: The Magic Revival!