As a kid, I played games like Gradius 3 and Darius Twin for the Super Nintendo, those games were fantastic and although they were from a different time, they achieved a lot in my eyes, especially looking back now. Knowing the limitations of the technology, there wasn’t a whole lot of depth, the idea was just to move and shoot, right? However, I spent a lot of time playing them and had a heap of fun. Moving into the present day, I got the opportunity to play Drifting Lands, by Alkemi and, when I saw it merged an RPG style loot system into the Shootem-up genre, I had a feeling we would be onto a winner here and let me tell you, I was right. This game takes what we all loved about classic shoot ’em-ups and adds enough depth to make it different, in a good way.
If you’ve played 2D shoot ’em-ups in the past, then you should be able to jump straight in, the gameplay is going to be very similar to the classics, it does what it set out to do in that aspect very well, the controls feel fantastic, it’s a very pretty looking game and the soundtrack fits perfectly, what more can be said? However, the loot system is where it gets ‘interesting’, as you play through levels you’ll acquire parts which you can use to improve your ship, such as new weapons, shields and engines etc. Anything you don’t need can be sold to the shop giving you currency, this currency can be used to purchase new items and abilities (which I will go into later) that will also improve your ship, it’s great. It comes with the usual difficulty curve we associate with games like Diablo 3, everything is going great guns, difficulty slowly increases, new parts appear, you get that weapon upgrade you’ve been desperately needing and you suddenly feel super powerful, then eventually the difficulty catches up again and so on and so forth. It’s a satisfying system that has worked for years, great stuff. This sort of system does have a ‘flaw’ in that it often requires a bit of a grind, sometimes having to sit and kill the same enemies over and over hoping for that specific item you’ve been needing. Thankfully I love to punish myself with a grind so it wasn’t personally an issue. That being said if you aren’t into grinding in games then chances are you may not enjoy this one.
So, you’re set, right? You’re a seasoned veteran when it comes to shoot ’em-ups so you’ve taken to it like a duck to water. You’ve taken some time to figure out the loot system, awesome. What next? Abilities! Now, in the shoot ’em-ups of old, as you were flying about causing mayhem/saving the world, however you want to describe it, the enemies would occasionally drop power-ups, things like double fire rate or maybe a laser. In this game, however, those power-ups are acquired differently. You’re given a selection of skills you can choose from which are purchased with the same currency you get from selling parts and completing missions. You unlock more powerful versions of these skills the further into the game you get. There are healing skills, skills for mass destruction and skills to stop you getting battered and trust me, you’re going to get battered. The skills and the means to acquire them feels well balanced overall and again, going back to that difficulty curve when you acquire a new tier of a skill and you see it melting enemies, or in other cases, stopping enemies from melting you, it just feels so satisfying.
None of this would be worth anything if there wasn’t much gameplay, however, fear not reader, as there is plenty to get your teeth into with this game! There are 100 stages for you to leave a trail of destruction through and that’s great, but with this many levels comes something I would consider to be a big flaw, especially in a game that has periods where you will need to grind in order to progress. One of the great things about the shoot ’em-ups of old was the level design, there are things from those games that just stuck with you, but in this there are a few backgrounds that you will find repeated frequently and as pretty as they are, when grinding for loot, having to deal with the same backgrounds and enemies over and over again can get really boring. Thankfully we live in an age where this can be rectified with patches or even DLC with added levels if necessary and while some may say this isn’t much of an issue, you’ll realise once you start the grind that it ends up wearing you down. I would like to see Alkemi address this and maybe bring some more content with levels that throw back to the golden age of shoot ’em-ups, things like lava plumes to avoid and maybe even mazes of enemies or obstacles to navigate, with their randomly generated missions this would be fantastic as no two mazes would be the same.
All in all, this is a great mixture of two already fun genres and I fully appreciate what Alkemi has done. Taking what we know and love from shoot ’em-ups and squeezing in the fun loot system of an RPG to create something I would say is pretty magical. I think they deserve a lot of praise for what they have created here and I would recommend you spend your hard earned pennies on it. I think for the current price on steam at the time of writing (£13.99) you will definitely get your monies worth and honestly, if you’re unsure about the style of game it is? Wait for it going on sale, I would grab this in a heartbeat. I don’t think you would regret it.
I’d give this game a solid 85/100, it would be improved if there were more variation in the levels, something that made them stick in my mind, what that would be exactly is hard to say but as said previously, maybe adding some extra content through free/paid DLC would be something worth looking into for Alkemi.
Review by Stuart Hannon