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Driftland: The Magic Revival is a Majestic Ode to Classic Strategy Gaming

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The world of Driftland is shattered. Decades of magical warfare took its toll upon the earth, to the point where all life upon the planet was in peril. A last-minute truce between the game’s factions utilised all remaining magic to prevent total destruction of the world. However, they were too late to save all but a few precious drifting islands. With magic gone, civilisation regressed into a primitive but peaceful state. After many decades, however, people with magical powers are being born once again, and with them, the eternal conflict sparks back to life.

Driftland: The Magic Revival is the first game from Star Drifters, a small independent studio based in Warsaw, Poland. Pulling inspiration from Civilization, Warcraft, Majesty, and Populous, Driftland‘s Early Access build forms a solid foundation for a deep strategic game with a magical twist.  

Driftland: The Magic Revival wholeheartedly embraces the 4X principles of explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. The player begins with just a single island and castle to their name: a tiny speck on the expansive map. The goal is to build a thriving economy so the empire can grow to consume neighbouring islands and become more powerful. On each map, three win conditions are available: Extermination, which entails destroying all enemy castles; Domination, in which the player controls a number of Antique Tellurions or Ravaged Mausoleums, which are heavily guarded locations scattered across the islands; or Expansion, wherein the player controls the majority of the islands. Working towards one victory condition often has benefits for the other conditions too; defeating an enemy castle will also award the player all the islands the enemy possessed, and the treasures found within a ravaged mausoleum will strengthen the player’s army thus making the process of defeating enemy castles much simpler.

To reach one of these goals, a great deal will need to be built. Buildings are broken down into four main categories: infrastructure, industry, military, and bridges. Infrastructure contains the basics for keeping the population looked after: housing for the people, marketplaces for exchanging resources, scholarly buildings for research points, and upgrades for the basic resources of food collection, stone, and lumber.

Industry contains all the resource producing buildings, from the common food, wood, and stone to rarer mana, rubies, and diamonds. Each island has a different distribution of resources, and part of the balancing act of building a healthy empire is the choice of whether to build a mine close to the castle, where it will be cheaper to run, or on a far away island with a richer vein of materials.

Military is where all the fighting units can be created, with melee, ranged, and magical fighters making up the roster of an army. Training centres can be built for each faction to improve their skills. Giant flying birds have nests scattered across the map, and taking control of the nest will allow the fighters to ride them. Unlike other games in the genre, units in the army have free will and will generally do as they please, shooting nearby enemies or exploring ruins. The player can request certain actions with a bounty, paying out an amount of gold to the unit for completing a task. More expensive bounties will give greater priority to the command, but a hungry or injured unit may still choose not to respond.     

Finally, bridges connect islands together, officially adding the new island to the empire. A new island is an opportunity to find rare resources or treasures, but may also bring danger in the form of barbarian encampments or dragon nests.

Along with the city building, magic plays an important role in keeping an empire running smoothly. For example, the player can use spells to see through the fog of war with a magic eye, or pull islands closer so they can be bridged and added to the empire. Higher level spells can terraform an island into the biome most suitable for the player’s race, grow new islands, or destroy them. Magical Gates of Thyr can create a temporary portal between two islands, ideal for invading enemy territory or grabbing treasure from a far away island. Different races have their own unique offensive and defensive spells, too, with Wild Elves summoning powerful golems, Humans raining down elemental attacks, Dwarves analysing an island’s resources, and Dark Elves performing high risk, high reward necromancy spells.

As the empire grows, progress points are accumulated from defeating enemies, exploring new areas, upgrading buildings, and recruiting scholars. These points are spent on the ‘Path of Progress’, a skill tree that adds buffs to economic, magic and warfare abilities. The  improvement to statistics can change the pace of the game dramatically; one less gold per building upkeep or 20% cheaper mana costs adds up fast, and choosing the right option can turn the tide of battle.

With so many different aspects to balance, Driftland: The Magic Revival can initially be quite overwhelming, especially for those new to the genre. Thankfully, the game utilises an ‘Active Pause’ mechanic, which allows the player to issue commands while gameplay is paused. A barebones tutorial is present in the skirmish mode, but the strategy behind the careful balancing act of creating a successful empire can only be gleaned from practice.

A better way to learn the basics of the game is to try out the campaign mode, the first part of which has just been added in the 0.8 version update. The six maps of the human campaign each focus on a different aspect of the game, ramping up the difficulty smoothly from mission to mission. The campaign’s story revolves around the dynamic between main characters Emeryk and Urias, a bratty mage and his heroic older brother. Unfortunately, the translation for the campaign in its present form is rough, with a lot of errors and phrases translated literally rather than inferring the intended meaning. For example, in the first mission, a ghost asks the player to ‘tell of my son decision’, meaning to find out how his son lived his life. Another hero bemoans that ‘Great problems have yet arisen very soon’. The writing problems are not great enough to interfere with gameplay, but they stick out like a sore thumb compared to the otherwise polished state of the game. Clearly, a lot of thought and care has gone into the writing of the campaign, but the tone is simply lost in translation.

While the writing might need a bit more work, the appearance of Driftland: The Magic Revival’s shattered world is simply beautiful, with colourful characters and varied environmental elements. The slow floating animation of the islands as they are pulled around with magic feels satisfyingly powerful every time. The screen is generally easy to read, with each different structure and unit having a distinct appearance, but in the heat of battle, it can become cluttered and a little confusing. With the army’s autonomy, the crowded screen is usually not a problem, but an option for a shadow or outline to highlight enemy units would be helpful.

As an Early Access game, a few rough edges are still present, along with typos, occasional weird AI behaviour, and the rare crash. At one point in a playthrough, a ruby mine bizarrely started draining the supply of resources rather than adding to it. At other times, the enemy AI has backed off when they easily could have won the match. By and large, however, the game feels polished and close to release. The true test to the systems will be when multiplayer is patched in, due some time in the first quarter of this year.

Driftland: The Magic Revival is a dense, complicated yet approachable strategy game. The use of islands and magic give the game a unique appeal, and autonomous units take some of the pressure off of micromanaging an enormous empire. The game is off to a strong start, and OnlySP is excited to see how it will develop from here.

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Co-op Gaming Shines at EGX Rezzed With We Were Here Together, Phogs!, and Cake Bash

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Co-op gaming

Over the years, jolly co-op gaming has been in decline, especially from AAA developers. Several recent games have been standouts, such as A Way Out, Strange Brigade, and the Far Cry series, though the latest pioneers of co-op gaming will likely come from the indie community.

While exploring EGX Rezzed, the atmosphere was filled with a sense of mutual enjoyment as gamers came together to play a plethora of team-building games. Among these games were some of my personal highlights including We Were Here Together, Cake Bash, and Phogs!

We Were Here Together

We Were Here Together is the latest co-op adventure puzzle game by independent studio Total Mayhem Games.

The title continues on from two previously released projects, We Were Here and We Were Here Too, with the former available on Steam for free. Set amidst a frozen landscape, the first two games centred on exploring a mysterious castle while solving puzzles as part of a two-person team. Players were separated throughout the playthrough until the final moments, which featured a touching scene where the puzzling pals would eventually meet to conquer the remaining conundrums.

We Were Here Together immediately shakes things up by starting the game with both players working together in the same environment. The EGX demo starts off outside of the castle grounds in an expedition outpost where two explorers suddenly receive a distress call from somewhere in the frozen wastes. Players must work together to decipher an incoming transmission and correctly pinpoint the distress beacon.

The location itself is the answer to a series of puzzles, requiring both people to work together. A great example of teamwork is one player adjusting an outside satellite while the other stays inside to alter the radio’s frequency until a voice can be heard. This is where the creative ingenuity from the developers comes into play as solutions are different for each playthrough. The puzzles themselves remain the same, but, by using the same example as before, the voice may only be heard on a different frequency. Similar situations where the outcome changes include changing co-ordinates and figuring out which key may fit a particular door.

Roughly one-third of the game will be set in a shared environment while latter parts will take place back inside the castle in a traditional, separated format. Two paths are laid out later for the players to choose between, providing avenues for replayability. The changing solutions also add to the replay value as it prevents veteran gamers from going back and telling their new partner the answers.

The moments where players are physically apart highlight one of the unique features of the game: the radios. Both characters are equipped with walkie-talkies so players can communicate with each other. Radios are a brilliant immersion tool as the mechanic works exactly as a two-way radio should, with the wielder having to hold down a button to speak and release to hear the other. The radio mechanic is optional, though, as players can simply use a third-party chat. However, the added difficulty and roleplaying add an extra element to an already rather tricky title.

We Were Here Together is a fun shared experience that proves a challenge for even the most seasoned puzzle solvers. The release date and price of the project are unknown at present, but the game will be available on Steam.

Cake Bash

During EGX Rezzed 2019, the Coatsink team had a glorious display full of plush animals, colourful scenery, and even a rather large and comfortable dog bed.

I was lucky enough to go hands-on with Phogs! and play a few rounds of Cake Bash with PR and Events Manager Jack Sanderson. Both games proved to be a real treat to participants, with Cake Bash serving a much-needed helping of raucous fun in a series of mini-games.

Not unlike many beloved party games—such as Mario PartyCake Bash is an up-to-four-player competitive game featuring several rounds of friendship-ending challenges. The design of the title instantly stands out with an adorable and vivid visual style that brings a certain charm to the characters and settings.

Before each round, players choose a character from a selection of delicious desserts as their combatant. During the demo, only two game modes were available, the first of which required players to gather falling pieces of fruit and throw them inside a giant meringue. A single point is awarded for successfully tossing a piece of fruit into the bowl. However, a rare golden fruit, worth ten points, will appear every so often. Competitors must be wary of descending fiery boulders that can briefly daze any dessert. These boulders can also be picked up and lobbed at rivals. Not only can enemies launch these rocks at one another, but they can also punch and beat each other to force someone to drop their fruit.

The second mode available was a race to gather the most jellies to become the tastiest treat. Player avatars run around an arena, gathering multi-coloured jelly beans to cover their chosen dessert, and the sweet with the most treats at the end wins. While the first game mode mainly had the individual focusing on their own points, this round directly pits people against each other as limited jellies can be found, and players can steal them by whacking opponents.

While the game looks stunning, gamers will have to wait until 2020 to get their hands on Cake Bash. The late release has allowed for an increase in scope and additional modes for players to sink their teeth into.

Phogs!

The other title playable at the event was an equally adorable project called Phogs! The game can be played solo or with a friend, as the player controls one or both halves of a two-headed dog. The two heads can be moved independently and are able to stretch, bark, and bite.

Phogs! is set in a dream-like environment where the ground is made up of soft duvet sets and pillows, while the skies are filled with tranquil clouds gently floating in the distance. The level designs are built in a way that eases the player into the various mechanics, offering something new or demonstrating different ways to solve puzzles. Early enigmas would require both sides of the dog to work in unison to pull an object or levers simultaneously. Later levels would add a glowing orb that can be used to remove dark shadowy walls or illuminate pathways to walk across. Even the orbs are based around the idea of working as a team as one side of the dog bites onto the light ball with the other opening their mouth to act as a torch.

The charming personality of the game really shines in the various character designs and their functions within the levels. One of the final missions of the demo featured a sleeping giant that dreamed of bridges in floating thought bubbles. Players could then use the camera perspective to align the dream bridge with a section of a missing platform to cross. Other cutesy critters include wailing alarm clocks that can disturb the giants, preventing them from dreaming up a way to progress. The clocks can be led to nearby beds where they will quickly start to drift off and stop ringing.

Despite the levels being fairly linear, additional tasks can be completed to gain collectable dog biscuits. These tasks often require the dog to present characters with a particular item, for example, bringing a storybook to an owl.

The whole experience with Coatsink was a delight, both games offering a mix of controller-clenching competition and jolly cooperation. Like Cake Bash, Phogs! will also be arriving in 2020 on PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One.


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