Driftland The Magic Revival is strategy 4X real-time strategy game developed by Star Drifters. It’s in early access and is available on Steam and Humble Bundle for $19.99. The humble bundle link is a referral, I get a small commission if you purchase the game through it. This early access analysis was conducted by Joseph Pugh.
Driftland is a pretty unique take on the real-time strategy genre. It’s in early access and is currently lacking a campaign and multiplayer, both are coming soon and the Star Drifters do update the game pretty frequently, but the game doesn’t really feel incomplete either.
You can play skirmish against the AI, and honestly, if the words multiplayer and campaign weren’t on the main menu and greyed out. It would be hard to tell that anything is missing. Anyway, you play a powerful mage against other mages, building up a kingdom and attempting victory in one of three ways.
Growing a Kingdom on several floating islands that you can move with magic is a lot of fun, looks pretty awesome too.
You can destroy the other races, claim a certain amount of land, or control several capture points. The feature that sets Driftland apart from other games in the genre is the fact this all takes place on a set of procedurally generated floating islands. There are four races to choose from Humans, Wild Elves, Dark Elves, and Dwarves. They all have their own units, spells, and function a bit differently from each other.
For example, you can normally destroy the nests of various flying beasts and tame them for your heroes to ride. The dwarves cannot do this. Instead, they can build flying machines. Once you begin the game, you start building up your kingdom piece by piece. You need to continue growing a large population to work all the various structures you build, such as lumber camps and mines.
You also have to keep the growing population fed. There is an always present balancing act when it comes to resources. You will constantly be messing with a set of sliders to direct how much populations is working to get you gold, resources or food. You will always be lacking in one, and moving the workforce where you need it.
Four distinct races to choose from, and each one has different units and playstyles.
I honestly found this process a little tedious and irritating, Especially as you acquire more islands and your empire grows larger. At the same time, Driftlands is a kind of macro-level strategy game. You don’t control your units (called heroes) directly. You plant flags and assign money to them to entice your heroes to do what you want.
If you have ever played the game Majesty, it’s very similar in concept to that. Driftland has some seriously fun and interesting ideas of its own though. Your castle starts on one of many floating islands, and you can use magic to move the islands around, build bridges to them and claim them for yourself.
Its a neat concept with a lot of potential strategy of stealing away islands from your opponents. In fact, the various spells you can use are a lot of fun and play as much into the combat as your heroes. In addition to the other mages, you will be contending with barbarians and wild creatures in your quest of domination.
Zooming out gives you a nifty overview in the style of a paper map. You can play normally from this view if you want.
Though I found the resource management tedious, the game’s interface is done very well. You always have the information you need right in front of you. You can also zoom out at any time, which turns the world into a neat interactive paper map and overview. Everything still flows in real time while in this mode and you can perform all your commands normally.
I want to give a special mention to the scrying orb. On your interface, you have a crystal ball in the bottom right of the screen. When events occur, such as an explorer picking up a chest of resources. It shows what’s happening in the crystal ball as if you were there. Not only is it a handy tool to have. Its incredibly thematic and helps make you feel like you are a mage overseeing your kingdom.
Taming flying creatures is as you can imagine, pretty important when the entire world is floating islands.
As with most 4X games you accumulate knowledge in Driftland that can be spent on different types of research and bonuses and you can engage in light diplomacy with the other factions. I also appreciated the fact that I could pause and speed up time. Obviously, you won’t be able to do that in multiplayer once it’s implemented. It is a welcome addition in the skirmish mode though.
Heroes are also handled in a unique way compared to similar titles. You have different units, such as knights and wizards. Each one is a kind of blank slate for you to mold into your desires. Each hero has skill slots and you buy them skills through the various structures you make, such as a blacksmith or market place. Or they can be discovered some in places throughout the world.
It means that you can, for example, have two wizard units with a very different set of spells. I like this mechanic a lot, it gives your units more flavor and allows you to outfit them for different situations. However, the actual variety of heroes for each faction is disappointingly low. The blank slate system helps remedy this fact, but it would be nice to see more unit types.
You have a lot of paths of progress you can unlock with knowledge, similar to research in other games.
Your heroes (except for dwarves) can tame a couple different flying mounts. You can imagine how handy this is when the entire map consists of floating islands. It feels a bit more satisfying and tactical when you need to seek out these creatures, as opposed to just making a structure produce them like in other games.
Driftland is an interesting game, it’s certainly fun, but the resource management can be a drag and the lack of unit variety is disappointing. The blank slate heroes and the fact that you can’t control them is unique and entertaining. I also very much enjoy the concept of floating islands that you can literally move with magic.
The game is also practically drenched in thematic flair. That theme is the player being a powerful mage with power over the floating islands. The crystal ball is just one part of it, but you do feel like a mage as opposed to a king or lord.
Barbarians guard treasures and will also set out and attack you from encampments.
The developers are pretty good about updating Driftland, and with multiplayer and a campaign in the pipeline, it can only go up from here. Even if for some reason they never come, Driftland doesn’t feel incomplete for not having them. If you like real-time strategy or 4X games, it’s worth the price now. If you were ever a fan of the old Majesty games, Driftlands is pretty much a must-have.
- Great concept, a powerful mage, and floating islands make for an entertaining RTS
- The interface is slick and easy to read, and the controls are well done
- Blank slate heroes is another great concept that’s well executed
- Not having direct control over your heroes keeps you focused on the overall strategy, not the micromanagement.
- Four factions that are distinct from each other.
- Very thematic
- Resource management via a set of sliders is tedious at times.
- Low variety of units within a faction
- No campaign
- No multiplayer