Drake Hollow is available on Xbox One including game pass with a PC version to come later. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One console.
Drake Hollow is a survival game, but its focus isn’t you versus the elements. It’s on caring for cute little plant creatures called Drakes, and they need your help to survive. If the task seems daunting alone, you can team up with up to three friends to care for the creatures.
Drakes are magical beings that can help you construct a base and grant you boons, but they need to eat, drink, and sleep to survive. The little things can also die of boredom, we have something in common there.
As the Drakes grow, their needs become more demanding, and you have to explore a world of islands across a deadly substance known as the Aether to collect materials for your camp.
Nasty beasts called Ferals guard these islands and will periodically raid your camp. As your home grows, so do the intensity of the attacks.
Parenting is hard
After being transported through the veil to a mysterious place known as the Hollow. You are tasked with finding and caring for plant creatures called Drakes. The more Drakes you bring to camp, and the bigger they grow, the more power you have.
Doing so is no easy task though, while you don’t need to feed yourself, you must care for the needs of your Drakes. They need to eat, sleep, drink, and be entertained. Early on, you can get by collecting berries and juice boxes. But as your camp grows you will have to collect supplies for structures and eventually defenses to fend off Feral raids.
Each stage of the Hollow is represented by a season. When you move on from a region, you take your camp with you, but you can’t return to the previous region. Not much changes between the seasons, though you must keep your camp and the Drakes warm in the winter.
The islands are separated by a liquid, or fog known as the Aether and touching it for a few seconds will kill you. You have to construct wards that temporarily make you immune and eventually way-points that allow you to skate across ley lines as a more permanent solution and faster way of travel.
Setting up Way-points is interesting, they are essentially crystal towers that you link with a beam of energy from one to another. I like to call them ley lines, but I can’t remember if they have an actual name in the game. You can skate across the ley lines to travel back and forth faster. When you change regions, you take your camp with you, but not your way-points. Setting them up a second time is less fulfilling than the first time and it becomes annoying every additional time after that.
You search the islands for materials to craft buildings, defenses, traps, and consumables. You will also find weapons to battle with and various stones you can use to age your Drakes. Aging them up increases your camp XP, makes their boons stronger, and alters their appearance.
Ferals will stand in your way and infest islands with Aether vines. Destroying the vines will clear the island and reward you. If an island has a supply truck, you can connect it via your way-points back to your base, and it will funnel a finite amount of supplies down your ley lines. The supplies are visible while in transit and don’t actually get added to your stockpile until they physically reach the camp. It’s a nice detail that I appreciated.
The Drakes themselves are incredibly cute. They start as babies, and you can grow them with various stones. Eventually, they retire into a statue leaving two babies to replace them. If one of them dies, they are replaced by another baby.
The Drakes are lively in the game, they wander around the camp and interact with everything you place there. They balance on fences, play pinball, and work the machinery. I really liked that as it helped bring them to life.
Planting a Camp
You choose how to build your base, but the Drakes construct it for you, and they can also grant you boons. Each Drake has a random boon, and the boon increases in power as you age them up. One might add lightning damage to your attacks, another may fortify your defenses, for example.
Your camp starts meager, but eventually, you need to construct a variety of buildings to provide food, water, and entertainment as well as electricity. Early structures actually require your Drakes to use them, like running on a treadmill to create power. But eventually, you create more autonomous buildings.
The Drakes are your means of progression. The more Drakes you bring home and grow, the more your camp levels up making you stronger, increasing your health, and unlocking new blueprints. The blueprints themselves have to be unlocked with schematics that you can find while exploring the world. You, yourself do not level up on your own. It’s another interesting twist on the genre, and a welcome one. The focus is on the Drakes, not you and the progression reflects that.
You will need to periodically defend against raids. Your Drakes hide while this is happening, but your structures can and will be destroyed. You will need to construct walls and defenses to help you weather them. The base building is free form, you choose what to build and where. You can place your walls and defenses any way you would like.
The process is pretty involved. You have to link power cables, and water lines to different structures, physically uncoiling them from the source to the target. In addition to walls, you can make bunkers for your Drakes to shoot from and a variety of traps, such as spinning blades or tesla coils.
At the same time, the interface is fluid, and the building is easy and simple to understand. You won’t have any problem using your freedom to make your Drake camp the way you want.
You do have to juggle resources, power, and water, however, alongside your camp budget that grows with your Drakes. Many structures need power and water, and the more Drakes you have and the older they are, the more food, water, and entertainment they need.
Resources are also, mostly finite. Some small plants re-spawn, but other stuff on the islands don’t. There is a shop you can buy things from, but that requires Shinies, a type of currency that is also not abundant.
It’s a careful balancing act, and you have to make a lot of decisions on where cuts have to be made and when to age up your Drakes. Repairs cost materials too, and if a raid goes bad you might struggle to rebuild. If you are familiar with The Flame in The Flood, the developer’s last game, none of this will come as a surprise.
Drake Hollow is still a survival game, but flipped in a style of a lite city builder with cute creatures you will come to know on sight as they have different colors, looks, names, and boons.
Combating the Ferals
The combat in Drake Hollow is pretty simple but fluid and snappy. You pick up a variety of weapons on your adventure, mostly mundane items imbued with magic such as hockey sticks and balloon launchers.
Your weapons can break, and your ranged ones use ammo. You can’t make or buy weapons, but you can create and purchase ammo. The weapons themselves have an RPG like quality tier systems and the more your camp grows the stronger weapons you find.
While it’s neat to see what kind of weird thing you can use as weapons, it’s pretty underwhelming. They have stats that I never needed to pay attention to. They fell into a couple of archetypes, light weapons and heavy weapons. The animations weren’t all that varied different between them and mostly played the same way.
You can do basic and jump attacks, dodge, block, and fire ranged weapons. It’s pretty basic but implemented really well. Each enemy type has a unique style and requires a different approach.
The swarming grunts surround you or come flying at you like a baseball. The game features a satisfying thump sound when you bat them away though. A wolf-like creature drops mines and runs away if you get close. They fire at you from range but you can actually reflect their own attacks back at them with a well-timed swing. Ranged weapons are ideal against them.
The massive Stalkers charge you and hit hard, blocking comes in handy here. The Terminers function like wizards with a variety of blasts and they can summon minions. The combat is particularly thrilling during raids where you fight in tandem with your defense when the stakes are high.
There is a very large problem though, one that permeates the entire game. Those four enemies I mentioned? That’s it, those are the only enemy types in the game and it gets repetitive really fast. It’s a shame because the raid concept is fantastic, but traveling from island to island fighting the same baddies with the solid but very simple combat system gets dull.
Furthermore, clearing infestations requires you to beat on Aether vines four to six times to break them…some islands can have more than thirty of them. That too, gets repetitive. You aren’t required to clear islands, but you do get goodies if you do. Those goodies are desired due to the finite nature of the games resources.
Fighting Ferals, both on the islands and to defend your camp is one of the core mechanics in Drake Hollow. The lack of enemy variety dampens the whole game, from the exploration to base defense. While I’m glad each one is unique, the game desperately needs more enemy types.
Banishing the Veil
With the nature of the developer’s last game and the finite resources in Drake Hollow, it’s easy to paint it as a solidly challenging survival game. The truth is a bit more complex. I’m going to give a bit of an odd warning here. I dig deep into the games I review and I have a good eye on seeing how mechanics link together.
What I am about to complain about is something you may never have noticed on your own and thus it might not impact your enjoyment. Ignorance is bliss, feel free to skip down to my VERDICT section below if you would rather not know the gory details.
The challenge in Drake Hollow is a well-crafted illusion, every obstacle in the game is faked. When you die, you have the option of reviving at camp which damages all of your weapons, or walking as a ghost to your body. Doing that doesn’t harm your weapons but can actually take quite a while, depending on where you died.
The concept is pretty simple. Your weapons are precious since you can’t make them. So you can take a durability hit to revive at camp or spend time getting your body. That could be a problem if a raid is incoming or your Drakes are starving. The truth is, it doesn’t matter.
The game doesn’t tell you this, but if you drop a damaged weapon on the ground in your camp, a Drake will pick it up, and put it in the storage. It will be fully repaired when you take it out.
Furthermore, it takes quite a while for your Drakes to actually starve or die of thirst. But that’s not the issue. The problem is you can walk up to any injured Drake and heal them to full health, for no cost. If they starving, you can essentially reset the lengthy timer whenever you want.
You need to level up your camp to progress the story, but that doesn’t technically require buildings, You could, in theory, beat the game while paying minimal attention to your resources as long as you keep healing your Drakes. Death means nothing since you can counter the durability impact of your weapons entirely by dropping it for a Drake to fix.
Granted, beating the game like that would be a bit tedious. But what matters is, you don’t have to panic in a raid. If half of your food-producing buildings get wiped out, oh well. They starve very, very slowly and you can heal them to full at anytime for free. You have all the time you need to deal with the problem.
Caring for these Drakes is the basis of the entire game, and it’s designed in such a way that you largely don’t have to. The combat itself is actually tough, you will die a lot. But it doesn’t matter, the perceived consequence is simply an illusion once you figure out the weapon repair trick.
Drake Hollow is a charming game to be sure. The Drakes are cute as heck, and the base building and resource management is a lot of fun. The combat is simple but solid, even if the loot isn’t very interesting.
The gameplay loop is neat, it’s fun setting up a network of waypoints through the islands, but setting up a new network gets repetitive after the second time you do it. The enemy variety is really lacking, combine that with the boring nature of whacking on 30 sets of Aether vines per island, and it gets dull in a hurry.
Throw in the fact that the game mechanics make the challenge illusionary, and it’s difficult for me to rate the game as high as I’d like too. Drake Hollow is on the more pricey side unless you have Xbox gamepass.
Drake Hollow puts a lovely spin on the survival genre. Building a camp to care for Drakes instead of yourself is a nice twist, and defending that camp from raids is a lot of fun. But fighting the same four enemy types with a simple combat system can’t carry the fun for the entire adventure.
You might also be interested in my review of State of Decay 2.
- Taking care of Drakes and linking your progression to them is a great well executed concept and they are also super cute
- The Base building is easy to use and fun
- Defending your base is exciting
- Small details, such as the Drakes interacting with the camp and supplies floating to your waypoints is nice
- Only four types of enemies dampen most of the game
- Overly simple combat
- Making waypoint networks and whacking Aether vines is repetitive and dull after a single season
- The challenge is illusionary as the mechanics are inconsistent with it’s concept
- Weapons are dull and uninteresting with very little variety in how they actually control