Drifting Lands is an unusual attempt at combining two genres that have remained separate for long. Taking the persistence and gear of an ARPG and combining that with the fast-paced frenetic action of a Shmup. While it doesn’t hit the absolute highs of either genre, this is still a great treat for fans looking for something a little different.
The story of Drifting Lands follows the world being destroyed, with the remaining land masses now floating in the air. The last free humans now live on a massive ship called the ark and send out pilots to patrol and fight back against robots, cults and more.
The game itself is mission-based. The most common objective is to survive an entire section while battling enemy ships. What makes the game so different comes after you’re done with a mission.
Drifting Lands features procedurally generated loot much like in an ARPG. You can equip different weapons, thrusters, armor and more. Gear comes at different rarities that affect passive bonuses. For a different touch, gear will feature flaws that act as a price for using that specific piece.
Just like other Shmups, the different weapons have different firing arcs; with all the popular ones included. Credits are the game’s currency, and are used for buying new gear as well as upgrading your ship.
You have three stats: Power, Navigation and Structure. Higher tier gear will require you to meet the pre-requisite of the chosen stat or stats. As you progress through the game, you’ll be able to buy higher class ships that allow you to put more stat points on them.
Besides gear, you can assign six skills to your ship to use in combat; four active and two passives. One passive allows you to automatically retreat from combat if your ship is destroyed. If you turn that off on normal mode, you will essentially be playing hardcore mode for the game where you can lose your ship if you die.
Going through the game will unlock new grades of difficulty; up to 10. Going up in grade will raise the number of enemies, loot quality and overall difficulty. So far Drifting Lands sounds amazing, but the game can’t manage to bring it all together for a satisfying experience.
Drifting Lands has a great gameplay loop of completing missions to earn better gear, but it’s not enough to sustain the game over the many, many levels. By the time I reached grade 3 of 10, I was already starting to feel bored with the game. The story content actually ends at the end of grade four; leaving the rest of the experience for just gear grinding.
Actual new content and progression are doled out very slowly. The developers should have taken a page from the Diablo 3 redesign and try to give the player something new at each grade. The same goes for the different skills. Due to the limited number of skills and slots, you’ll quickly find your favorites and will never want to take them off.
Despite the ARPG design, there really isn’t as much loot as I was expecting. The game can overwhelm you with passive attributes, but it becomes easier once you get used to it.
The level design is possibly the worst part of the game, because there is no level design. Every stage takes place in an open environment. The sections that you fly through are hard-coded in terms of enemy ships, but randomly placed. However, the environment itself has no bearing on what you do. There were cases where the same section repeated twice in a single level. There are only three factions of enemies, and they share a lot of similar ship designs.
For fans of challenging shmup design, expect to navigate densely packed areas of bullets, lasers and more. It’s very easy to go from full to dead if you’re not paying attention to what’s around you.
The last problem with Drifting Lands is a surprising one: A general lack of polish.
Drifting Lands comes with a lot of general flaws and problems that seemed to have been missed. There are spelling errors and general quality of life issues. One big issue is that there are sections where the backgrounds are the same color as the enemy bullets; making it impossible to see incoming shots. The game feels like it could have used one more round of play testing to make sure that everything was all shipshape. This isn’t damning, but when combined with the short campaign leaves the game feeling unfinished.
Drifting Lands has what it needs to be amazing, but it lacks the polish and content to make it a serious contender as a rogue-like, Shmup or ARPG. I hope the game does well enough to warrant more development, but at the moment, the design just isn’t firing on all cylinders.
For more on the game, you can watch video spotlights over on my YouTube channel.