A mysterious raven, a portal to another world filled with magical creatures and a mysterious fog destroying the land. Developer The Molasses Flood, brings together all of these components and more in village building action RPG Drake Hollow.
We find the protagonist at the outset in a pretty poor state emotionally after receiving some messages from what can only be described as their former love interest. It’s at this point that a talking crow appears and coaxes you through an inter-dimensional portal on the understanding that you can save some friends of his. Obviously we go along without question and he only mentions afterward it’s most likely a one way trip. Doh!
Venturing forward we’re introduced to most of Drake Hollow’s functions as you meet and recruit your first Drake. The Crow walks you through construction of your first village while explaining a little of the backstory and giving you a few directives in order to progress. Construction is mapped to a single button and if you have the required components you can drop a plan for your Drake to build.
The titular Drakes are less dragon in appearance and more vegetable (being based on Mandrake roots) and have a Tamagotchi-like dynamic to them. That’s what Drake Hollow is built around. Although they are pretty skilled in construction they never do anything without direction and need nursing at every turn. Whether it’s food, water or entertainment; you’ll need to provide for each one you manage to locate and bring back to your little village.
Starting out simple you will quickly notice some resources are in pretty short supply and the Drakes always need them; run out and they can either literally die of boredom or slip into hibernation — should their health get too low. At this point you can always reawaken them but sometimes it’s easier to go scouting to ensure you can meet their needs once revived.
Initially Drake Hollow limits players to the bare essentials; a basic workshop table, a bed of leaves and a small doll for the little critters to entertain themselves with. For each item built you add “Camp XP”. Collect enough and the village levels up adding new schematics for devices, items, furniture and defense options to your building menu.
As you progress through the levels Drake Hollow starts to introduce more complex village upgrades requiring both power and water to function in addition to a few upgrades which simply tidy up your piping or wiring and make you village more than a jumbled mess of stations and utilities.
Periodically the story moves you around the world (village and all) and you have to start your transit network again which is understandable but quite annoying given the investment of resources in it. The time taken to get between levels however can see you stuck on one for an extended amount of time with the gameplay changing very little between the seasons.
Promoting a Drake to a more advanced state can be achieved through the use of crystals which you find in exploration, or via battle. The Drake’s requirements for food and water grow — so your quaint little village that you strived to achieve equilibrium in is quickly broken and you’ll need to further tinker and plan to meet the new status quo. An evolved Drake also offers more “Camp XP” and greater rewards in exchange for that increase in upkeep though so it’s worth it.
Exploring outside of the local village in Drake Hollow can be pretty treacherous. The world around you has been poisoned to the extent that only a few habitable areas exist. Thorns protrude from the ground in clumps that exude a greenish fog known as Aether that is poisonous to the touch. In most of the world the thorns have already claimed vast expanses with the resulting mass of Aether forming a sea between the islands that remain. Early exploration relies on crafting charms which offer protection from the Aether for a limited time but as your resources grow so do your options.
Waypoints can be dropped almost anywhere and can be connected together back to your village which creates not only an automated supply line to caches found in the world but also a grind rail travel system. Once your network of waypoints are deployed your Aether charms can still be used; but generally only to go to places you haven’t dropped a waypoint yet.
Each island in the Aether sea has an infestation level which players are asked to reduce to clear the island. Higher infestation means harder enemies though, so rushing to the harder areas may mean new loot but it’s likely you won’t be prepared for it. After completing the first few quests the option to start multiplayer becomes available and up to four friends can battle together on one person’s instance.
Combat, unfortunately, is a clumsy affair. Players have the option of a melee weapon and a ranged weapon and players can also guard against attacks with their close-quarters option. Drake Hollow warns of incoming enemies and attacks for those out of view with some on-screen effects and a dodge function assists in getting you out of harm’s way. The lack of any more advanced combat features like the ability to lock onto enemies make larger battles with more participants quite challenging — but not in a good way.
The world you travel to in Drake Hollow is a solitary and lonely place, but at the same time almost at peace. The music does a great job with some beautiful haunting melodies that switch up for something more uptempo when battle commences. The world echoes further and sounds fade out when the player is knocked out and remains like that until you revive at camp or ghost walk to your downed body to revive.
Drake Hollow is a colourful village builder but doesn’t carry the complexity or depth of other games in the genre. Outside of the immediate construction and nursery mechanics it very quickly descends into a repetitive loop that is fortunately made more enjoyable by its multiplayer component.
Drake Hollow is out now on PC and Xbox One.