Driftland: The Magic Revival Early Access review — Mining in the sky

The world has been shattered. Once in unity, it is now a collection of islands floating in the sky. You take the role of a young wizard in an attempt to bring them back together. Welcome to Driftland: The Magic Revival, developed and published by Star Drifters.

Driftland: The Magic Revival can be described as a 4X game. The extermination part is definitely there, but at the beginning, you are first and foremost concerned with gathering resources and expanding your domain. You start out on one of the aforementioned floating islands with nothing but your castle.

Before you turn your attention to other islands, it is probably best to gather some resources. Driftland has a lot of those, but to start with, wood and stone will do. Later on, iron, coal, gold, gems and diamonds join the family. Farms and other buildings have to be built, with most of them designed to exploit more resources.

Your castle, the centre of your island empire.

In addition to the resources found on the map, your magical protagonist can also expend mana. This lifts the omnipresent shroud of war around you and eventually lets you drag over other islands. This is an essential mechanic — your starting island is almost guaranteed to lack certain resources.

While you confiscate more real estate, pay attention to whatever environment it houses — and not just because its looks nice and colourful. Dark elves prefer different terrain than wild elves, for example, which makes your starting species important for long-term strategic decisions.

New islands can be attracted and merged with existing ones.

Overall, space is precious in Driftland, and not just because it may hold the next resource you need, but also because it is somewhat sparse. Oftentimes it is better to upgrade the buildings you already have instead of building new ones to both save space and get more bang for your gems. Unfortunately, this is also where Driftland’s weaknesses show.

Due to its random nature, finding whatever resource you need next can be tricky. This can be seen as a challenge, as it forces you to make do with whatever resources you can muster, but can also end in frustration. An upkeep mechanic prevents you from simply stockpiling everything. There is a marketplace, but its exchange rates are so unfavorable that it will help you bridge a small economic gap as best, but never replace a mine.

Driftland is likely to please the eye.

The less common resources ultimately do not do anything special — they just let you access the next tier of building upgrades. Diamonds or gold do not open up the tech tree for interesting new structures; they are merely fancier versions of wood and iron. Scavenging for them can be tedious, especially when all you want is reach the enemy empire and wipe them out.

To assemble enough firepower for the final blow, you need to train extra troops, which require extra upgrades, which require extra buildings, which require extra resources. Depending on the map, you might end up with a lot of extra work for little gain — an endgame issue many 4X games struggle with.

Different species use different aesthetics, but are functionally mostly identical.

The combat itself is not very exciting and it is probably not meant to be so. After all, Driftland is mainly designed around expansion and mining, not warfare. Unfortunately, this also means it is always at the verge of becoming a resource harvesting simulator with little else to engage the player.

What will definitely help are more gameplay options. As of now, the Driftland only offers matches against one or more AI mages on randomised maps. Once you can challenge other human players or once a campaign with well-balanced islands becomes available, Drifland will probably keep you in its grasp significantly longer.

At this point, Drifland: The Magic Revival has some solid ideas and a good basis to become a charming strategy title. However, developer Star Drifters needs to expand their premiere title both vertically and horizontally if Driftland is to succeed in the long term.

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