There is something unnatural and at the same time euphoric when mashing two different genres together, especially when they work so well together. As a shooter, Drifting Lands does a great job, throwing dozens of enemies and colored projectiles on screen at the same time, as you control your customizable ship and move horizontally across the beautiful and often busy backgrounds. Adding action RPG elements, such as stat bonuses, and loot that can be equipped transforms Drafting Lands into a unique experience.
Drifting Lands features randomly generated missions, and 100 different levels of difficulty, as you progress through the game and increase the gear, you have equipped. Told through static dialogue cutscenes, the game’s narrative is dull, and I found it unimportant to the gameplay. Essentially, you are the newest pilot for a band of mercenaries aimed to defend themselves from the evil empire. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, and I honestly would rather get to the next mission as quick as possible than being forced to mash buttons to get through the next set of boring conversations.
The game is best played when using a gamepad (the game ever tells you this before the title screen), in my case an Xbox One controller, although you can use mouse and keyboard controls. From the onset, you are giving a basic ship, lacking necessary parts and equipment, which you salvage as you complete missions. As you would collect instant power-ups from destroyed ships in any other shoot ‘em up, in Drifting Lands your loot is equipped between missions. You’ll still find items that replenish your shield and health as soon as you pick them up, but for the most part, you must finish or retreat from your current mission with your loot. If you are about to die, retreating will allow you to save the loot in your cargo hold, so at least you don’t have to restart empty handed.
Missions have a set length, although I found most of them to be quite shorter than I was expected. All enemies have a set amount of health, so it doesn’t play like classic arcade games where a single hit will destroy something. Enemies can appear at any place on the screen and follow varying patterns to keep things feeling fresh. If you need more precise control over your movements, you can hold one of the buttons down to make small incremental motions, allowing you to weave in and out ever so slightly. You are limited to shooting forwards (towards the right) at all times, so for things that spawn to your left, you must rely on dodging their bullets or using your active skills to destroy them.
Your skills in Drifting Lands are mapped to the four face buttons on the controller. The basic skills are broken up into different categories, such as offensive blade and detonation attacks and those that increase your defensive capabilities, such as self-repair and absorbing bullets for a set amount of time. As you progress through the different difficulty grades, you can swap the starting skills out for more advanced abilities. One of the best decisions I made was replacing an exploding ring around my ship with a whirling wall of fire that stays until it deals a set amount of damage. It can quickly melt away smaller ships that tend to swarm across the screen in greater number.
Flying around in your ship is only half of the game, as the other half is managing your gear once you return to the hanger. In typical RPG fashion, loot is broken up into different color rarity, with each piece having varying stats and perks. Do you equip that armor plating that skyrockets your defense rating or the one that increases both your life and your navigation speed? A brand-new rare CPU adds additional power and critical hit chance to your attack, but your previous one increase your shield regeneration, what do you choose? Do you equip a thin solid laser as your primary weapon or the minigun that must be feathered to control the spread? All of these questions go through my mind before every mission. Weapons are quite varied, with those that must be managed by feathering the fire button instead of holding it down.
Taking things a step further, you will acquire blueprints that must be crafted before you can equip. The blueprints have a set range of the stat bonuses, and you must play the random game on whether or not you just wasted hundreds of credits. In fact, every single piece of loot you acquire can be converted into a blueprint. Find yourself in love with a rare weapon, but wish it was slightly better? Holding down the alt key shows the possible values for all of the stats and perks that come with it. It may be worth turning into a blueprint, although it does decrease the item level. Just like in all action RPGs you’ll find some truly terrible rolls, but just one that nearly maxes out the stats is enough to keep my gambling nature in check.
Before playing Drifting Lands, it didn’t occur to me that adding role-playing game mechanics into a shoot ‘em up was something that I needed in my life, but after playing the game, I can’t put it down. The narrative is lacking and serves as a launching point for the missions, but the gameplay is king in Drifting Lands. The visuals are crisp and sharp, and the backgrounds have some great looking effects, such as flying through a lightning storm complete with devastating tornadoes. The soundtrack is comprised of hard rocking beats, but levels tend to be on the shorter side, so it doesn’t feel like the repeating tracks overstay their welcome. There are no multiplayer options, but some levels do feature an online leaderboard, which is a nice touch.
Note: Drifting Lands was reviewed based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided by the publisher.