Drifting Lands from French studio Alkemi brings a hybrid of genres yet unseen until now. Alkemi blends shmup (shoot’em up) side-scrolling bullet-hell with action RPG elements where loot is key. Drifting Lands is a new type of game for other developers to follow, but will be hard to duplicate how well Alkemi put this together. Drifting Lands also serves as an introduction to shmups without being overly difficult or impenetrable as sometimes the series is known for.
Much like the re-released Sine Mora EX, Alkemi’s Drifting Lands has an interesting story that will almost certainly be skipped to get straight into the action. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, the continents are literally drifting away from each other on this shattered planet where private corporations are vying for control. Blending shmup, adventure, and RPG games in the game, Drifting Lands’ story feels the most out of place despite giving an excellent backdrop into the goings on. It just doesn’t matter much once the bullets start flying and the loot starts dropping.
Drifting Lands doesn’t go out to reinvent the shmup, but does introduce new and interesting things that make the experience worthwhile. First and foremost is the switch from a score-based game to one where you’re gaining income from kills and modifiers and multipliers increasing it at a fervent frequency. This enables you to purchase upgrades from vendors to outfit your ship in more meaningful ways – more about that later.
When you start the game, you pilot one of three styles of ships. They follow the archetypes of light, medium, heavy, but are more nuanced than that. For new players to the game, and the genre, the mid-ship is the best of both worlds in terms of speed and survivability. Sacrificing either in the other two ships is best for more advanced players. Missions have level-ranked missions for their difficulty, and the levels themselves are procedurally generated. Regardless of how difficult you make the game, it’s never going to feel the same as you play through it. There’s more than enough variety here.
The game asks a simple question up-front, but it’s hard to discern what you want out of the game until after you’ve played it. But it asks whether you want to play on Normal or Hardcore. Normal is forgiving in every aspect, and again serves the “my first shmup” mentality the game subtlety refers to.The Hardcore mode isn’t as devastating as it seems by the name, but it does mean with any death you can lose any number of items in your possession or cargo hold.
Something worth noting is the excellent and clean interface of Drifting Lands. Everything is perfectly legible, and easy to read from near and far, and is really crisp. While the gameplay is equally so, there are four meters that you must monitor at all times: Shield, Focus, Energy, and Health. In addition to that, there are four active skills which have a cooldown on them. The passives at least, are just that, passive – you don’t have to do anything with them. What does it all mean? Well, there’s a lot to keep up with in addition to the on-screen chaos. The passive abilities have an auto-retreat option (or one you can engage) manually. The actives can let you use energy to explode in area of effect damage, dash, or shoot energy beams to do massive damage on condensed areas. You can regain energy over time or recharging in areas that appear during the level.
A game driven by loot has to have some pretty good loot, right? Drifting Lands has that in spades, though I wish there were some clever names of items that helped with their identity. Items of special value have unique traits, and even flaws when equipped. Items of different rarities begin to appear, and so does this increase the flaws items will have. The game has a weird way of keeping things on an even keel when giving you more powerful items.
Drifting Lands combines some really great genres into its own thing that works really well. Alkemi does this in an all-around clean and crisp presentation. The game embodies the “one more level” mentality as you try to make another run in an attempt to get better loot to outfit yourself for higher difficulties. This is a game you shouldn’t miss.
A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes