Drifting Lands is a type of shoot ’em up game with loads of RPG elements- players will loot destroyed enemy spacecraft for parts that you can sell or use to upgrade your ship, which can then be used to get more loot faster or destroy more difficult opponents. The core gameplay loop of Drifting Lands is addicting and highly satisfying, and players who enjoy RPG genre mashes may have a lot to love here. So does Drifting Lands make a viable addition to a Steam library, or does it drift off at a moment’s notice? Let’s find out.
The story of Drifting Lands is pretty basic: Your character is given missions by one of the few independent groups left in the world. After a horrible disaster, it was up to corporations to rebuild, so those with true freedom, really, are just merchants, pilots, mercenaries, etc. You fall into…one of those categories, it’s kind of unclear because the game doesn’t really focus on its plot much, and you pretty much just take orders from the people in the Command Center section of the ship on which you dock. Most story information is divulged via static portraits and text boxes, which isn’t uncommon for RPGs, but it does lack a bit in presentation.
Those who play shmups for the story, however, are people we don’t talk about. Instead, you play games in the genre for pulse-pounding actions, tight controls, or, in Drifting Lands case, a plethora of customization options. There are different classes of ships for you to use, some having higher attack or armor rates, while others may move faster at the expense of another statistic. A variety of gear slots exist for each ship, which allow you to further customize your build, as well as core capabilities of your ship that dictate what other attachments you may make to it. Drops from enemy ships can be items like thrusters, new weapons, shields, and more, and you can either equip them to your ship or sell them in order to afford upgrades from the store.
Skills you can unlock include offensive attacks to clear multiple enemies at once, a shield that temporarily deflects enemy projectiles, time dilation, and lots more. You can work an entire build around the gear drops and skills you unlock, allowing you to engage temporary invulnerability when the screen gets too covered in bullets for you to handle. The world truly is your oyster, really, because you can work toward getting your ship how you want it as early as the second mission. Due to all of the options available, the RPG feedback loop of Drifting Lands is an integral mechanic and deeply rewarding, to say the least.
An avenue on which Drifting Lands falters, in comparison to other shmups, is that it relies on procedural generation to create waves of enemies for you to shoot down, which is a stark contrast to the tightly, personally designed and frantic stages of Raiden or Lords of Thunder. People who enjoy Cave shooters or other types of aptly called bullet hells (in which the screen is covered in so many bullets that players must navigate a veritable labyrinth of instant death) may not enjoy Drifting Lands as much as others, because the game never really reaches that point of intensity. While compositions of enemies are varied well enough, players will see a lot of the same backgrounds and enemy types over the course of a playthrough, which can induce fatigue, for some.
The learning curve in Drifting Lands is extremely forgiving- the two modes of play, Normal and Forgiving mode, don’t actually adjust the difficulty of gameplay. In Normal mode, if you’re shot down, you may lose loot or even your entire ship, requiring you buy a new one and grind to repurchase your upgrades all over again. In Forgiving mode, instead of losing items, they break and can be repaired for a fairly high cost, and your ship is never fully destroyed. In any event, however, the difficulty curve begins very low in order to invite in new players, but it never actually increases to the point where a veteran of the genre would call it challenging, which can be a drawback for some but a positive to others.
As far as the soundtrack goes, it’s delightful, if not a little light on tracks; it doesn’t take long to hear most of what the OST has to offer. The sound effects are your standard shmup fair of laser blaster sound effects and the like, but they do their jobs and evoke what they are supposed to sound like accurately. The graphics are perfectly passable, as the ship models are simplistic and clean, while the character portraits are very well drawn and detailed. The animations work well, and the two-dimensional backgrounds look great while scrolling past your ship as you mercilessly destroy enemy air vessels or the occasional boss (though sometimes enemy ships can blend in with some backdrops, which is unfortunate).
Overall, Drifting Lands is a very interesting take on the shoot ’em up genre. Newbies to the genre, or players who easily get addicted to testing out new loot will find a fair amount to enjoy in the game. Veteran shmup players, however, may be left desiring something more, as while the game does boast over 100 levels, many of them are without the intricate design that shmup fans desire since they seem to be procedurally generated. All in all, however, for a game that’s less than $20, there’s a lot to enjoy, it is merely that the grind may leave you weary of it, moving onto other games before actually beating Drifting Lands.