Driftland: The Magic Revival Hands-on – a fantastic blend of Heroes and Majesty

Driftland: The Magic Revival Preview

Game PreviewJun 27, 2016 at 7:15a PSTby Adam Zechenter

Driftland: The Magic Revival Hands-on – a fantastic blend of Heroes and Majesty

Polish gamedev veterans united under the banner of Star Drifters are devising a most interesting strategy game, which is visibly inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic and... Majesty.

DRIFTLAND: THE MAGIC REVIVAL IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Extraordinary RTS with 4X elements;
  2. Stock fantasy setting but... after a magic apocalypse;
  3. Limiting the micromanagement;
  4. Easy to learn but hard to master;
  5. Maps consist of islands floating above the surface of the planet;
  6. Less units, but each one has its own name and XP level;
  7. Single- and multiplayer modes;
  8. Coming for PC, should have small system requirements;
  9. Early access this year; release due 2017.

“I want to make a game, of which I can be proud for the rest of my life”. These are the words of Michal Sokolski, co-founder of Star Drifters studio, which is now working on a unique fantasy RTS. That statement indeed sounds convincing: Driftland: The Magic Revival is surprisingly innovative in its solutions, looks beautiful (Unreal Engine 4), and will try to appeal both to hardcore strategy fans, as well as their more casual colleagues. During the Digital Dragons conference, we were able to talk to the developers and try out the game ourselves, as the first gaming site in the world. That declaration, over 20 years of experience, a genuine passion, and the developers’ original ideas, allow to assume that Driftland will be a real pearl among strategies. That’s something to wait for!

Hardened cosmic voyagers

Responsible for Driftland: The Magic Revival, is an independent studio Star Drifters from Warsaw, Poland. Every day, around ten people are working on the game – which for an indie title is not that few. Let’s not forget about the fact that the studio was established by true veterans of the business – Michal Sokolski and Krzysztof Jakubowski. Their first company was founded back in 2000, but their most notable work, with CI Games, includes games such as Sniper: Ghost Warrior or the RPG, Lords of the Fallen.

Magicalypse

Driftland: The Magic Revival takes us into a classic fantasy world, which is slowly shaking off the effects of a magic catastrophe which has almost annihilated the planet hundreds of years ago. In a galaxy far away, there was a planet inhabited by four races. It’s kind of easy to guess that those races couldn’t actually co-exist in peace – war was virtually permanent, only once in a while a fragile, temporary peace was established. Blinded by the war, people overused magic, and the planet slowly begun to fall apart – no sooner have the mages managed to reach an agreement. Exhausting all deposits of magic, they created a powerful spell holding the world in a relative balance. The civilizations, which up until that moment were entirely dependent on magic, became paralyzed; some cultures vanished forever, others became savage... Now, when centuries have passed, the shattered magic is gradually returning, and with it, beings that are able to control it again: the new mages. They create new nations and try to recreate the fallen civilization – and so, wars break out again. The players become one of the said mages – the task is to build a country and fight with others for domination over the world.

This simple story is both the background for the campaign, which consists of related missions (much like in Heroes of Might and Magic or Age of Wonders III), and it also allows the creation of a really interesting world. The map on which the game is taking place is made of islands floating above the planet’s core. It looks pretty spectacular, and is rather uncommon in strategy games – it reminds me a little bit of Bastion, an RPG by Supergiant Games.

Fight like dwarves and elves

There are four races in Driftland: The Magic. Humans are the most versatile race and are exceptionally good with economy. The dwarves cannot tame neutral creatures, but they are able to build their own flying machines. They also use guns instead of bows, and – predictably – are not very adept at magic. There are also two races of elves – wood, and dark elves. The former are capable mages and naturalists, the latter are great constructors – they’re the only race which fortifies all of its buildings.

Flying islands

Older players will probably find this game similar to the cult, 1991 strategy – Mega Lo Mania. The devs themselves openly admit that this game served as a big inspiration for them.

Driftland: The Magic Revival will be an RTS with 4X elements, in which we gather resources, recruit units and erect buildings, in order to defeat all the enemies on the procedurally generated maps. The big difference in Driftland is that the maps consist of floating islands moving independently. Utilizing the power of magic, they can be moved – when they get close to areas the players already own, they can be connected to their territories with bridges. It certainly looks like a brisk mechanism which will introduce much diversity into the gameplay. First, the map is going to be malleable, with each kingdom trying to collect more land. Second, this should diversify even a single scenario, since the islands are divided into five different biomes: wintry, mild, desert, etc., and there’s nothing that would prevent two islands of opposing climate from being joined together. Furthermore, there will be certain powerful spells allowing to snatch islands from enemies (after destroying its bridge, the island is detached from its former kingdom), which will obviously be quite expensive, nonetheless possible. After such action, if the enemy is of the same race, the buildings can be used by the player.

As it turns out, the mechanics of pulling the islands proved to be quite a challenge for the developers. During the design stage, they’ve spent a lot of time testing how elements such as fog of war should behave on an ever-changing map. There was also a problem with moving assets – Star Drifters had to create their own mechanics, since those available didn’t work that well with what they had in mind.

M is for Majesty

Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to make a really original game – it’s even a subject of discussion whether such games can be made any more. No wonder that the creators of Driftland: The Magic Revival used tried, if a little bit forgotten solutions. Let’s begin with the most obvious association – the Polish strategy returns to the ideas of Majesty – the devs are trying to make an RTS that requires planning rather that many actions per minute. “RTS games are requiring an increasing amount of micromanagement, hence they value manual skills more than strategic thinking. I want to go the other way”, said Michal Sokolski.

Enchanted world

The magic is really important in Driftland: The Magic Revival. Not only does it hold the collapsing world together, but it also helps with more mundane tasks. There will be five types of spells in the game: offensive (fire rain), conjuring (magic eye that uncovers fog of war; teleports), defensive (such as healing), and those regarding the islands (pulling or changing the biome). Apart from that, there will be different auras, influencing units in the given area (slowing them down or adding a HP bonus). Of course, in order to be able to do any magic, you need a certain amount of mana.

It’s visible, for example, in the way the population management works. Similarly to Majesty, we don’t issue specific orders to our units – only very general commands. If they’re completed, we can give certain awards in return. Our subjects will reach given places themselves, realize the given task, and receive some gold. Each of them is also supposed to have their own name and level which will increase with earned experience points (which – by the way – are awarded even for walking/exploration). Also, the population will never be very numerous – having as much as 30 characters is quite a lot here. After a flood of nameless units from other games, this seems to be a refreshing move, giving more personality to the digital avatars.

There will be four basic types of units in the game: workers and peasants, archers and war mages (not to be confused with the character which represents the player – the main mage doesn’t appear on the map), and knights. There will also be special flying units on the maps, such as griffins, for example. All these creatures will also have their names and levels. They will initially be neutral, and have to be tamed. It’s not an easy job, so it’s best not to assign a simple farmer for such tasks, cause he will just be torn apart. An experienced knight is a much safer bet. Flying units will obviously be very valuable in the world made of islands – for the same reason, they will be pretty rare.

The power of simplicity

Driftland is an uncommon effort to combine the 4X and RTS with the simplicity of mobile strategies. Hence, the creators value ergonomics, player’s comfort, and easy to comprehend rules – assigning professions to our subjects will happen via only one menu, etc. The authors are aiming to cater to those of the strategy fans, who are looking for something less involving than the typical games in the genre: in Driftland, smaller maps can be completed in a couple hours. The other group of gamers to whom the game is addressed are the fans of mobile, free-to-play strategies, who like this kind of fun, but disapprove the constant emphasis on money. People form Star Drifters present a different approach:

We’ve rejected the model of a free game with microtransactions because we’re not interested in making a game in which you have to pay to win or progress. It would harm the mechanics, and mechanics is our priority. From our point of view, developing a free-to-play title is more about designing a sales model and improving it.

It looks like everybody is going to find something interesting in Driftland: The Magic Revival: there will be a campaign (a series of missions, bound by one story), scenarios (maps with a predefined number of kingdoms and victory conditions) and a generator, i.e. procedurally generated maps with customizable options.

There will also be a multiplayer mode. Personally – as a fan of playing with real opponents – I am very happy to see that the developers really emphasize this aspect of the game. I’m very curious to see how the whole game will work with in the multiplayer – the possibility of snatching islands from other players sounds like fun.

Simple doesn’t mean simplistic. The economy in Driftland: The Magic Revival, as in any respectable strategy, will be an important part of the gameplay. There will be different resources available (metal ores, gold, mana, food, and so on), the depots on islands are obviously limited, so the game forces the player to constant expansion, which turns into rivalry as soon as other players are encountered. We don’t have to fight with everyone from the very beginning, though. The game will use a simple diplomacy system, which allows the player to form alliances. There will also be many buildings to construct (civic, military, bridges, mines, or defensive towers), which at the same time are a kind of practical technology tree; there isn’t anything like that per se, but construction of some buildings unlocks the ability to construct more advanced ones.

A silence before a storm?

There isn’t much publicity around Driftland: The Magic Revival yet, despite the fact that the game is slowly but steadily heading towards the end of its development. The devs are planning to launch early access on Steam before the end of this year, and the full game will be released in 2017. If everything goes according to the plan, the players will get updates, e.g. introducing new biomes, for free, after the release. The Star Drifters have high hopes for this game, since they would like it to grow into a well regarded franchise, and – as they’ve said – they’re not short on ideas. I really like these guys’ attitude, by the way. They promise to release a demo, for those undecided, and that’s what they’ve said about early access:

We think that a game should only enter early access if its technical side is solid. Otherwise, the feedback from gamers will focus on obvious mistakes, going nowhere. The players’ opinions can be very helpful, and we’re looking for legitimate support from them.

Can you call this a “CD Projekt RED effect”? It’s hard to say, but we wouldn’t mind one bit if open mind and prioritizing quality would become Star Drifters’ trademark.

The solution of population growth is also interesting. You cannot simply recruit more units, as in other RTS games. Instead, they’re born independently of the player’s actions – there are two prerequisites: food surplus, and... some free time. So, during the game, you have to manage your units in such a way, that some of them always have some time to spend on procreation. I mean procrastination.

It seems that Driftland: The Magic Revival has all the attributes needed to achieve a success, namely: simple rules, solo and multiplayer gameplay modes, original mechanics, free updates... and that’s only a couple of examples. The graphics, powered by Unreal Engine 4 are sort of an icing on the cake. The few screens that we’ve seen so far suggest that Driftland will get a detailed and eye-catching visual layer. I especially liked the animation of building construction – when a castle was slowly and smoothly transitioning into its upgraded version, a bit like in the intro of Game of Thrones. I hope that the Polish strategy will transition from an unknown strategy into a critically acclaimed hit just as smoothly. Driftland: The Magic Revival simply has a lot of potential.