Upon starting Drifting Lands I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I’ve been wasting some time with the classic Gradius recently so I was fully ready to embrace the shmup side of things….My body was not ready for this. The people at Alkemi somehow mixed the genre of action RPG into a shmup, and not only that but added a decent story with somewhat interesting characters. Intrigued? You should be.
The majority of shmups are similar in the way you get stronger in your journey, you pick up powerups within the level and hope to not get hit or not die so that you’d lose those powerups. This is not the case in Drifting Lands. It takes a hold of the action RPG element of having loot drop and makes it work. So instead of racing to get the powerup across the screen you race towards credits, parts, and blueprints. None of which that you can use right away and have to survive to be able to utilize any of your hard earned loot. If you do survive, and hopefully you do, you can go into your hangar and put those shiny new pieces on your ship. You can also sell them or even for a price convert them into a blueprint to see if you can get a better bonus off of that part. Once you get enough money you can start investing in skills for yourself. Some are passive skills, most are damage and a few support skills like healing or regenerating health. Once you have unlocked these skills you can then invest more money into leveling these skills up. Unfortunately these aren’t the only thing you use your hard earned cash on. You also need it to invest in your base attributes, Structure (Health and Armor), Power (Health and Skill Power), Navigation (Health and Weapon Damage). In other words…don’t be afraid to sell the crap out of things so you can get yourself stronger.
The gameplay overall is fun. It’s a horizontal side scrolling shmup in using my earlier example of Gradius, it plays the same way. You can use either a keyboard or gamepad to control your ship, with the gamepad being the easiest to use. The idea is the same as in all shmups, try to kill everything that moves while not getting killed in the process. There are three ships to choose from each with their strengths and weaknesses. The interceptor, the marauder, and sentinel. They rank as smaller and quicker, to slower and tankier in that order. Also as in most shmups the bullet spreads and movements can be recognized as patterns so you’ll need to pick up on those quick to be able to get yourself out of a tight situation. Everyone will play this game differently and that’s where the ARPG (action rpg) comes into play. You can tailor your skills and attributes to your style of gameplay and you’ll be kicking ass in no time. There is also another element of gameplay that pays a huge role in getting a better score and used in some of the more advanced skills, Focus. Depending on your ship Focus is gained in different ways and there are 10 levels of Focus, the interceptor needs to graze enemies bullets, the marauder has to sit within a shiny vortex as long as it can, this vortex will move around after a couple of seconds, and lastly the sentinel gains Focus when its shield is recharging…meaning you actually need to take some damage to build Focus. I didn’t run into any major problems playing the game or anything that really annoyed me. Also the soundtrack was fun and exciting during the missions. The artwork is gorgeous, and everything feels so open even though it is a 2D side-scrolling shmup. The background and colors are vibrant and pop right at you creating some great depth. It was a fun experience overall.
In the story of Drifting Lands you’re a pilot that gets caught up in the politics of the Ark and needing to protect it. Each level is mission based and you can choose to do side missions to be able to get more epic items or much needed money. That part really opened up the whole story telling and overall wasn’t that bad! Each cut scene was just a backdrop of the area you were in and the image of the character speaking, no animation or CGI cut-scenes here. Without spoiling too much of the story you do run into a diverse group of characters each with their own moral drive and feel. They didn’t feel cookie cutter and had a voice even though there were no animations, you could picture the movie in your mind.
Drifting Lands should be on the radar for any shmup fan, with the addition of the action RPG elements it adds great replay value and pull in non shmup fans. The grind for loot will grab you and you’ll want to spend hours getting your ship calibrated to the way you play. I’m not sure if I can look at shmup games the same way again after Drifting Lands.
Note: GameOctane Editor Jason Germino received a code for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience. Check us out at Opencritic!
+ Action RPG + Shmup is amazing
+ Grinding for loot and money doesn't feel like a chore
+ Multiple difficultly levels and grants you bonuses
+ Story and soundtrack help seal the deal
- Ship management was a bit overwhelming at first