Crashlands is an Action-adventure game by indy developer Butterscotch Shenanigans. In it, you play as space trucker named Flux Dabes whose ship is destroyed in the middle of a delivery route by a megalomaniacal alien named “Hewgodooko,” and you crash land on an alien planet called Woanope. There, you must gather resources, craft increasingly awesome equipment, domesticate animals, build a base, run quests for the locals, and get rescued so your packages can be delivered on time. If that sounds like a lot, it is, and that is both a good and a bad thing. The game tries to do a lot and for the most part it succeeds, but on some fronts the game is a bit too ambitious for its own good. The gameplay is solid, the world is creative, the writing is likable and brimming with heart, and it does streamline normally painful pieces of your normal resource gathering and exploration game, but at times it feels like it is trying to do too much.
Crashlands is a 2-d isometric action-adventure, and the controls are functional. On PC, you click to move somewhere and you click to interact with something and you have four hotkeys in which you can put bombs, gadgets, and potions. It all runs rather smoothly until you try to click on a resource behind a powerful if nonaggressive creature and you wind up provoking something you weren’t ready to handle. Given that there are so many facets to the gameplay, I will need to take this piece by piece.
The combat in Crashlands pretty much boils down to “don’t be in the red area.” Each creature does have its own attack pattern to learn to make things easier, but all you need to do is not be in the red area and you will be fine. Click on the thing to attack it and try to not draw aggression from any creatures you can’t handle. However, if you do that’s fine because they won’t pursue you for long. There are also bombs and gadgets to add to the flavor of the combat. My personal favorites were the gadget that slowed time and the gadget that temporarily put a laser between my pet and I. The diversity of gadgets and bombs is decent. Your only options in combat are run in circles throwing things, run in when they aren't attacking and smack them with your melee weapon, or some combination of the two. Still, there is enough diversity to give you some decision in how you play, though the styles aren't too different.
The gathering in Crashlands is great for a game of this type. It is almost as though Butterscotch Shenanigans recognized that the gathering can be the most annoying part of these games and so they streamlined it to make it as painless as possible for the most part, but I will get to that later. You have an infinite inventory, so you don’t need to keep trekking back to storage every few minutes before setting off again. Also you can build “harvest bombs” that can get you more resources in an area faster. There is also fishing, which was fun at first, but sadly became tedious after a while. Oddly enough, once I got bored of it I unlocked a new bomb which just blew all of the fish in a spot out of the water.
The crafting is where I begin to have problems with this game. I don’t mind a game making me go out and explore to get legendary weapons and armor. Far from it, I enjoy feeling like I’ve earned what I have. The problem I had is as soon as I finally managed to complete a full set of the newest armor or when I just busted my hump to get all the pieces for a legendary piece of equipment, a new set came up that was strictly better. I have no problem with progression, but I sometimes cursed when something that was pumped up as powerful and that I worked hard to get was suddenly obsolete. It was almost like completing the "Knights of the Nine" expansion in Oblivion early on, then two levels later being mauled by a run-of-the-mill wolf. On top of that is the fact that everything you craft has a wait time, which isn’t bad if it is only a few seconds, but some things forced me to wait as long as five minutes. Granted it does not force you to stay in one place to craft, but waiting that long is a mechanic usually reserved for freemium games so they can make you pay real money to speed up the time, so I don’t quite know why the game sometimes goes nuts with those crafting times.
It is also worthy of note that Crashlands takes the Monster Hunter approach in that your stats are entirely determined by the dead animals you're wearing. However, while Monster Hunter had a bunch of different sets and accessories to customize play style, in Crashlands you just get a random set of buffs on each piece of armor that you can randomly reroll once you get a certain workstation. That is the only diversity you will get as far as equipment goes. This is where the grind becomes slightly obnoxious. Though it is streamlined, it is annoying to have just finished grinding out new armor a short while before just to have to grind out an entirely new set to avoid getting mauled by the wildlife.
I won’t beat around the bush, I don’t know why there is a base building mechanic in this game. There are a lot of options for walls and floors with which you can build and there are all sorts of other decor such as tables, chairs, and trophies. It is a rather extravagant mechanic that has no reason to exist. You aren’t surviving to a high degree, you don’t need to eat or drink, take shelter from the elements, and you’ll never have to take shelter to the point of needing a fortress to stave off wildlife. All you really need is some floor so you can put down a bed and whatever creature nests you need for your pets and you’re good to go. I found myself not even getting excited whenever I got a new crafting recipe because more than half of the time it was something that would have no impact on the game at all. Your base can’t even look all that impressive. There is only one layer of elevation on Woanope and you can’t build up or dig down, so base building effectively becomes drawing in MS paint. That and there are three areas you will travel to in the game, and you have little if any reason to backtrack back to the last area. That means you either need to completely uproot your house and build it again in the new place or just build a completely new one. The only useful bit of this is the ability to farm some of the resources, which really aids in the grind. Aside from that, it just diverts resources you need for other things that will actually help.
You can get an egg of any of the unique creatures of Woanope, and after crafting the nest and waiting the five minutes for the egg to hatch, you can have a domestic version of the creature to take with you on your adventures. You can have as many as you want, but you can only have one following you at a time. I got worried when I first saw this as a mechanic because I thought it was going to become something where the creature would plow headlong into situations, draw aggro from things I wanted to leave alone, and then die like an idiot leaving me to either follow suit trying to resurrect it or leave it until I could plow into the fray. That was not the case at all. Your pet has no health value and will not attack anything unless you attack it first, then it will break engagement if you don’t attack it for a while. That is a companion mechanic done 100 percent right. It can’t be in trouble and it doesn’t get you in trouble.
There are two downsides to this, both are nitpicks but are worth noting. One: you will need to domesticate certain creatures for resources they will provide if you, for lack of a better term, “milk” them. This leads to a grind to get certain eggs that can be really obnoxious to deal with. Two: you have the option of "embiggening" your pets to increase their damage output in a good-natured jab at Pokemon, but to do so you need to craft an item which will require grinding out some tough creatures.
There are a lot of these. I sunk hours and hours into chatting with the side characters and doing tasks for them, and in some cases I’m glad but in others I really think I could have cut my play time by a few hours if I would have let them sit. Sometimes these quests added to the game with new optional bosses or with a new potion or bomb. Other times I spent a long time grinding out resources only to get a new recipe for a piece of furniture that I would never use or some legendary equipment that would be completely obsolete shortly. That created the bizarre phenomenon of the game feeling incredibly padded at times despite its fast pacing, like running on a treadmill on the highest setting. Moving quickly, yet going nowhere. That was not all the time, but enough to get on my nerves a bit. I did also encounter a bug or two where I couldn't complete one of these nonessential side quests, but I had enough on my plate so I wasn't too torn up about it.
Graphics and Audio
Though the designs of the creatures are great and they are fun to discover, the graphics don’t much match the epic feeling the game is going for. In a game like this there should be some volume to the world, some grand landscapes to discover, but as it stands they were just flat tiles with different colors and textures. It felt like I was going through a very creative drawing, especially in the area that is supposed to be on top of a gigantic organism. I expected everything to be moving and pulsating like “Dexter’s Island” in Ape Escape, but instead it just looked like a polluted beach. The graphics aren’t bad, they just don’t fit with the epic feeling that the developers are going for.
The audio is good. Not much outstanding, but nothing really grated on me. The music is good, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy the soundtrack. There were no recurring sounds that made me want to mute the game. It was all very competently done.
Crashlands is a well-done if slightly flabby action-adventure game that tries to juggle a lot of balls and drops a few. The world is creative and fun to be in, if not much to look at. It isn’t a hardcore game, but it isn’t trying to be. Crashlands is a romp through the imagination of the developers, and the world they came up with is not like something I've encountered before. If you’re willing to forgive a little grind, a few forced mechanics, and the occasional “hurry up and wait” if a game has solid writing, good characters, and solid core gameplay, then maybe consider a spell on the planet of Woanope. You won't be disappointed.
|+ Creative world|
– Little equipment variety
+ Quick and painless grinding
– Quests can drag on
+ Many different and unique mechanics
– Useless home building mechanic
|+ Clever writing||– Graphics don't fit epic scope|