February 20, 2017 3:00 PM | Thomas Faust
It takes a very specific mindset to fully enjoy the genre mix that Alkemi's Drifting Lands brings to the table, but if you can stand the repetition, its gameplay loop of shooting and looting can be positively mesmerizing.
Taking its inspirations both from classic horizontal shoot 'em ups and loot-heavy action RPGs, Drifting Lands has you flying your ship through increasingly difficult levels while picking up shiny new stuff. Inbetween missions, you'll equip new parts, sell the ones you don't need, and redistribute your stats in order to make your flying killer machine ever more efficient, which is very satisfying.
There a different skills you can acquire and tailor to your preferred way of playing. From a powerful short-range attack to a bunch of fireballs surrounding you or a bullet-reflecting shield, there's quite a bit of variety, further complemented by a set of passive skills which allow for all kinds of fun builds. Despite this being a shoot 'em up, getting up close and personal is definitely an option with the right set of skills.
The game is intentionally light on story, it's all about gameplay. And make no mistake, this is a grind, an endlessly repeating series of levels and enemies. This is not something you play for the thrill of mastering a difficult level with limited lives, this is a game you play to zone out. You do have to pay attention to the onscreen action, but it's not like you have to actively keep a long-term strategy in mind or something like that. Just survive the onslaught, that's all.
If you get shot down, you lose whatever loot you just picked up, but other than that the game lets you try as often as you like. Let your mind wander, shoot stuff, get rewards - this is a loop I can fully get behind. It feels good. Changes to this formula are introduced so slowly and gradually that you won't really be aware of them.
On the one hand, this doesn't interrupt the flow, on the other hand it sometimes adds to that feeling of repetition. A little more variation in enemy design would greatly benefit the game. That's not to say that it looks bad. Far from it: the level backgrounds in particular are lovely and the whole presentation is well done, with some rather charming character design.
Drifting Lands hits a sweet spot for me and I already lost a few very enjoyable hours to its pleasant loop of shooting and looting. The developer is patching the game quite regularly, adding both balance fixes as well as new content every few days, so I guess I'll be playing this one for a while. While your expectations for shmups might be different, you could do worse than to check out the demo - you might find this to be an interesting genre mix and an excellent game to tune out to.