Side-scrolling action RPGs, or side-scrolling games with RPG elements are becoming pretty commonplace in the indie scene, with numerous games combining action platforming with loot gathering and inventory management. Drifting Lands bucks this trend and sets out on a relatively new course, mashing together an old-school side-scrolling shooter with some bullet-hell elements with random loot drops, unlockable skills and an RPG style progression system. It’s not always the most successful of fusions, but more often than not it makes for a compelling and enjoyable shoot and loot experience.
When it comes to story, Drifting Lands veers more towards the side-scrolling shooter side than the RPG side. It’s rather cursory and eminently forgettable. You play a hotshot pilot after a cataclysm that has broken the world into floating islands or something. The Brass doesn’t like you but you can prove yourself by completing dangerous missions and blah, blah, blah. When it comes to action though, Alkemi quickly shows it has a grasp on the fundamentals of both shooter and RPG design, with the two seamlessly meshing to very satisfying effect. Shoot your way through waves of enemies, grab loot and money, and use that loot and money to upgrade your ship before the next mission.
Rather than having character classes, players instead have three classes of ship they can initially choose from – a fast glass cannon, balanced fighter or a slow tank. Throughout the game the player can upgrade their ship and buy the others, chopping and changing between them as fits a mission. Each component of a ship is essentially an inventory slot that can be upgraded through random pickups dropped by enemy ships or purchased at a rather exorbitant price from a vendor. Upgrading engines boosts speed, manoeuvrability and can also boost the power of special abilities, armour gives more health and so on.
Rather than having character classes, players instead have three classes of ship they can initially choose from...
In addition to being able to upgrade the ship, players can also equip up to four active abilities and two passive abilities. Active abilities are essentially the spells of Drifting Lands, working on a cooldown timer but having a palpable effect, creating shields, repairing damage done to the ship, doing massive damage or the like. Passive abilities enhance the ship in a more subtle way, the most important being the ability to automatically retreat from combat if you take too much damage, leaving behind any collected loot but saving you from the ship based permadeath of the standard gameplay mode. If players don’t want to worry about death or prefer to experiment with loadouts safely, a more forgiving mode is available as well.
The only place the game really falls down is when it comes to repetition. A combination of limited backgrounds and equally limited mission structure makes too many of the 100 or so missions feel all but identical. There is a decent range of enemies and the shooting is genuinely good, but when you do it over and over again in front of the same background everything melds together into an amorphous mass.