Imagine playing Age of Empires, Majesty, and Skies of Arcadia simultaneously. That’s Driftland: The Magic Revival, a strategy game that hit Steam Early Access in November 2017. Already the game’s developer, Polish studio Star Drifters, has already put together a unique spin on a classic PC gaming genre.
In Driftland, you pick a race (only two are currently available: Humans and Dark Elves) and play as Mage Overlord in charge of a new realm. The world of Driftland consists of many floating islands, similar to the SEGA Dreamcast JRPG, Skies of Arcadia. Centuries before the game is set, a great magic war shattered the entire war and it’s only recently that a new source of magic was discovered giving birth to new Mage Overlords.
Like all 4X strategy games, gameplay consists of extracting resources, exploring the surrounding islands, expanding your territory, and exterminating barbarians, monsters, or opposing Mage Overlords.
Similar to Age of Empires, your new realm runs on a variety of resources that have to be extracted from the land. There’s gold, food, lumber, and stone, in addition to more advanced resources like coal, iron, mana, diamonds, and rubies. Also like Age of Empires, your population is set based off of having enough houses (in this case, cottages) but there’s a balancing act to assigning your people to work or not assigning them at all. You have to leave some people unassigned or else your population won’t grow to fill in new housing you have built. Plus, gold is only generated by unassigned members of your population until you can start building gold mines.
Unlike Age of Empires, and more akin to Majesty, you don’t maintain direct control of your units. While you can recruit different kinds of hero units (explorers, knights, mages, etc.), the only way to assert control over them is to essentially bribe them with placeable reward flags. They do typically run to the aid of buildings under attack on their own, but it can be tricky when they don’t immediately rush to help and you are trying to conserve gold.
The explorer unit, in particular, is vitally important to the game’s early game. Explorers function as scouts, but they also allow you to discover advanced resources hidden on an island that may otherwise go unrevealed.
Without direct control of your heroes, Driftlands feels more relaxed, to an extent, since its harder to churn are a large number of units to overwhelm your foes (though still possible). I loved the setting and the aesthetic, and I have high hopes for the eventual Campaign mode since the current iteration of the game has a next-to-no story beyond place setting.
Outside of hero units, your realm population is just a number at the top of your screen with no other visual representation. Buildings are built via magic so there is no micromanaging of units to build things. The animation for buildings coming into existence via magic is spectacular.
More than just looking cool, Driftland’s namesake floating islands are a central part of exploration and expansion. Using special magic abilities only available to Mage Overlords, you can spend mana to move islands close enough to your territory to build bridges. If you aren’t sure you are ready to move an island, there are spells for gaining temporary sight over an area, as well as a gate spell that allows you to magically bridge the gap between different floating islands temporarily. You can also upgrade your heroes with flying mounts.
The more you upgrade your realm’s castle, the greater access to even more powerful spells. Using the assistance of mage heroes, you can terraform an island’s biome into something more beneficial to your race. You can even summon a new island into existence. Coolest of all, you can destroy an island and erase it from existence.
In addition to powerful island-manipulation spells, you also have access to damaging spells, a crowd control spell, and a means to heal your own units. All of these spells take mana which is automatically generated by your castle but can also be generated through mana farms.
In terms of buildings, there isn’t yet a lot of variety, but with so many different resources to manage it’s always interesting deciding what needs to be built next. In terms of the hero units, there are also additional buildings that can turn some of the advanced resources into upgrades or give your mages access to new spells to use in combat.
Driftland already holds a lot of appeal for me. It hits all the high notes with callbacks to a variety of classic games that I love, while bringing new things to the table like manipulating floating islands and having constant access to impactful magic spells. With such an interesting setting, I am excited to see how Star Drifters develops the campaign. While I can see this being a strong multiplayer game, I see a lot of potential in Driftland: The Magic Revival as a single player game, assuming an interesting story gets added in eventually.
Driftland: The Magical Revival is a strategy game worth keeping an eye on.