I get it, let’s move on
It’s easy to settle into playing Crashlands. To start, it takes on the fairly well-trodden survival genre, where players start with nothing, punch some trees, harvest resources, and eventually build fantastic items. It most closely resembles Klei’s Don’t Starve, but with a much more colorful palette, a structured narrative, and no permadeath.
The major problem comes as a result of those latter two tweaks. In telling this story and allowing for respawning with only a minor penalty, a game that’s good in short bursts is transformed into a 30+ hour experience. In that context, it doesn’t hold up.
It’s a shame, because there’s a lot Crashlands does well. Right away, the art style hits with bold-but-not-overwhelming palettes and crisp sprites. The alien creatures are often based off real animals, but they are altered in creative ways to be more interesting. The biggest highlight is the combat, which is simple enough to control on a touch screen but deep enough to keep players engaged when a new monster shows up.
Theoretically, the combat can be approached as a purely skill-based endeavor. Movement and attacks are controlled by a simple mouse click, but knowing when to move in for a swipe and when to retreat to safety is the key. Each enemy telegraphs its upcoming attack with easily visible red marks on the ground, so it’s possible to dodge all incoming attacks and come out of any one-on-one battle unscathed, regardless of gear.
Of course, new weapons and armor will allow for more room for error and faster battles, so it’s still worth going through the harvest/build/craft gameplay loop for gear. This is where things go downhill. At first it makes sense: you have a woodworking station to make items from the trees. Use that to make a stoneworking station. Of course stone is better than wood! Better gear up again.
Eventually, it stops making sense and starts to be repetitive. What’s this red faucet thing? I don’t know, but it’s used to make armor out of this squishy plant. Yes, that armor is better than the crystal armor you made a couple hours ago. A centrifuge? Sure, that can be used to make a sword. My life in Crashlands follows the same pattern: kill creature, use its resources to build a crafting station, craft new gear, use that gear to kill a more difficult creature, repeat.
The tedium is mitigated a bit by the engagement of the combat, but even that wears thin after doing it for too long. Essentially, each monster attack is like a minigame that needs to be learned. The enjoyment comes from the learning; executing the same battle fifty times in order to grind crafting materials is not exciting.
After about 20 hours of play, I’m only in the second area of three. Given how little changed in essence between the first and second area, I don’t expect the third to be any different in this regard. While I will still probably see it through to the end, I’m not especially looking forward to it. Thinking back, most of my time spent with Crashlands I have been occupied with it, which is not the same as being entertained. I’m not hating it, but at this point I get it; were it not for the desire to see how the story ends (and to write a full review), I’d probably give up now.