Drake Hollow Review: Serenity and Heart
For those perpetually itching to exercise their creativity, survival games have a lure to it like no other. The genre’s sandbox environments have the potential to keep players hooked for hours, days, and even years after they’ve touched every piece of content in a game, combining various elements in unique ways, setting new challenges for themselves, and building structures that test the limits of their imagination.
The Molasses Flood’s Drake Hollow employs a similar formula spliced with colony simulation and a dash of tower defense, all wrapped up in a surprisingly thought-out story. What pulls you in at first blush, however, is a combination of serene visuals, a calming soundtrack, and a level of polish one wouldn’t expect from an indie title, and therein lies the game’s greatest strength.
Magical Lands & Loveable Sentient Turnips
You play a child who walks through a magic door in the woods at the behest of a talking crow, as one does, to help restore a blighted magical realm called The Hollow to its former glory.
Among the affectees of the evil running rampant through The Hollow are the Drake – adorable, vegetable-like creatures with potent magical powers and the disposition of squirrels. You are tasked with protecting and nurturing the Drake – and you’ll want to – so that they may help you drive away the darkness that plagues The Hollow. To that end, you must explore the game’s procedurally generated worlds for lost Drake, gather resources and weapons, fight off hordes of evil creatures called the Feral, provide the Drake with food, water, a cozy bed to sleep in, magical gemstones that help them grow, and sources of entertainment including but not limited to jacuzzies and dance floors. It’s part Fortnite: Save the World, part The Sims but with loveable sentient turnips.
As your colony of Drake grows stronger, so do you – your camp levels up, allowing you to build more advanced structures, your health grows, and you are able to employ more of the Drake’s magical buffs to make your adventure easier. Through the course of the the game’s roughly 17-hour campaign, you will complete quests in four different randomly generated worlds, each a collection of islands separated by deadly quintessence called the Aether.
Explore, Build, Fight, and Babysit
Exploration feels rewarding. It yields more than just crafting materials and weapons, with bits of The Hollow’s history spread all over the game’s world in the form of notes and interactions with hidden NPCs. Every now and then, completing a side-quest will reward you with cosmetics for your character as well, though you may be disappointed to learn that any baseball caps you find can only be worn backwards.
Base building is a relatively simple affair as well, more akin to colony sims than building-focused titles the likes of Minecraft. The most you can do here is place pre-made structures within the fixed bounds of your base, connect them to any resource that they may require to function, protect them from the elements, and repair them after enemy raids, if needed. The only area where you may exercise some creativity is the placement of defensive structures and fences.
Combat isn’t particularly challenging or fleshed out but feels refined. The game features a small variety of fun melee and ranged weapons – such as ski poles and blunderbusses – to defend yourself against an even smaller variety of enemies with limited movesets. Battles aren’t a mindless button-mashing affair, though. You’ll need to dodge and block enemy attacks to land your own. Death isn’t very punishing, with the game giving you the option to be revived back at your base at the cost of reducing the durability of your equipped weapon or to guide your spirit from the base all the way to the site of your demise.
The game’s true challenge lies in keeping your Drake population well fed and entertained. Each Drake can be aged You have to juggle exploration and tending to your leafy friends to ensure they have the means to survive when you’re off on your quests. If you happen to lose a Drake, the game sets you back quite a few minutes of progress. Of course, that loss pales in comparison to the guilt you’ll feel for failing the helpless little thing.
Gameplay’s most satisfying offering, and by quite a margin, would have to be Aether Waypoints – structures that, in addition to forming conduits that transport resources from supply points directly to your base, allows you to surf beams of energy from one island to the other. It may be new favorite traversal mechanic. It isn’t just fun to set up, it looks cool as well.
The Icing on the Cake
Nearly very element in the game is unexpectedly polished, in fact. Base structures, as well as those out in the world, feature high levels of detail, building blueprints have a neat, icy sheen to them, particle effects look sharp, and character animations are smooth, touching AAA levels of finish. The variety of actions the Drake perform around the base is particularly impressive – from Naruto-running around the base and splashing their stalks with water to teetering on the tip of a fence and scampering away in fear if you happen to swing your weapon near them.
Once can’t help but appreciate the amount of work that went into the icing – as I said earlier, it is among the game’s core strengths – though it comes at a price. The game’s campaign is shorter than that of your average survival title. Of course, you could savor your time with the game by picking every island clean, but if you were to focus on completing quests, you are likely to reach the finish line in under 17 hours.
The game’s world is procedurally generated, however, and you’re bound to miss a few secrets through your maiden playthrough. Then there is its co-op support, which allows you to enjoy the campaign with up to three friends, and a Sandbox mode that is yet to make its way to the game. There is no shortage of replay value here.
Drake Hollow is only The Molasses’s Flood’s second game, though you’d be hard pressed to find fault with its design. This may be because the six-year-old indie outfit comprises industry veterans with experience working on AAA franchises the likes of Halo, BioShock, Mortal Kombat, and Rock Band.
You can see the fruits of said experience in the game’s DNA, with its core strength being its calming audiovisual aesthetic, which, and I can attest to this, makes it an excellent pastime at the end of a particularly stressful day. That isn’t to say that the title is merely a pretty face. Its gameplay, while relatively simple, is equal parts rewarding and surprisingly polished.
The only gripe of note is that Drake Hollow’s enticing story is a tad short, though the game does somewhat make up for that with a respectable replay value by virtue of randomly generated worlds, four-player co-op, and an upcoming Sandbox mode.
Drake Hollow is available right now on Xbox and PC through Steam and the Microsoft Store.