DigitalDNA and Signal Studios’ early access game Savage Lands doesn’t respect the player. It hates you. For almost any genre other than the trusty Survival Simulator, this would be a pretty damning way to start a preview, but the genre is meant to be ruthless; throwing you at a harsh landscape and telling you to sort yourself out. However, sometimes Savage Lands may be too unforgiving in areas it really shouldn’t be, and for the $24.99 it is asking for on Steam, that’s a pretty big problem.

While the usual settings for this genre are set in the real world; islands, abandoned towns, underwater etc., Savage Lands takes place in a fantasy world that is obviously really heavily inspired by Skyrim. Big, snowy and craggy, you’re tasked with not only managing your hunger, but also your body temperature. Battling hypothermia will take up most of your time in the game. Darting between campfires, crafting clothes and trying to avoid being caught out at night are your key goals for the early game.

2015-03-14_00003This can result in some fantastic moments. I was stuck alone at night with no fire, no armour and no food, trying to find my camp on the beach as quickly as I could. The cold was slowly biting away at me, my screen becoming monochrome as my health dropped. Savage Lands is very good at making the world feel hostile by giving you the visual feedback you need to know when things are going wrong.

You’ve got your fire, you’ve got some basic clothes and you may even have a crude axe. Now the game requires you to turn to hunting to find the materials you need to improve your gear. Unfortunately, this section of the game can feel repetitive: find a moose, chase a moose, kill a moose, skin a moose, make a hat out of a moose, and repeat.

Sometimes you will be attacked by the fantasy game staple skeletons and wolves, but most of your time will be spent chasing moose around a landscape that just doesn’t change. You might find some buildings, or even the remnants of a town razed to the ground, but there is no change in the landscape itself. You’re always hunting the same animals in the same forest. As you move inland, new enemies slowly start to appear, but this doesn’t do much to improve on the sheer prosaicness of the totally-Skyrim setting.

2015-03-10_00001Savage Lands has a lot of interesting ideas for the early game: the always-present cold and a simple to use crafting system both make for an engaging first couple of hours. Then the game just falls off of a cliff into a sea of monotony. This alone would be acceptable, but it feels like Savage Lands actively encourages the player to restart constantly, rather than persevere and experience the later stages of the game.

The game has two different layers of play: you can make new character profiles, and you can make new worlds. However, the game encourages you to constantly generate new worlds after death due to the scarcity of some equipment; at the start of the first life, there will often be items and tools scattered around close by such as clothes and axes. Death causes this strange bump up in difficult, because you are denied this advantage. Additionally, it will often be later in the day and so the time you have to get set up to avoid freezing to death is shorter. This feedback loop not only punishes newcomers, but actively discourages exploration of the later game which I feel is also the less developed part at present.

2015-03-14_00013Technically, there are some issues. The game doesn’t pause, pressing escape simply opens up a main menu while the rest of the world carries on, leaving you to slowly freeze or be killed. The game also doesn’t run in true fullscreen mode, but as a borderless windowed mode. While this is preferable for some people, it also means my computer was using up more resources than necessary when I went to a different window and also means the game will continue in the same way opening the main menu does. These are both minor technical problems, but both are also fairly large accessibility problems for players who can require frequent breaks. It contributes to a feeling of being taken hostage or imposed upon by the game for no valid reason.

It is in this way that Savage Lands simply doesn’t respect the player or their time. The game encourages you to start again frequently, while technical idiosyncrasies demand an unfair amount of concentration for the entire time you are playing. The ideas Savage Lands presents are great; the idea of an emergent, procedurally generated and survival-focussed Skyrim is instantly appealing. The portions of the game that are developed are engaging, such as the initial scramble for resources and tools. It has a lot of promise, but right now it feels monotonous.

2015-03-15_00010It is in early access though, and the developers are very transparent with future updates and when they are coming. I am absolutely optimistic Savage Lands will be a great game one day.

About The Author

Former Managing Editor

Joe Parlock is an opinionated pop culture writer from the British midlands with 3 years of experience and a passion for being a general grump about games. Starting out before he could walk with a Sega Megadrive and a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, his favourite genres of games includes platformers, stealth, fighting, roguelites and the budding survival sim genre. Joe also writes not only about games, but also other areas of pop culture such as film and TV.

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