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Considering all the sandbox games I’ve found myself in lately, Lantern Forge is probably the most enjoyable. Its whimsical style reminds me of Runescape with a dash of Minecraft, while something about its progression smacks vaguely of a mobile game but without the annoying in-app purchases. Although I am not a fan of anime, its low-key JRPG art is nostalgic and pleasant. I was surprised with how much fun I had. Sure, there are some issues, but the regularly updated content should flush out the bugs in its cracks.

Similar to many sandbox titles, you start the game in the middle of a procedurally-generated landscape.  Absent of tutorials, new players will want to study the dense but not overwhelming UI for a moment before jumping into the action.  In the top right corner you’ll find the day/time menu, the game menus, inventory, skills and clicking the arrow tab reveals location information.  In the top-left corner are the crafting and character tabs.

Bottom-center is a menu seemingly torn from an MMO.  Here you’ll find health, mana, hunger, fatigue, combat and placement, experience and a small items hotbar.  One of the cool features is that pressing the mode-toggle in the middle, hotkey spacebar, will change your menu from light blue placement mode into blood red combat mode. This feature changes the gameplay and what you can do, too.

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I want to write a love poem for this UI.

When you start, you are in placement mode. This is the standard mode for the surface world and the game’s sandbox side. Its name comes from the placement of blocks. Generally, if you want to build, farm and breed animals, you’ll be in placement mode. To the right of the toggle button is the placement buttons.

Before I found these buttons, I thought Lantern Forge was severely glitched: I could chop trees from what seemed like 10 feet away. Either my character belonged in the Fantastic Four, or I missed something. Clicking the first button displays the character’s build range, but it’s more like a radius of influence. You can reach anything in this circle, and it generally makes gathering materials easier than moving uncomfortably close to everything you want to harvest. The next two buttons let you “rotate” objects before you place them, but a better way to think of it is cycling through the available object-styles. The last button lets you place objects between levels, and is how you get stairs going down to the dungeon levels, where blood is shed by the gallon!

In combat mode, you fight enemies. Simple. Switching to this mode flips from Dr. Sandbox into Mr. Hack ‘n’ Slash as your placement mode options switch into a skills hotbar. When you level up, you will have skill options to put points into, with each part of the skill tree having its own passive and active abilities. There are three combat skill trees and each slots active skills into your hotbar: hunter for range, knight for melee, mage for magic. There is one general skill tree, adventurer, for a variety of skills affecting combat and sandboxing, but this skill tree is composed of passive abilities. Combat primarily takes place underground, but as you get stronger, more enemies will appear on the surface. During the day, monsters tend to stay in their dens, but at night the forest becomes infested with monsters, so having the mode-toggle hotkeyed to the spacebar makes a rapid switch easy.

At last my master plan has come to fruition! WOODEN STAIRS!

At last my master plan has come to fruition! WOODEN STAIRS!

Many of the sandbox elements of the game focus on crafting and building with a variety of other activities in which to take part. Honestly, the last time I was this overloaded with things to do was in Kindergarten. To craft, you can either click on one of the multitudinous workbenches or just click the crafting tab in the top-left corner. Crafting is a matter of simply selecting what you want to make and clicking on the finished product, which can then be placed into your inventory or hotbar. While you have the ability to craft a healthy array of things from the start, getting the materials to do so takes time. At the start though you are crafting things from stone or picking up rocks by hand. Oh, and by “picking rocks up by hand” I mean “beating piles of rock into submission with your bare fists like a lunatic.” Virtually the same, really.

Once you are able to build your house, you can start on workbenches. As stated, there are a lot of these, and they give you access to a number of activities: a gardening workbench can craft seeds from fruits and flowers, an anvil can forge tools and weapons, etc. Underground you’ll mine ores, which are smelted into ingots for forging, but you can also use metal to make coins and other neat sundries, and most materials have multiple uses.

My favorite item to craft in this game are the lanterns of its namesake. These add additional distance to your base sight radius in darkness, can be enchanted like nearly every other piece of equipment and are indestructible. While other items might decay through use or after you die, the lanterns and jewelry do not, which makes them a solid investment for enchanting.

Enchantments also make things expensive. Of course, if it is a single-player game, who would you sell items to? Another really cool surprise I got from this game was another sort of workbench, but instead of crafting items, this one helps you craft a town. The giant lantern in the middle of the town is your Town Center and it allows you to craft various shops, which I lined up along the side of my workshop. Getting materials for them is slow but they’re useful. Their inventories are geared toward a theme, which, in turn, is based on the workbench used to craft the shop. For instance, a gardening workbench produces a farmer’s supply shop, and supplies you you with seeds, food, plants and tools. Unlocking each shop is exciting, too, as you get access to a variety of new items, and the shops even rotate their stock, which adds even more excitement! Your town center also helps craft various colored portals, but I was unable to get far enough to see what they do. Still very mysterious.

You are likely to be eaten by a Grue… if the goblins don’t get first dibs!

You are likely to be eaten by a Grue… if the goblins don’t get first dibs!

Weapons and enchantments become pretty important in the underground, especially your lantern, which dictates your visible distance. Combat can be tough, especially at first, but it gets gradually easier. Be careful, though: each level you go down increases the strength of foes. Overall, it’s easy to underestimate how hard the game can be, but it’s never that tough to adjust your strategy to compensate. Besides, periodic difficulty spikes keep you on your toes. My biggest issues with the game lie in crafting. Crafting is fun, but it feels a bit incomplete.  In some of the screenshots above you can see that floors don’t exist yet, nor can you create second floors and roofs.  This takes away from the creativity of players.  Also, progressing through the technology of the game is slow and finding ores on the easiest levels is rather difficult, so you’ll end up with a couple chests of dirt.  In order to get much deeper, though, you need weapons and tools crafted from metals.

Lantern Forge is a great game which has some amazing little details to balance out its current shortcomings. After hours in-game, I am still finding neat little details that make this title satisfying. Procedural generation in this game is also well disguised as everything has been given due attention. Even the loot items vary from just different colorations of items you can already make, and there is a lot in the underground that you can find but cannot craft. Its art and music also add to this game’s ambiance, starting off winsome and colorful in the day and turning dark and ominous at night. This title splices two genres seamlessly and has a reasonable 9.99$ price tag on Steam. Hi-five to the devs on this one; it deserves a loving fanbase.

 

Sparking the Flames in Lantern Forge
Pros
  • great style and atmosphere
  • enjoyable crafting system with strong variety
  • fun combat with good leveling and skills systems
Cons
  • unfinished building construction system
  • slow technological progression
  • sometimes frustrating AI
8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
8.4