Drifting Lands Review: Bullet Hell Action RPG Brilliance

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Sometimes, a game comes along that has you wondering why multiple genres haven’t been combined before.

In the case of Drifting Lands, the genres in question are bullet hell shooter and action RPG, as here, they’re blended masterfully to create an experience that’s accessible yet wonderfully deep.

As you progress through Drifting Lands’ story, over 100 missions will eventually open up to you, spread across no less than ten difficulty brackets. Told via static images and text boxes, it’s unfortunately not got the most gripping narrative in the world, but it gives context to the action, and also allows for the odd curveball to provide some gameplay variety. If you’re the type of player that just wants to get straight down to business though, you’ll do so safe in the knowledge that you’re not going to miss out on much by skipping the story scenes altogether. Like most games, the real draw of Drifting Lands is its gameplay, and that is where it shines.

Scrolling from left to right, the gameplay of Drifting Lands is the traditional bullet hell fare that has you shooting down enemy your enemies while trying to avoid the barrage of bullets and mines that they fire back at you. Enemy ships will appear from all sides of the screen, forcing you to keep your wits about you at all times, and while you can only ever shoot forward, you have a few skills up your sleeve that grant you a great deal of combat versatility.

Just like an action RPG, up to four active skills can be assigned for quick use, as well as two passive skills that are always in effect. As you progress through the story, more advanced skills are made available for purchase, eventually allowing you to highly customise your skill loadout. There are skills that allow you to dash forward through enemies and bullets, skills that emit a damaging blast to everything around you, and even skills that swiftly restore a chunk of your health. Only by making effective use of every skill will you be continually efficient in battle.

Successfully completing missions allows you to engage in what I feel is the best part of Drifting Lands: managing a hangar of ships. Starting out with just one well-balanced ship that’s gifted to you, as you earn credits you can buy new ships and then customise them to your heart’s content. Attribute points can be purchased, bolstering stats such as attack power and HP, and various parts of your ship can be replaced with those looted from missions or bought from the game’s marketplace. Each ship part you obtain has its own range of stats, and in some cases they can even have perks or flaws.

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Those who love games like Diablo will be in their element trying out all the weapon types available to see which one suits their playstyle the most, before embarking on their own personal quest to build the best ship imaginable. It’s a pursuit that becomes engrossing, but each mission could also result in the loss of your much-loved ship if you’re not careful.

Unless you play the game in forgiving mode, being destroyed in a mission can result in you losing everything. If you’ve got other ships in the hangar you’ll have to continue onwards using one of those or purchase a new one, but all the parts and upgrades you equipped on the ship that was destroyed will be gone forever. It’s a harsh system but one that’s fair, adding an element of danger to every mission you undertake. Those who are wise will be quick to manually retreat from any mission that appears to be beyond their skills.

Strictly a single player affair, while Drifting Lands doesn’t have any multiplayer options, it does have a number of challenging missions where your success is ranked on worldwide leaderboards. It’s a nice touch, and one that enables you get an idea of how the ship you’ve built stacks up against others.

Despite its story being a bit of a bore, on the whole, Drifting Lands is a great game. It has beautiful visuals and a wonderful soundtrack, performance is solid, and while the gameplay always runs the risk of becoming repetitive, the strive to develop and improve your hangar of ships means it rarely does. Drifting Lands takes two fantastic genres and marries the best aspects of them together with flair, creating an original and massively addictive experience that deserves to be on your radar.

Drifting Lands is available now on PC.