Developed by The Molasses Flood, Drake’s Hollow is another entry in the crafting/survival/management genre that is filled with the usual tropes and design choices but adds just enough new additions to the formula – along with one much appreciated narrative choice – to help keep it fresh and engaging.
Your story begins – after you’ve chosen from one of four lightly customisable characters – as you’re placed in the shoes of a troubled young adult whose life seems to be falling apart, and is then derailed even further as a talking bird whisks you away to the much-like-our-world-but-not, The Hollow. Before long the weight of this world is placed upon your shoulders in a life or death situation that makes your previous problems seem paltry by comparison.
The Hollow is home to the eponymous Drakes, vegetable-based lifeforms whose world has been corrupted by a noxious, ocean-like miasma called The Aether, hostile creatures called Ferals and a much larger threat. The peace-loving Drakes have all been forced into hibernation and it’s your job to awaken and protect them while exploring the various islands of land not covered by Aether. And if you survive and save the Drake’s, you may just get to go home.
There’s a distinct air of sadness and melancholy that runs through Drake’s Hollow, a feeling compounded by the sparsely used score. Exploring the deserted, broken world – the ghosts of former inhabitants sometimes visible – drives home the tragedy that has occurred, belying the colourful and stylised visuals.
Most games in this genre are usually content to drop you into the world with just a loincloth to make your way, hiding the story in notes and journals that only the most adventurous of gamers will find. Drake’s Hollow, while not the most vocal game in the crafting genre, presents its story to you in a clear fashion, with each level reached and island explored adding more to your understanding of the world. You won’t have to search too hard for the notes that tell the tales of other people brought here to save the world and your personal story is presented during loading screens with comic-style panels. Further exposition is provided by the various animal avatars you encounter per level.
These two additions – a clear story and quests – go a long way to providing Drake’s Hollows with a definitive path forward and eliminate much of the fluffing around and creating your own path that most crafting games employ. It’s not that I have anything against that emergent style of gameplay, but sometimes it’s nice having the path and endgame in view.
Saving the Drakes is your primary focus, along with keeping them alive and safe. They’re your best resource as they provide you with various gameplay buffs such as extra melee damage or, my favourite, longer time between Raids. The Drakes will also supply you with charms for crafting and will do all the building for any plans you lay down. Drake’s need to sleep, eat, drink and be entertained. The game warns you that they can literally die of boredom, but I haven’t seen that happen. Drake’s can also be matured, with the various stages in their lifecycle requiring more resources but also increasing their buff percentages. It becomes, in later levels, a delicate balancing act of providing for their enjoyment versus crafting your settlement.
In between, you’ll need to explore the various islands in the level for resources for food and crafting your settlement. The islands are usually plagued by ferals who come in small, medium and large sizes. Defeating them nets you more resources and a short time for exploration before they respawn. Cutting down trees, searching cars, all provide you with the stuff you need. Good resource management early on becomes important as the cost of builds increases as you unlock further enhancements.
Between exploring the world, you’ll need to build up your campsite. Initially, it’s all small stuff, leaf beds, places to grow vegetables, but soon you’ll be unlocking more items to build like generators, fences, bunk beds, etc as your camp levels up. The avatars will provide you with the quests that help you to level your camp while imparting more world knowledge. You’ll craft items to allow you to navigate the aether and waypoints that create beams of light for you to travel on later which becomes a huge time saver, but also needs to be planned properly.
The biggest threat to your camp comes in the form of Raids that happen like clockwork. The ferals will assault your camp ruthlessly and there are few things as heartbreaking as watching all your carefully planned work destroyed in one move.
Once you’ve reached a specific camp level, a boss invades your camp with ads. Defeat it and you move onto the next level which is another procedurally generated landscape though your camp state follows on through.
Which brings me to the games biggest issue: combat. You have a few basic attacks and combos with light and heavy attacks, but it isn’t fully-featured enough to be effective against multiple opponents. There’s no real lock-on and your guard can be broken but the system feels stilted and death can happen often, especially during Raids. Thankfully you can run in a ghostly form back to your body or respawn at camp with only some light weapon degradation as the cost. You have the option of melee attacks or ranged attacks but ranged ammo is very sparse. I found it the preferred method of fighting when I could afford to.
Shortly after the intro, you’ll unlock the games multiplayer component which lets you invite friends into your world. You can play solo, but at later levels, it really does feel like the game was designed with multiple players in mind, especially as the combat difficulty increases. Unfortunately, I couldn’t test the MP out as I had no one to test it with, but I could see how useful it would be to break up the gameplay loop into various tasks for each player.
While you can’t fully customise the game’s rules to your liking, when starting a new game you’ll be given a variety of options which ranged from the default gameplay and story settings to a more hardcore experience to a story focused playthrough.
Drake’s Hollow may not necessarily do anything trailblazing new with the genre, but what it does do, it does well with just enough changes to make it worth your time.
This review is based on the Xbox version of the game which is free on Game Pass or £24.99 and can be purchased and downloaded here.
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