Blagust Day 10: Savage Lands – Early Access Impressions

Sun, sea and surf....

From afar, Savage Lands looks gorgeous.

I have to admit that I was initially attracted to it, as opposed to most other survival sandbox games, for this somewhat shallow reason. It looks kind of like Skyrim. Could it recreate the immersive feeling of Skyrim, in a survival setting?

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I wasn’t keen on finding out at the full price, while it was still in Early Access, avoiding such games as a matter of habit, but Steam cleverly read that a lot of people had this game on their wishlist and slashed prices by 60%. At $8, being able to try it out as it undergoes various updates over time and supporting its developers seemed like a steal.

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Up close, however, it gets somewhat more disappointing. The seams of the textures become obvious, the resolution is not that great, many of the bushes appear to have no substance whatsoever, being almost flat textures, and so on.

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The animations are awkward as hell, when you look at your own shadow.

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Each mouse click that swings an axe or hammer basically looks like this: Picture yourself taking a crouched haka stance… now freeze every part of your body, and swing one arm. Just that one arm. Up and down.

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Ugh.  It’s stiffer than a mannequin could achieve, and breaks practically all the rules of Animation 101.

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The sky’s still pretty, though.

The above anecdote about its visuals pretty much encapsulates the rest of the game as well, with the caveat that everything is still in Early Access, so the extent of the changes from now to launch is still unknown.

On the face of it, Savage Lands has something going for it here. Survival in a Skyrim-esque setting, with the promise of local singleplayer, friendly PvE multiplayer and free-for-all/hostile PvP multiplayer servers.

Hey, look, they managed to cater to all three subgroups of survival-liking players, how awesome is that already?

What it has does function, if in a basic manner.

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You start out crash-landed (via boat) on the shores of the Sundered Isle.

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There is a basic quest tutorial about stuff that you can collect and build.

Helpful items are spawned/placed fairly nearby so that you don’t immediately starve to death or otherwise die before figuring out what’s going on.

There are three meters that need to be looked after and maintained – fairly standard tropes in a survival game – Cold, Health, Hunger.

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Hunger, thankfully, doesn’t plunge as fast as certain other games *cough Don’t Starve cough* so there is time to putter around without a supreme sense of urgency. Which is good, because it takes a while to source out food.

There doesn’t seem to be any farming in the game as yet, so one is constantly foraging – either via the random hacking down of flora in the hopes that some berries or tree nuts pop out (disappointingly, there don’t seem to be any visual indicators as to plant-based food sources as yet either, so it’s been mostly Grand Theft Lumberjack) or via hunting animals.

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The hunting of deer is one of the better done ‘gameplay’ moments in Savage Lands so far.

Deer spook and run easily when you get close. So you have to “walk slowly” aka press the Ctrl key and “pretend to crouch and sneak through grasses” (no animations for those yet) and sneak up on the deer, if you hope to clobber them with a melee weapon.

It takes at least three hits to down the deer, so some patient stalking is in order.

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Fortunately, after a few repeated backstab rogue impersonations, you generally earn enough hide/sinew to make a bow.

Hurrah for ranged attacks. After crafting some flint arrows, the next hurdle is get the hang of actually using it. Right mouse button draws back the bow, left mouse button fires. The arrow arcs, and doesn’t quite go where your crosshairs are, so you have to compensate by aiming a little higher and/or shooting a few tracer arrows.

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The whole process ends up a pretty satisfactory simulation of deer hunting without making it impossibly annoying and time-consuming, and feels extremely rewarding because you almost always welcome the deer meat and you’re perpetually bottlenecked on animal leather products like hide, sinew and strong sinew.

Wolves are a little weird, aka the AI might still need to be worked on a little.

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Normally, the only way I realize a wolf is around is when I hear the growl and look down to see one of them nipping at my heels. It’s like they just appear around my ankles.

They take around 5 axe hits to slay, and the first few hits usually end up as an exchange of blows (with one caveat) and after they’re wounded, they seem to like running away for a short distance or running in wide circles…

Ok, this fella is a plague wolf and takes about 10 hits. Similar AI though.

Ok, this fella is a plague wolf and takes about 10 hits. Similar AI though.

…though ironically, they almost always come back, so it’s just a matter of letting them run themselves around a mulberry bush and taking another swing when they approach.

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Skeletons move slowly and otherwise seem to aggro like wolves initially. Then they’ll just inexorably close on you, and keep coming.

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Fortunately, the general caveat of -any- fighting in Savage Lands presently is that all you have to do is melee kite the buggers, and they’ll take a swing and miss, at which point you run up and whack them once or twice and then back off once again before they can take a second swing… which also misses, rinse and repeat. Really, just back away and most of the damage is minimized.

Nothing has seemed terribly challenging as yet, but then I haven’t fought bears or -the- dragon, which is just as well, while I’m merely getting my feet wet.

This fellow... the pride of the loadscreen, he is.

This fellow… the pride of the loadscreen, he is.

Health, by the by, is maintained by not getting hurt, using bandages when the bleeding effect is on you (I bled to death once when I didn’t have any on me), and bandaging up or eating food for a little health recovery.

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Knew I was a goner. it was just a matter of trying to get as close to base camp as possible before bleeding out, to make corpse retrieval easier. (It’s cute that we call it CR out of habit, when “item” retrieval is more appropriate these days.)

Lesson learned. Bring bandages.

Lesson learned. Bring bandages.

If you die, you turn up at your spawn point, having left your possessions at the corpse, which you can go and retrieve.

They kindly put an icon for you to indicate where your corpse lies. Which is all very good, because it'll probably be like hunting for a needle in the haystack otherwise.

They kindly put an icon for you to indicate where your corpse lies. Which is all very good, because it’ll probably be like hunting for a needle in the haystack otherwise.

Not too horrific in a singleplayer or friendly game, it’s not permadeath by any means, but I suppose it’s pretty much wave goodbye to your stuff on a PvP server.

Cold is the nastiest and most punishing meter to maintain in the Savage Lands. Wandering anywhere without shelter or clothing, especially when it starts snowing, plays utter havoc on this bar. Naturally, if it drops to zero, bad things happen to your health bar after that. The sound effects when your avatar gets cold and starts shivering and panting do offer pretty immersive and useful audio feedback. To recover one’s body heat, you are essentially required to stand by a campfire or other shelter for an obnoxiously long period of time.

Let's see, from 21%, it needs to rise to 100%. *sighs* *admires my other campfire in the distance for lack of anything better to do*

Let’s see, from 21%, it needs to rise to 100%. *sighs* *admires my other campfire in the distance for lack of anything better to do*

Apparently, this contributes to a communal gathering of manly men around a campfire on a friendly server, and I suppose produces enough boredom in players that they might start socializing with each other to kill time, but in a solo singleplayer game, it’s mostly a good excuse to flip screens and look for a video to watch.

As for resource collection and crafting, there is nothing terribly new or earthshaking here, it seems to stick to the same conventions as its genre – conventions that I wasn’t used to and did throw me off for a time.

Use axe to chop trees to get wood sticks and logs. I got that part. No problem. Seems “realistic” enough.

Except for the part where all my logs insist on rolling away from the campfire because of a tiny nearly imperceptible gradient

Except for the part where all my logs insist on rolling away from the campfire because of a tiny nearly imperceptible gradient change in elevation.

Get leather and sinew and hide from hunting animals. Got it. Makes sense.

Get stones and flint. Where the hell do I get those? I ended up operating off vague recollections of A Tale in the Desert’s gathering of flint from shorelines and picking up bits of stone from the beach. It took a significantly longer time before I remembered Don’t Starve and thought to a) make a hammer, and b) hit rocks with it.

Manna from rocks...

Manna from rocks…

Oh my. What a sudden bonanza of flint, stones, coal, and metal ore of varying qualities and more…

Things Survival Games Taught Me #1 – If you’re ever trapped on a desert island, you just need to break rocks with a sledgehammer and you’ll be fine and on your way out of the Stone Age.

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The crafting window in Savage Lands is also somewhat ugly in terms of UI, but functional. Pressing K brings up an entire window of options, with tabs for different things like armor, food, miscellaneous gear, repairing tools. Select the option you want, click the “Craft” button, and given the availability of resources and any necessary buildings in the vicinity like a firepit or a forge, it will auto-magically appear with a clang into your inventory.

The last interesting bit about Savage Lands at the moment is its lack of a map.

This, coupled with the biome presently being all snowy trees and bushes and plenty of grass and undulating gentle slopes and random bits of rock scattered possibly procedurally across the landscape, makes for an instant recipe of getting lost in the wilds fairly quickly and makes exploration rather difficult, to say the least.

Hell, every time I take off after a deer that takes off, my stomach clenches slightly because it’s liable to take me far into the woods and make it hard to find my way back.

Fortunately, it is possible to craft a rudimentary compass that assists somewhat with general directional navigation.

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So far, my main strategy is that I’ve set up camp by a scenic part of the beach, with mainly three directions I travel in. Along the shoreline in one direction, along the shoreline in the other direction, and more or less a straight line inland.

Following the shoreline is relatively easy, and allows me to navigate back by virtue of turning around 180 degrees and following the shoreline back the other way.

The straight line inland has been more of a challenge, even with the compass, and I have concocted an awkward strategy of setting up multiple firepits and campfires (since I need to keep warm constantly anyway) in a straight sight line (any foliage in the way is chopped down) so that I can follow the trail of firepits back to base camp, even if the fires have gone out.

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My lifeline firepit on the horizon… Home lies thattaway.

Savage Lands, unfortunately, has a present dearth of content. Beyond the occasional wolf, deer, skeleton or even plague wolf and armored skeleton encounters, traveling inland generally leads to seeing trees, trees and more trees and the odd burned out ruined building every once in a blue moon.

Biggest village I've stumbled across. All abandoned though.

Biggest village I’ve stumbled across. All abandoned though.

Oh, and the dragon responsible for said burned-out buildings can be sometimes seen circling in the sky or perched on a rock being a right terror.

Apparently, when you're the king of a deserted island, you amuse yourself at night by spraying fire

Apparently, when you’re the king of a deserted island, you amuse yourself at night by spewing fire around at nothing whatsoever. Or maybe he just -really- doesn’t like mosquitoes.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have much of a brain, or it fancies itself too high-and-mighty to worry about a little mouse busy making the world’s largest smoke signal with a line of burning firepits and it hasn’t flown down to investigate yet.

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Every so often, I think about lobbing an arrow in its direction to begin the “dragon boss” combat encounter (as is announced in the scrolling ‘updates’ bar before you start the game proper) and then just as frequently think the better of it and decide to do more tree and rock-punching until I accumulate enough resources to craft the ‘best’ armor and weapons first.

The game does have some potential. What it has, does function. With more content and interesting things to see and do and fight when exploring, it may be fairly promising.

As of now though, this is pretty much what you expect to see everywhere you go. Trees, trees, more trees, and oh, that dragon taunting you.

As of now though, this is pretty much what you expect to see everywhere you go. Trees, trees, more trees, grass, snow and oh, that dragon flapping around.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, S for (not-quite) Skyrim  and Started-Early-On-Blog-Post-For-Once, and the number 10.