Driftland: The Magic Revival is a deep but gentle slice of fantasy strategy

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Land! It’s the one thing that people just aren’t making more of these days. When you think of real-time strategy games, one of the more underrated tactics in establishing dominance over the opposition comes from having control of the terrain around you. Conquest requires expansion, building a base means having sufficient space to do so and so on and so on.

What of the terrain itself though? Space is just one aspect of the RTS product, but having a landscape that has an actual impact on your strategy and eventual clashes with rival armies always seems like an afterthought in many an RTS title. The usual formula boils down to “here’s a patch of ground with some resources for you to mine” and off you go.

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Driftland: The Magic Revival feels like a solid attempt to break that formula up. A slice of strategy with a dollop of fantasy thrown on top of it, Driftland’s take on territory feels fresh and magical. Sure, you’re still sending units off to explore and gather the necessary resources for the growth of your civilisation, but here’s the catch: The land around you isn’t a constant.

Instead, you’re starting out on a lone island that happens to be surrounded by an arcane archipelago that is ripe for conquest. Islands hide mysteries in a hazy fog that obscures your vision, magical connections between them need to be made and there’s also a chance that you might find yourself wandering right into the middle of an enemy’s own plan for real estate domination.

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It’s a neat idea, punctuated by the very real cost of not only upgrading your own homebase, but also the higher upkeep required for your more distant outposts in Driftland. The economy reflects the number of citizens plying their trade in your new kingdom, battles have a more distinct hands-off approach as your troops amble around and wage war without much guidance and the peasants continue to contribute to your coffers.

It’s weird, because Driftland feels both gentle and hectic at the same time once all the elements are in place. You could be watching a battle unfold while one of your troopers rides a dragon into the thick of the conflict, leaving your attention to be focused on your own base-building as you cast magic spells and grab some land in the ensuing chaos.

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For an Early Access game, Driftland is already spinning plenty of plates with its core gameplay loop, four playable races and a learning curve that can be steep yet gentle. It has a delightfully soft aesthetic to gawk at, the idea of chaining islands into a kingdom is fascinating and the overall sandbox feels like an intentional design to be marvelled at as even the most chaotic of skirmishes feels kind of…chill.

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Real time strategy that mixes magic with relaxation and a deep system of ideas that you can learn at your leisure? That’s the kind of game that I could easily spend an afternoon with as I spend hours searching and taming magical islands.

Last Updated: March 7, 2019

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