Today, I wanted to talk a bit about the Black Skylands Early Access and my first impressions. Before we head into the post, I’d like to disclaim that I was provided with a key for the game by the publisher. I didn’t buy it. Honestly, I loved the idea of it initially when I read about it but in the end, no matter how much I wanted to like it, I couldn’t. And this post is hopefully gonna explain why exactly I couldn’t really bring myself to “absolutely loving” the game.
The game itself is a mashup of a bunch of different genres. It’s got elements of Open-World Exploration games, has a bit of Sandbox in there as well as Top-Down Shooter and Action-Adventure mechanics. You set out on a journey as Eva, the proud daughter of the Earners. After a scientific discovery has been made, shit hits the fan quite badly and your homeland is plunged into a relentless struggle against “The Swarm”, a terrifying species who know no mercy and feel no remorse. Sadly, they are not your only problem as sky pirates plague the lands and claim a lot of territories that need your protection after you liberate them.
After a bit of a slower tutorial, you’re essentially set to go out on quests to rebuild the Fathership, your home base. You fly out on your airship and fight sky pirates. You search for resources, find upgrades, sell goods, develop the Fathership and eventually, you hit a wall. The crafting is very satisfying, in my opinion, but eventually, you’ll need to progress the story to unlock more areas and better upgrades. Similarly, the story is quite interesting actually with some lore behind it, unique characters and a bunch of cool cutscenes… but I kind of hate how the game forces you to craft new upgrades in order to progress with the story or how it forces you to progress with the story to craft new upgrades. I enjoy both aspects but sometimes, I just wanna rebuild this island here… but I can’t because I need more resources… and for those, I need to do this quest, I guess.
The core gameplay loop of exploring, liberating, upgrading, and defending is quite satisfying initially but three hours in I feel like it’s a bit slow-paced overall and it gets boring quite fast.
Don’t get me wrong. I had fun… but I feel like Black Skylands is trying to be the “Jack of all trades, master of none”, even promoting itself as “the first video game in the Skypunk genre that combines elements of Open World, Sandbox, Top-Down Shooter and Action/Adventure.” I’d say that I love the idea behind that but the execution is poor overall. Combat is lacking depth, the sandbox mechanics are frustrating since resources don’t respawn, the game feels somewhat grindy, and the fact that the “Open-World” isn’t super open (due to the increasing power-creep and story-related restrictions) is quite annoying overall.
What I’d change is to maybe add RPG mechanics to add depth to the game if you really want to emphasize combat so much with all the weapon upgrades and stuff. Add trading into the game making the money-income you have meaningful and allowing you to set up production lines to emphasize the simulation/sandbox aspects… or you get rid of the enemies that get stronger and instead add new types of enemies into the game in further areas. I mean, seeing the same enemy but 10x stronger is boring. Seeing a new enemy or some new boss, however, is quite exciting.
Maybe I’m just expecting too much here from an Early Access title at this stage. Maybe I’m just expecting too much here because the game is trying to be so many things. It’s got elements to it that remind me of Sunless Skies and Merchant of the Skies … but it doesn’t have the good aspects of those games in there. It tries to be a Top-Down Shooter but the gamepad controls suck for whatever reason and the combat gets rather boring.
Well, I don’t know. The tutorial was slow, the game is missing action, and the fun parts aren’t that satisfying anymore because the developers don’t let me progress through some of the quests because my equipment is too bad but I can’t upgrade it because there are no resources around for it.
Honestly, I really want to like Black Skylands and may have to play some more and see if it gets any better but at this stage, I feel like it’s trying to be too many things… but it’s not really performing well at any of it. Luckily, a lot of things can change in the Early Access phase. I’ll stay tuned. I’ll play a lot more of it probably because, in essence, I don’t want to dislike this title. I love Skypunk stuff. I love the concept. I really wanna like this game. I’ll keep y’all updated. Check out Black Skylands over here if you haven’t yet.