Not So Massively: Drake Hollow is the wholesome survival game we need right now

    
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I’ve talked in the past about liking survival mechanics in games, but not so much survival games themselves. There are a couple of reasons for this, one being the genre’s cutthroat PvP focus. This has left me hungry for a good PvE survival game. For a time, Fortnite seemed like it could provide that, but then battle royale happened, and the PvE mode was shuffled off to the side and all but forgotten.

Enter a new contender: Drake Hollow, a warm and colorful survival game about protecting plant creatures in a mystical otherworld. Could it succeed where Fortnite failed?

Drake Hollow begins on a somber note; suffice it to say that your character’s life isn’t going the way you’d want it to. It is in this dark moment that you make contact with a mystical crow, who needs their help and beckons you to another realm, where your talents are needed.

One thing I found interesting about Drake Hollow off the bat is that it joins New World and Magic: Legends in eschewing binary gender choices. You chose from one of two body types, one leaning stereotypically masculine and the other more stereotypically feminine, but no other choices are tied to this. The faces are pretty androgynous and can work for just about any gender identity, and you can choose any hairstyles or clothes you want, regardless of body type. For most people, this probably won’t matter much, but it’s nice to see developers making the effort to be more inclusive.

Once you’ve crossed into the otherworld — the Hollow — you learn that this realm is being strangled by a dark force called the Aether that corrupts all it touches. This is devastating to the Hollow’s main residents, the Drakes.

Despite the name, Drakes aren’t fire-breathing lizards. They’re small, lovable plant creatures. Here’s where the survival mechanics come in: Rather than needing to meet your own character’s needs for food and other necessities, Drake Hollow is about supporting the Drakes under your protection. They need food, water, a place to sleep, and entertainment, all of which are provided by harvesting resources from the local land and building up an encampment for your Drakes to call home.

In return, the Drakes provide you with magical resources and buffs, and as your Drakes grow in number and evolve, they level up your character, unlocking new building options.

At first, it can be a bit of scrabble to survive as the Drakes chew through your resources, but it doesn’t take long at all to reach a point where your camp is much more self-sufficient, allowing you to focus more on exploring farther afield and rescuing more Drakes. Long term, you move onto new lands, each of which embodies a different season.

One quirk that isn’t as clearly explained as it could be is that Drake Hollow‘s fast travel system is something you have to build yourself. You can construct way points which then allow you to surf energy conduits back and forth between your base and the field. It’s pretty cool, and it helps sell the fantasy of taming a wild land, though it could be better introduced. It took me longer than it should have to figure this part out.

And that’s Drake Hollow‘s simple gameplay loop in a nutshell. Explore, loot, build, repeat. Basic, but it works. Along the way you may encounter monsters to fight, and on occasion the monsters will launch raids on your camp, which you must fight off.

The combat’s pretty simple, but again, it gets the job done. You can hit and block with melee weapons, while ranged weapons provide a powerful secondary option at the cost of very limited ammo.

Things might ramp up later, but for now monsters are not super common, and there’s not a lot of challenge — I died only once, after being ambushed by a particularly large pack of baddies.

I think that’s the right choice for this game, though. Sometimes you want a challenge, but sometimes you want to relax, and Drake Hollow is better suited to the latter. Exploring feels like a pleasant stroll through the countryside; there’s not even any falling damage.

Story isn’t really the focus here, but there are some quests — just enough to give the game a bit of purpose beyond what most survival titles offer — and you can collect notes here and there that flesh out the backstory of the world. This game can feel a bit barebones in places, but I think that’s a bit par for the course with this genre, and it certainly doesn’t lack for personality.

One of the first things I noticed when I started playing Drake Hollow is how utterly enchanting the soundtrack is. This is already likely to go down as one of my all time favorite video game scores.

Meanwhile, the graphics are also quite pretty. They’re very colorful and stylized. It kind of reminds me of WildStar‘s visuals, but warmer and more inviting somehow.

And then there’s the Drakes themselves. Somewhat disappointingly, they don’t seem to have much variation in their appearance, nor much else to set each individual Drake apart, but their animations do have an incredible amount of charm. One of the early entertainment items you can build for them is a small stuffed animal, and the Drakes will pick them up, spin them around, and snuggle them, their faces full of utter delight.

I tell you this: I’m not usually a big fan of “cute” stuff, but my heart melted.

There’s other little things that add personality to the world, too. The local merchant is a talking magpie, and the currency to trade with them is “shiny things.” Most weapons are more in the realm of tools or toys. At one point I found myself slaying demons with a flaming hockey stick, and as a Canadian I can’t help but feel that this is on some level my ultimate destiny.

More than anything, though, I think this is a game you’re meant to play with friends. It is absolutely possible to play and enjoy Drake Hollow entirely solo, but it’s clearly best suited to being a low stress co-op game to play with a friend or two. In that context, the basic story and simple gameplay make more sense. Drake Hollow is a pleasant retreat for you to socialize in.

With how bleak the world has been lately, I think this is the kind of game we really need. A game about protecting the innocent, co-operating with your friends, and healing the land.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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EmberStar

In regards to the article – Because it was on sale and I had a gift card, I went ahead and got the game. The Drakes do vary in appearance somewhat, at least in the sense that each one seems to be a different color and has a different kind of leaf or flower on the top of their head. They also look different as they age, gaining more flowers/leaves and becoming taller. At “Elder” stage, they get big bushy leaflike eyebrows even.

Enemies do get more numerous later on, and harder than the cat-sized Grunts that show up early on. For me, the most frustrating ones are the wolf-like Fangs, because they’re completely designed as harassment and support units. They have ranged attacks, surround themselves with mines if you try to attack them, and have an *extremely* irritating habit of running away the instant you try to get near them.

And honestly I died pretty often, especially to the larger ambushes that can spawn with basically no warning, even on islands that have been completely cleared. Made even more frustrating by the fact that enemies are invincible while they spawn in, and attack instantly and en masse the second it wears off.

There are also recurring Raid attacks, where the enemies will basically teleport in and attack your town. The Drakes will burrow underground and hide when they realize what’s going on, so the main threat is the loss of resources when the enemies destroy your structures. I find the Raids kind of frustrating, since they make exploring somewhat tedious. Usually I reach a new area on foot just in time for the Raid timer to tick down, meaning I have to drop everything and teleport back to fight it off.

The story mode shares some very basic similarities with The Long Dark. You’re exploring from area to area and gathering resources. But the vast majority of them don’t replenish. Once you’ve cleared an island and smashed all the crates, there’s not much reason to go back except to get to a few “secret areas” later on once the jump pad is unlocked and you can fling yourself onto otherwise unreachable roofs and stuff. The only renewable resources are a handful of things like flowers, herbs, berries and mushrooms.

This seems to mean that you’re basically playing against a hidden timer, trying to explore as much as possible and get all the blueprint pickups so you can unlock new buildings before all the resources are gone and there’s nothing left but an attrition death spiral as the recurring Raids slowly whittle away at the health of your structures.

I can’t really comment on the multiplayer, since I don’t know anyone who has the game and I have *no* interest in inviting random strangers on Steam to hop into my game.

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EmberStar

Oh, and one useful little detail that I just discovered. Since some people prefer to discover everything themselves in this kind of game, wrapped in Spoiler for your protection.

Here there be hints. Beware.

Drop extra weapons on the ground in your camp. The Drakes will collect them and store them for you, and even repair them if they’re damaged. Magpie will buy even junk weapons for a handful of Shiny Things, which can be used to buy ammo or seeds if you really need them. And cleaning up all the dropped weapons makes the Dowsing Rod curio more reliable, because one of the things those will highlight is dropped weapons. If you keep the weapon litter to a minimum, then anything the Dowsing charm reveals is probably worth collecting.

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Jeremy Barnes

Did you really write an article about a game without a link to the game or information on platform(s)/release?

Please massively, get over the self linking and provide *useful* links.

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Vanquesse V
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Jeremy Barnes

Oh, you’re clever. Good one! It’s almost like you don’t know that extra clicks cost you money in web development. That making people leave your site to get the information they want/need is bad and…costs you money. So it’s a pretty good joke because I doubt you’re suggesting that massively getting less money is a good thing.

Am I mistaken? Do you think sending people off to find information elsewhere is a *good* idea? I mean, Justin, didn’t think do on his article about the game.

Maybe you just feel the reflexive need to lash out thinking that constructive criticism is something bad. That pointing out an entire article advocating for people to play a game and then leaving them to go find out how to play it or get general information on it elsewhere makes sense.

I mean, I know better, that’s not you. You’re just making a joke, but you wouldn’t want others to get the wrong idea.

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Vanquesse V

This site has been running for 3½ years and it’s certainly not the first time it’s been suggested. That it hasn’t been implemented tells me they must have good reason to stick to their ways. There are plenty of worse issues to dedicate ones anger at.

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EmberStar

I’m not really a fan of “just google it” as an answer. But if they mention a game that interests me enough to consider purchasing it, the first thing I do is check GoG and Steam. If it’s not for sale on either of those, then I don’t usually go looking further. (I won’t pay money to Epic, and anything console exclusive might as well not exist from my point of view.)

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EmberStar

And yes, that does mean they lose on on the chance to get an “affiliate link” purchse. I guess that’s a decision they’ve already considered though, otherwise it would make sense to *have* a link to the game.

It would be nice if it did mention what platforms any games introduced are on though – I don’t imagine many people start petitions/letter campaigns when a game turns out to not be available on their system of choice. I can only speak for myself, but if a game that looks interesting turns out to be console exclusive I generally make a mental note of “Disappointed, not available” and quit paying attention to it.

I wasn’t aware until the recent Steam Sale, for example, that Horizon Zero Dawn had been released on Steam. Because in my head I’d written it off completely as PS4 exclusive and hadn’t bothered to look at *any* articles mentioning it.

Grimalkin
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Grimalkin

If a website only provides outside links for profit, that speaks volumes for their professionalism and quality of content.

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Vanquesse V

or how difficult it is to make money on a website these days.