I haven’t finished Crashlands. Not by a long shot. I’m seven hours into the game, and I feel like I’ve barely made a dint.
It’s not that I haven’t accomplished anything significant. I’ve befriended countless denizens of the planet where I find myself stranded, getting entangled in their lives as I hunt for baconflowers, track down a hidden labyrinth, or carry the bones of the deceased to a family member, as is the custom on this planet.
I’m a living, breathing, contributing member of their society — but I still have so much to do.
Crashlands is a game that’s hard to describe with a single buzzword. It has roguelike elements, but it’s definitely not a roguelike. Quests and characters abound, but I wouldn’t call it an RPG either. At its heart, Crashlands is a game about crafting and exploration that borrows elements from countless other genres to create an experience that’s accessible, challenging, funny, addictive, and utterly gigantic.
And that’s just in the first seven hours.
As the game begins, you find yourself piloting a delivery vehicle through the cosmos — when all of a sudden, a floating purple head appears and destroys your ship to “borrow” a component. Alongside your trusty robot companion, you crash land on the surface of the planet below, eager to build a communicator to flag down a new ship and complete your delivery.
You’re responsible like that. Good on you.
Pretty quickly you find that this is a land teaming with resources; some natural and dormant (grass, wood), some natural and bitey. You’ll spend the bulk of your time collecting both, and using them to craft items from recipes.
If I were forced to draw a comparison, Crashlands core gameplay most reminds me of Klei Entertainment’s fantastic roguelike Don’t Starve. But where that was a game of random luck, no story, and perma-death, Crashlands uses the exploration and crafting elements as a starting point to build something far more meaningful. Deaths aren’t permanent here; there’s a story being told. This isn’t a game of sacrifice and survival; it’s a game of adventure and discovery.
In an effort to maintain this sense of awe and wonder without muddying players in menus and choices, the entire experience has been streamlined to keep gamers focused on the elements that provide the most fun.
A bottomless inventory means you’ll never need to worry about whether you should pick something up. You won’t have to keep your hero sane fed to stay alive. Limiting new weapons and gear to crafting stations means you won’t constantly be finding, comparing, and stressing out over which equipment is better than which. And if you need to find ingredients to craft a specific recipe? You can pin it to the upper right corner of the screen so you can keep track of your progress.
In 2014, Butterscotch Shenanigans told us they were embracing the “keep it simple, stupid” philosophy for Crashlands. They’ve succeeded splendidly. Frustration isn’t fun, and they know it.
That’s not to say that Crashlands is a cakewalk. You’ll find yourself encountering wildlife that you’re not prepared to deal with on a pretty regular basis, and often as part of a quest line. But once you explore enough, you’ll end up with multiple quests on the go at any given time. And thanks to a fast travel system of teleporters that you’ll uncover, you’re never more than tap away from any previously explored region on the map. When the going gets tough, there’s always something else to put your focus on.
That said, you’re not a coward — you’re a courier! And if that means battling wildlife and harvesting their carcasses, you’ll just have to put down your sandwich and get you fightin’est finger on the touch screen.
Battles in Crashlands are interesting. There are a limited number of enemy types you’ll encounter, and each type has their own behaviors and patterns. As they ready their attacks, a red indicator (sometimes a circle, sometimes a line) will show you the area where they’ll inflict damage. It’s your job to tap outside of that area as quickly as you can, and then tap back on the creature to launch an attack of your own. Learning the different patterns is key to survival. Battles move pretty quickly, and if you can’t keep up, you’ll be one dead explorer.
The different creatures also come in different variations, which can give you a good indicator of their strength. I can mop the floor with a Glidopus Hatchling, but if I see a Verdant Glidopus on the horizon? I run for the hills.
All of these pieces come together to form an experience that’s addictive, fun, and massive in scope — but it’s the storytelling and humor that elevate Crashlands from being just a “great game” to being a truly memorable one.
When I carried Burl’s bones to Grandmammy, I felt the same twinge of discomfort that my hero did. (We just met these people!) When I met a pair of natives with a treasure map, I gladly took up their quest to find a hidden labyrinth. And when I first heard about the Baconweed Fairy?
Oh, for !@#$’s sake. The Baconweed Fairy.
Without spoiling too much, The Baconweed Fairy is a quest line that I’m kind of stuck on right now. It’s what I would consider the game’s first real boss fight, and it is brutal. I try, I fail, I spend an hour questing elsewhere and try again. I haven’t quite gotten the knack of it yet, and Crashlands is ok with that. The game is forever giving me other tasks to complete, so I don’t have to worry about that @#$% @#$%ing Baconweed Fairy if I don’t want to. I love a good challenge, but there are plenty of ways to build up my hero before I go back and try again.
It’s difficult, but never frustrating.
As I enter my eighth hour in Crashlands, I find myself wondering just how big this world really is. I’m still on the first of three continents, and when I zoom out on my map, the area I’ve uncovered feels like a tiny speck. The first peel of an orange.
I only wish that speck was smaller. I never want to stop exploring.