This is a preview of a game featured on Steam Early Access. It is by no means finished, and everything in the game is subject to change.
First it was the World War II Shooter, then the Zombie-Survival genre, now it’s gather-resources-and-build-structures games that are filling up the Steam. The situation isn’t so dire, though, as you all of them have their fair share of interesting nuances. Terraria is a fantasy game of that type, Starbound is Sci-Fi, etc. Their flow differs, and each can afford their own set of interesting items and enemies. But what is Craft the World? Well, the changes in it aren’t quite so subtle; first and foremost, it’s a real-time strategy game.
Of course, not in the way we’ve grown accustomed to. It restricts itself to a 2D plane and, save its gorgeous aesthetic (which is more-Saturday-morning-cartoon less-8-bit-nostalgia-trip), it looks quite a bit like Terraria at first glance. It plays like it too, albeit in a sort of abstract way. Rather than taking direct control over your miner/adventurer, you’re commanding a handful; all of which have different special abilities. One may be a swordsman, another a good swimmer, their special ability dictates which orders they follow.
One of the most difficultly grasped part of the game is that you’re never really commanding a single one of these worker Dwarves. You make a command, and one of them will (usually) complete the task. When it works, it’s a decent system, more often than not they do what they’re told, but the task queuing can cause frustration. While scrolling around the map, I’d see things I wanted my workers to do. For instance, chop down a few trees, mine some ore, and kill some animals for food. I’d give those orders, and it would take ages for my six-or-so Dwarves to complete the tasks. If I needed them to divert their attention to something else, I needed to go through and cancel all of my orders individually. They’re also very slow, not only at completing tasks, but at traversing the world and finding their way to their objective.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it seems broken, path-finding and the like seem to be Craft the World’s biggest issue. While some of the Dwarves’ clumsiness is built-in to encourage you to build ladders and bridges, a lot of it appears accidental. More than a handful of times my Dwarves would be attacked, and refuse to reciprocate, even though the were fairly well equipped. Other times they would fight, and either win, or be beaten so badly that they’d retreat — occasionally off of a cliff and to their death. More annoying still, they’d occasionally see an enemy, retreat from a safe place, and run into a larger group of enemies. Other times, they’d get lost in caverns and not know how to return to their home.
And the game’s slow start doesn’t help any. You begin with a single Dwarf, and eventually build-up to have a great many more. But while you’re working with one or two, there isn’t much you can do but issue a few commands and twiddle your thumbs. Fortunately, once you get the ball rolling it keeps a nice pace. The primary line of progression in the game (so far, anyway) is the crafting tree. You begin with rudimentary tools, then you gain the ability to create bigger, better, and more useful items. On top of that, crafting and mining and destroying enemies will all put some points into your XP bar, and eventually cause you to level. Most every time you level you’ll get a useful item, and another Dwarf to command. It’s addicting, but some of the game’s problems can make it all feel for naught.
It can be frustrating, but when everything’s working, and the map-generator is looking upon you with favor, and you manage to get established, Craft the World can be both fun, and relaxing. There’s hardly a need to focus, or even provide much input. Just commanding the Dwarves and watching them do their thing can be fun in its own odd way. If you want to play the game like Terraria, the option to take control of a Dwarf is there, but it isn’t great. When you take direct control, input is unresponsive, movement is stilted. Then again, if you want to play it in that way, you’re likely better off just playing Terraria.
Given a bit more time in the Early Access rock tumbler, this bumpy and somewhat jagged little game could be polished to a smooth, enjoyable sheen. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but if a bit of work is done to its combat, AI, and early-game pacing, this may very well make a decent time-sink for those nights when a game that requires too much focus just isn’t appealing. While the fundamentals are familiar, the dressing around them is quite different. It’s pretty unique, and it’s likely to tighten up as development continues, but rather than jumping-in while it remains in early access, you may be better off waiting for the finished product.