Played on: PC (Steam)
Release Date: TBA
Once upon a time, before Fortnite became a cultural phenomenon by embracing the explosive Battle Royale genre, it was a cooperative tower defense action game. Fortnite: Save the World (as it’s now called), tasked players with gathering materials, weapons, and supplies around randomly generated worlds to defend against waves of monstrous forces.
Drake Hollow follows a similar path (and art style) in the cooperative crafting-defense-action genre, with vast improvements and increased depth across every aspect of gameplay.
After creating my character from a very limited selection of faces and clothes, I’m transported to The Hollow, a magical, semi-post-apocalyptic chain of islands separated by a deadly fog-like sea called aether. The world of The Hollow is home to two types of creatures: cute, friendly plant-like creatures called Drakes, and evil monsters called The Feral.
Baby Drakes are hiding around the world, and once found, are eager to join my camp. Drakes need food, water, and entertainment, lest they wither away and die. In return, Drakes provide gifts, buffs, healing, and build structures around my camp.
My camp is a sad site in the beginning. I only have access to straw beds that last a single night, and teddy bears that quickly fall apart. To feed my poor Drakes I rely on scavenging juice boxes and finding seeds out in the world.
Exploring my starting island is very similar to Fortnite: Save the World, though with far fewer buildings, and crafting is limited to my camp area. Trees can be hacked apart to harvest lumber, while I can find weapons like ski poles, hatchets, and balloon launchers in broken down cars, old boxes, and shopping carts.
The Feral roam each island and come in several different versions, such as small and easy Grunts, or large and terrifying Stalkers. The coyote-like Fang are particularity troublesome. They can launch projectiles, leap away from my attacks, and summon additional Feral. Death isn’t uncommon early on, resulting in either a humbling corpse run as a ghost, or respawning at camp at the cost of some weapon durability.
Railway to Heaven
As I clear islands of infestations, find drakes, and feed them crystals, my camp levels up. Leveling unlocks additional buildings and craftable items, such as planter boxes, wells, fences, and even a power-generating treadmill for more advanced structures.
The early game didn’t really click for me until I began constructing waypoints. The first time I rode the incredibly cool neon railway that links two waypoint beacons was pure joy. Waypoints aren’t cheap to build and have limited range. I have to make strategic decisions on where to place them to maximize my quick travel system across the islands.
The waypoints become critical once I begin finding supply trucks, which must be connected to a waypoint system to transport goods all the way back to camp. It’s oddly satisfying watching supplies travel along my custom-built trade routes in the sky, and even more fun to hop on the rails and tool around as I expand my network and explore more and more islands.
Exploring each island is fun and rewarding. As my camp levels up and I travel farther away, so too do the rewards become greater and the enemies stronger, and more frequent. Hidden loot caches invite me to search every corner of a house and tucked-away cove. Schematics unlock new buildings at my camp, crystals are used to level my drakes (boosting their buffing capabilities, but also their needs), and I’m always on the lookout for better weapons.
Every so often, The Feral attack my camp. I’m given a generous 15-minute heads-up to the next incoming raid, where I can continue exploring in time to return home to bolster my defenses. In the early game my only defensive structures are fences, leaving me to do the heavy-lifting of fighting off The Feral. I wish Drake Hollow introduced and expanded the tower defense aspects a little sooner. Some actual towers would be nice!
Things also got a little too challenging and frustrating when I run out of weapons during a raid. With no way to repair weapons (at least early on), I’m left with finding new ones. After a nasty boss fight I was low on weapons, and completely depleted during a subsequent raid, leaving me with my pitifully damaging fists to try and destroy the last few Feral. Death isn’t a huge concern, but losing important structures can be a frustrating setback.
Despite Drake Hollow’s indefinite delay, I was very impressed with how polished and complete the addictive gameplay felt. Other than two nasty hard freezes, I never encountered any major issues or bugs. I wasn’t able to test multiplayer due to the limited nature of the pre-release build (and no apparent online matchmaking). However, even just playing solo was a lot of fun, and my eight year old loves the friendly art style and open world exploration. Drake Hollow should create a big hit for the co-op crafting crowd.
Drake Hollow is coming soon to PC and Xbox One. It’s rated E10+.