You know what video games do not have enough of nowadays? Crafting. Of course, I am being incredibly sarcastic. Crafting is, in professional terms, freaking everywhere. Even Apex Legends, a first-person shooter/battle-royale just added a crafting mechanic. I am not, and never have been, huge on crafting. I often find that it leads to long and irritating searches that can destroy a game’s pacing. With this in mind, the recently released Drake Hollow has crafting, and I love it.
Coming to us from the talented folks at The Molasses Flood, the same team that created The Flame in the Flood, Drake Hollow is an action-adventure sandbox game. After creating your custom, teenage character, you find yourself being whisked away to a fantasy realm by a charismatic crow. Upon your arrival, you are promptly introduced to the residents of The Hollow: a race of polite and cabbagey critters called Drakes, and a malicious bunch of nasties called the Feral. Your goal is to protect the Drakes that you befriend while attempting to rid their land of the Feral infestation. And, eventually, getting back home.
There are a lot of moving parts in Drake Hollow. It may seem overwhelming for the first bit of play, but the way that the game’s systems work are so intuitive that I immediately had a grasp on how to gather resources, craft, and build within minutes.
Everything is centered around the Drakes. In order to keep your veggie-buddies alive and happy, they will need food, water, and entertainment. So, you go out, find some food and water, but you cannot give it to the Drakes unless you have a cauldron. So, you smack a tree for some materials, head back to camp, and craft a cauldron. While they are getting enough to eat and drink, though, they are not feeling very entertained. So you go out to gather more supplies by venturing through houses, defeating baddies, busting open chests, finding supply trucks, or trading with the Magpie that uses shiny spoons as currency. Come back to camp, craft some bouncy balls, or dolls for the kiddies, and you can finally take it easy. Except, now, the children that look like corn are out of food and water again. While you were adventuring, however, you found a few schematics that you can use to learn how to make a well for more water, and a garden for planting seeds. You just need more materials, so you go out resource gathering once more.
All of this is a great example of gameplay loops working together. The primary gameplay loop of gathering resources by smacking trees, boxes, and enemies feeds right into the actions of the secondary and tertiary loops. Not a single action in Drake Hollow feels unimportant. Finding a box with carrot seeds and gems makes it so you can feed your Drakes, and level them up. Feeding them keeps them alive, and giving the correct gems to the correct Drakes makes them grow up. As they grow, the passive buffs you can acquire from them become stronger, you gain more health, and you can add more buildings to your camp. As you add more buildings to your camp, you can house more Drakes, find more efficient ways to care for them, and build fortifications to defend against the Feral’s occasional raids.
It might sound exhausting, but Drake Hollow keeps you busy and engaged in the best ways. The presentation and gameplay are top notch. Character animations are fluid, easy to read, and enjoyable to watch. The simple act of swinging a weapon never gets old thanks to these lovely animations and the satisfying, wiggly thwack of hitting a resource or foe. Not to mention simply hoovering up all resources around you by holding a button is hugely satisfying. That, and the quick, easy to understand UI is largely what makes crafting so great. There is never a question of what you can currently make, what you are lacking, or where it is you will have to go to find more resources.
Of course, the Drakes themselves are another great reason to keep playing. It is very easy to get attached to the defenseless little fellas. Their animations convey a great deal of personality, and the sounds they make when they are frightened makes you want to destroy any Feral that would even dare to come near your leafy babies. Fully leveling up a Drake also leads to a bittersweet end that I will not spoil here. Just know that my heartstrings were definitely plucked.
Another part of the game that kept me coming back was the story. On the surface, your character almost willingly enters The Hollow because of difficult situations at home. The story got a bit deeper as I found scraps of paper and details about The Hollow itself and the other humans that entered it before. They are intriguing, haunting, and brilliantly written – especially when those details come about by meeting interesting NPCs. My biggest complaint with Drake Hollow is that I wish there was more of the story. I wish that player characters spoke or connected their struggles with the actions that unfold throughout the game. My other problem is the fact that gameplay does not evolve much.
However, that almost is not even a problem because the world of Drake Hollow is what evolves. You unlock new items for your camp, level up your foliage friends, and the enemies of the world hate this. The way that the Feral become increasingly difficult to fight feels so much more organic than just leveling up the opposition. Though their levels do increase, your character does not have a level. It feels as if success in the camp and world exploration invites more aggression. The timer that counts down to alert you of raids will reverse slightly as you defeat enemies and clear patches of red, Feral brambles in the world. All of this combined with the pieces of story make it feel much more like you are fighting against an evil, other-worldly horde rather than a bunch of ones and zeros.
Drake Hollow on Xbox One is one of the hardest games to put down this year. It has a brilliant set of systems that keep you engrossed in the action and invested in your personal world. There are plenty of Drakes to meet, unique items and buildings to craft, and battles to be won. I got so caught up in telling you how fun the game is, that I almost did not mention the fact that you can play the entire game by yourself or with up to three friends in online multiplayer; a multiplayer that runs beautifully and rarely slows down even with huge amounts of action on screen. With it being available through Xbox Game Pass, Drake Hollow is an absolute must play for anyone that wants a smartly designed and supremely fun game.