When I think of games that have successfully captured the spirit of adventure, I can only pick out a handful of titles. Games like Skyrim, The Banner Saga Trilogy and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 are stand-out titles in my eye when it comes to perfectly capturing the essence of adventuring. In order to truly encapsulate that idea of adventure, you must make the player feel as if they are out on a grand journey. You want the player to explore dynamic and exciting worlds brimming with potential and meet memorable characters along the way. And while plenty of games do this to some degree, so few have done so competently. That is, of course, until Black Skylands rolled around.
“Outside of the narrative, Black Skylands offers an incredible array of things for you to do.”
From its outstanding pixel art visuals which flawlessly capture a mesmerising world in the skies to its captivatingly enrapturing narrative that is both impressive in scale and scope, Black Skylands nails its first impressions. While its narrative presentation can be a little simple at times, as it mostly features a talking-head style way of delivering dialogue, the emotionally evocative storytelling successfully and succinctly grips you from start to finish.
Outside of the narrative, Black Skylands offers an incredible array of things for you to do. While the main questline, which follows a series of engaging missions, is likely to take up the majority of your time, the various other facets for you to explore are equally as enjoyable. For example, you can repair the hub world, utilising it to upgrade your equipment or gather resources. There are numerous side missions for you to partake in, as well as islands to capture.
“Every so often you’ll get a notification that an island is being besieged, and it’s up to you whether it’s worth risking your time to pursue it.”
This feature of capturing different islands is possibly Black Skylands most unique asset. Essentially, while exploring you’ll come across various islands to explore and take over. Once you’ve defeated the enemies present on that island, you’ll claim it for you and your people. Doing so raises your population, which you can use to unlock and equip abilities. However, these islands are always at risk of being taken back by the enemy. If this happens, you’ll lose your population points, and consequently, your abilities.
It’s a very enticing risk/reward system that encourages exploration and makes the already large world feel that much more significant. Every so often you’ll get a notification that an island is being besieged. It’s up to you whether it’s worth risking your time to pursue that or carrying on with the central objective. My only issue with this mechanic was that, on numerous occasions when repelling the opponent from my island, they seemed to endlessly respawn. It meant I spent upwards of ten minutes fighting off enemies from the island, despite having completely killed all of them countless times.
“Black Skyland’s combat is frankly rather challenging, and I encountered death far more times than I’m willing to admit.”
It is fortunate then that combat in Black Skylands is incredibly enjoyable. When flying around in your ship, combat is similar to that of King of Seas. Essentially, you’ll have weapons on either side of your ship, which can be rotated three different ways. You must carefully position your ship in an advantageous location in order to swiftly decimate your opponent. The visual and auditory effects of your cannons blasting your foes to smithereens are extremely satisfying and help elevate the combat beyond feeling rather simplistic.
While on foot, combat plays out a little differently. There are a whole slew of weapons to choose from, all of which function and feel extremely differently. The enemies you’ll encounter are numerous and as deadly as each other. Black Skyland’s combat is frankly rather challenging, and I encountered death far more times than I’m willing to admit. Fortunately, the repercussions for death are minuscule at best, and usually just resets you back at the main hub area.
“Black Skylands is one of those rare early-access indie titles that truly astonishes within moments of playing.”
I did encounter a few very minor visual bugs while playing, although so few that they’re barely worth elaborating on. For the most part, my experience was smooth sailing, and I didn’t have too many gripes with the game. I’ve noticed a few other people experiencing some more severe bugs, so it’s worth keeping that in mind. Although, it would seem that the majority of issues players are having are easily fixable.
Black Skylands is one of those rare early-access indie titles that truly astonishes within moments of playing. There is so much potential here for a truly phenomenal game, and so long as the developers continue fleshing out this truly brilliant title, I can imagine it being one of the best indie games available. Black Skylands is certainly a memorable and expansive experience that truly captures that sense of adventure often missing in video games.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the publisher.