Being shoved down a well and given a concussion by your own mother is not a great start to a day. Climbing out and finding everyone else in the village has been turned to stone? Even worse. But in a way, these are actually good things, because it's the way Instant Kingdom's epic indie action RPG Driftmoon kicks off. A whopping seven years in the making and boasting an integrated mod creation and download system, it's a light-hearted fantasy adventure with swash-buckling hermit crabs, ancient magical MacGuffins, murderous disembodied hands named Mitten, heroic fireflies, and much, much more. Driftmoon's gleeful embrace of adventure and cheery fairytale excitement will make this a compulsively playable, relaxing RPG experience for almost anyone.
Presented in top-down view, the game is controlled primarily with the mouse and a series of hotkeys for special abilities. The game will give you a handy tutorial on the finer points as you encounter them, but the basics are... well, basic for most action-RPGs. Click to move or interact, and hold down the mouse button to keep walking towards it. You can also click and drag to pull certain objects around the area, looking for hidden items or creating barricades. [TAB] opens your inventory, where you can equip items with a click or review your notes, or even check your crafting ingredients. You can only craft something if you have the blueprints and the proper items, but don't neglect it, since it's far cheaper than buying healing items! The red half of the globe at the bottom of the screen represents your health, while blue denotes mana, and you'll want to keep an eye on both of them during combat. Defeating enemies and completing quests or otherwise making progress earns you experience towards leveling up, whereupon you can distribute some stat points and choose a skill to take. Handily, once you gain access to a map, you can hit [M] to view it and click on any spot in any area you've already visited to be instantly teleported there!
As it happens, it seems a strange stone with potent magical properties might have been the cause of the misfortune. Together with your childhood friend Word, the only other person to avoid petrification, you'll have to trace the story of the stone back through history and tango with one seriously nasty ancient evil. You'll need to not only gather a party of helpful heroes, each with their own quirks, but also track down all the
horcruxes gems hidden throughout the land before you can truly destroy your enemy for once and for all.
Analysis: Driftmoon may remind some players of Torchlight to an extent, but the similarities are mostly mechanical on a superficial basis. If you have to have a comparison, Driftmoon is actually closer to the sweet product of a torrid summertime romance between Divine Divinity and early Ultima games, striking a balance between epic RPG fantasy adventure and a merrily whimsical sense of humour reminiscent of Piers Anthony's Xanth series. The character customisation is actually on the light side, with only a handful of basic skills to learn, the emphasis has to fall on the story and exploration Driftmoon has to offer... which, thankfully, it has in spades. Surprisingly considering how hard it tries, the writing is actually funny more often than not. Explosive barrels claim to be beautiful maidens in disguise as they chase you to try to lure you into damage distance. Rudolph is a barbarian whose magical glowing nose (that you can wear!) alerts him to enemies. It's true that this gleeful goofiness won't be for everyone, especially since it occasionally butts heads with more serious events in the game, but players looking for something immediately engaging and light in tone will find a lot to love here.
While Driftmoon might not be as aesthetically enhanced as some other games, its colourful design holds a cartoonish appeal that helps with the fairytale vibe the game seems to be trying to embrace. Fans of more fast-paced action-RPGs might find this one a little low in the challenge department if you pay attention to your surroundings, but there's actually a surprising amount of thought and variety put into both your foes and the way you can tackle them. Less pleasing is the somewhat clunky interface and dopey companion AI. I was also a little disappointed that the game forces you to play as male when there's very little gender-dependent material in the game (and most of that purely superficial) so it seems like it would have been a relatively simple cosmetic change to allow players to play as they prefer. But then again, I suppose this could be seen as an opportunity to tell the story of an adventurous boy named Jane, who could always be found in his bunk if needed.
With its sense of humour, rich imagination, and simple casual gameplay, Driftmoon is a breath of fresh air. It could actually be considered the perfect entry-level action-RPG to anyone new to the genre, but that would imply that it doesn't have anything to offer diehard fans and that's simply not the case. It's a refreshingly vibrant game with secrets to uncover, puns to groan at, monsters to topple, and gameplay that can be picked ip and mastered by anybody. The mod creation tools are even simple and yet powerful enough, with clear labelling and drag-and-drop placement, that you can create (and play!) even more adventures with just a little experimentation. Driftmoon is a ray of sunshine in the form of an action-RPG indie gem that boasts one impressive adventure and boundless potential. With witty writing, memorable characters, and a big emphasis on the sort of tale that feels like it could have come from a zanier Narnia, this is one indie game any fan should make sure to check out.