It seems that most people like their fantasy scenarios dark and gritty. Swords and monsters, dungeons and dragons, along with tales of heroism abound in popular culture. Those stories are highly entertaining and the stark contrast to our everyday lives might be what draws us near time and again. Escapism is fun. However, I sometimes fear that we’re turning our backs on the more softer and gentle kind of fantasy fare. It seems like the fairy tales and fables are a thing of the past. There’s hardly any oral tradition left: our children’s bedtime stories have been replaced by Disney movies. And where are the new stories? Every successful fantasy saga feels like an iteration of popular tropes.
With these worries lingering in the back of my mind I started playing Driftmoon, an adventure roleplaying game by Finnish husband and wife team, Instant Kingdom. As you might have guessed from my lengthy introduction, this game seems to deliver on all those things I’ve been looking for. It also adds its own peculiar brand of quirkiness into the mix. The end result might not appeal to everyone, but it certainly got me interested.
Every story needs a beginning, and this particular tale starts with our hero returning to his quaint little hometown. Within minutes of his arrival everyone is turned to stone and his father gets abducted. Talk about bad timing! Being a hero and all, our protagonist rushes headlong into the adventure of his life, and that is of course where things get interesting. There is a popular saying about the journey being the reward and this applies to Driftmoon as well. While there is a big baddie waiting for you at the end of your travels, all the characters you’ll meet along the way, their problems and stories actually leave a bigger impression. This immediately makes the game feel more personal than your average fantasy epic, and the writing is definitely good enough to support this shift in focus. Speaking of the writing, it is genuinely funny most of the time by successfully treading the fine line between being amusing and silly.
Here are a few examples of the madness going on in Driftmoon: halfway through the game I was wearing a magical turtle shell for a helmet and a clown’s nose that started blinking when enemies were near. I was also wielding a flute for a weapon. Who needs a sword when you can hit enemies with a big flute, right? My travel companions were a giant cat that mistook me for her servant and a will-o’-the-wisp partial to cringeworthy puns. Oh, and did I mention the time travel, the talking skeletons, or the pirate crab? This fantasy world is strange indeed.
It is quite the feat that Driftmoon is more than just a pastiche of fantasy tropes or merely a collection of silly jokes and puns. The humor works here because a lot of it is optional: nobody is forcing me to wear that clown’s nose. The rest of it doesn’t feel out of place for some reason, and that’s certainly due to the good writing on display. It really makes Driftmoon feel special and unique in a genre that rarely offers any innovation. You also get the impression that Instant Kingdom had a lot of fun crafting the world and its whimsical inhabitants; the term “labor of love” comes to mind. There are a ton of things to discover if you stray from the path, and most of them are just there for no reason other than to make you smile. I really wish more games would do that.
While the world building and writing are exceptional for the most part, the technical aspects of Driftmoon are decent at best. There’s simply no denying that the game is graphically outdated. Blurry textures and lack of detail abound, but that is probably the side effect of being in development for seven years. On the plus side, the environments are colorful with only a few drab dungeons inbetween. Driftmoon also benefits from the fact that there simply aren’t many games around that are still looking like this. Call it a throwback, but the graphics have their charms, especially if you’ve been playing rpgs in the early nineties. Come to think of it, Driftmoon does share a lot of features with the later Ultima games: the top-down perspective, being able to interact with the environment, and the sometimes clunky controls.
The combat engine is a bit lacking as well. It gets the job done, but it’s not particularly inspiring. There are limited customization options via a small talent tree, and some hotbar skills to make the game’s real time combat a bit more tactical and varied. But overall you’ll be playing this game for the writing and not for the gameplay. One last thing of note is that Driftmoon has been designed to be fully moddable. Whether you just want to add some cute googly eyes to the spiders, tails to every character, or create a completely new campaign – the toolkit has got you covered. In addition, there is a small, but dedicated modding community. Even if you finished the campaign, which shouldn’t really take you more than about 12 hours, there is always something to do.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
It has been kind of hard to write about Driftmoon. This is the kind of game you should experience for yourself, because stories and anecdotes cannot properly do it justice. It might not be the most beautiful game out there and its combat engine is functional at best, but it wins you over by sheer force of personality. I definitely liked what it tried to achieve, and I enjoyed almost every bit of the journey.
- Time Played—9 Hours
- Widescreen Support—Yes
- Resolution Played—1366×768
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered—None
- Control Scheme—Mouse and Keyboard
- DRM—One-time Key Activation
- System Specs—i3-2350M@2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, Geforce GT 630M 2GB
- Game Acquisition Method—Review Copy
- Availability—Official Site, GOG and Gamersgate
- Saved Game Location—My Documents\Driftmoon\mainmod