Kill, craft, repeat.
Without checking my pockets every two minutes I could focus more on the combat, which is one of the best parts of Crashlands. Clicking is used to both move and attack, with up to four items (healing potions, grenades, stunning items, and so on) assigned to the keyboard. While enemies charge up attacks, a red indicator appears on the ground and you can avoid damage by getting out of the way. So I’m dancing around telegraphed attacks, relying on my ability to micro my rapid clicking in order to deal damage while staying safe. It feels closer to MOBA combat than Minecraft, and my fights often spiraled wildly out of control as my dodging accidentally aggro’d more creatures, each type with its own movement and attack pattern. Crashlands’ boss fights are also some of its best moments, throwing combinations of attack patterns at you—it’s a real challenge to dodge fireballs, punching fists, and AoE attacks while still finding time to actually deal damage.
While the combat and the inventory management benefit from their mobile influence, the crafting system and the pacing of the game definitely do not. It wasn’t long before I figured out the grindy framework hidden underneath Crashlands’ charming exterior: Get a new crafting station. Make new armor, a new weapon, and a new tool. Use your new tool to collect a resource you couldn’t before. Use the new resource to make a new crafting station. Rinse and repeat.
There’s very little variation from this structure. Worse, it felt like Crashlands assumed I would be playing in short bursts rather than multiple hours at a time, because I seemed to reach a new tier of crafting bench roughly every hour or so. So if I sat down and played Crashlands for two hours, chances are the armor and weapons I began with would be obsolete twice over by the time I stopped. I could see that not being a problem if I were playing Crashlands for 20 minutes on the train to work each day, but my actions began to feel hollow when I knew the items I was working for would quickly become trash.
But the main reason this constant churn of item upgrades feels daunting is that there’s basically no player choice involved. The level eight weapon was pretty much always a better option than the level seven weapon. Every piece of equipment is imbued with random buffs like a chance to stun or resistance to certain types of attacks—my personal favorites were the damage-over-time effects—but the benefits were negligible compared to the guaranteed DPS and health increase with each new level, so those extra abilities did nothing to influence my decision to upgrade. There were no choices that might differentiate my playstyle from anyone else who would pick up the game—there’s only ever one choice: better or worse. It was still satisfying to feel myself getting stronger—going back to early areas and one-shotting Wompits felt like popping a fresh sheet of bubble-wrap—but I wish there’d been some branching paths in that growth.