Ylands sets itself apart from others in the crowded survival genre with a strong visual style; which gives it a much more realistic look than the likes of Minecraft, while still being bright and cartoony. It has been recently released as an Early Access title on Steam by developer Bohemia Interactive, widely known as the makers of the hardcore military shooter series Arma. Ylands is very different to Arma though, and the core of the game is an exploration mode which can be played solo or multiplayer. There is also a deep editor available which allows users to create specific games within Ylands, with some examples provided by the developers.
When you first launch the exploration mode you will make a character with some simple customisation options and be cast onto a deserted island with no instructions or tutorial to help you. This is a pretty standard approach for the genre but an issue within Ylands. Many of the basic features of the survival sandbox and the construction tools are deeper, more complex and difficult to use than those in similar games, making it harder to get off the ground than you might expect. The problem is that the complexity is front-loaded, presenting a need to figure out systems and controls instantly rather than presenting more complex tools and concepts later in the game. Combined with some slightly awkward controls and clunky aiming in the default third person mode means that Ylands may not make the best first impression, at least in this Early Access form.
There is some useful information present in the game to help you in the form of the codex. Unfortunately, you’re never really directed to look at this, located as it is on the in-game menu. There is some critical information like the fact you need a knife as a crafting tool to enable a lot of basic crafting in your inventory. Unless you know about it in advance, you’re unlikely to come across this information before you’ve already struggled through and worked it out on your own. Whether this is really a problem is going to depend on the player; some people like the experience of working out how a game works from limited information, but some kind of optional tutorial would be a good addition.
Once you get over the initial hurdles, Ylands largely falls into place. This being said, you do need to remain cautious with how you approach the world even once you understand what is going on. Wild animals like panthers are often faster than you and much more capable in combat so much of the time you spend exploring is actually spent watching for threats, which can easily rip you apart until you have more advanced equipment. When death comes you’ll be prompted to make a new character that gets deposited on the same island, so you will get the opportunity to recover those items. Strangely this is also how reloading a save works; rather than just resuming play with your character you spawn in a as a new one, only able to recover your items by killing your old character (who will just stand there where you kill them) and looting the body.
The wild animals which are the bane of your existence early on become less threatening once you have managed to craft yourself some better equipment, leaving the primitive stone weapons and bark armour for equivalents made of iron. Irritatingly there is no specific information provided about the degree of upgrade that these provide, which is a little frustrating in the context of a user interface which is already far from minimalist. This is important as the current feel of the combat is that you are very reliant on your gear – aiming your weapon during the swing animation seems to require that you be standing still so you are forced to hold your ground and rely on your armour.
The level editor in Ylands is already deep and is one of the most promising aspects of the game, having already yielded some interesting mini-games made by users. The possibilities with this tool are spectacularly varied, from shooting ranges to car races or even show jumping. Hopefully enough people will enjoy using the editor for some really great content to come up, though there is fun to be had with what people have already made. This aspect of Ylands, like many games with a workshop style feature, could provide hours of entertainment even if only a few players put time in to create content.
All things considered Ylands shows promise but is clearly an Early Access title, with clunky controls and a lack of refinement which may put off many. Performance for me was generally good though there were some issues with stuttering particularly when revealing new terrain. There is a certain charm to the game though and there’s a lot of promise particularly with the level editor, so if you are interested in the survival sandbox genre it might be worth taking a look. Hopefully, Ylands will receive the polish it needs to really live up to the promise parts of the game already show.