I’ve spent a lot of time in Black Skylands’ Early Access build on Steam, and I’ve spent an equal amount of time wondering exactly who it’s for.  That isn’t a knock against the game itself — which I am enjoying thoroughly — but it is a difficult thing to pin down. 

Black Skylands is a top-down open-world action-adventure that features airship combat, customization and exploration, plenty of on-foot sections, upgradable weapons, tons of characters, story missions, side quests, and a defensive mode where our heroine has to repel invaders from lands she’s rightfully liberated.  There’s also a base-building mode complete with light agriculture and repair work/crafting.  It’s a lot to take in and get used to…

Our story opens with our protagonist, Eva, learning the basics of combat.  We’re then taken through the history of the Black Skylands world full of cataclysms, restoration, miraculous airships, and horrendous monsters.  Within minutes, everything Eva knows is turned upside down, and we timeskip to several years later as she’s trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life after seemingly becoming a vengeful killing machine.  The mood whiplash is real, and it collides with the whimsical art and vibrant colors — harsh contrast when we witness truly shocking levels of (pixelated) gore. 

When Eva is on foot, Black Skylands is basically a bullet-hell twin-stick shooter, with enemies dashing wildly about, and bosses that absolutely spam attacks in every direction.  The game really wants players to circle-strafe and dodge attacks while trying to draw on enemies that are so damn fast.  Did I mention it’s also almost embarrassingly easy to fall off the map, as play takes place high in the clouds among vast, floating islands?  Eva has a grappling hook for emergencies, but it can be tetchy to control.

In the air, Black Skylands is almost an airship sim.  The ships don’t exactly lumber, but things aren’t as fast as the ground sections.  It took a while but I finally got the hang of anticipating my boat’s turning radius and how to properly aim my cannons to knock any would be air-pirates out of the sky.  I also had to learn how to manage my inventory (there’s only have so much room in the hold for weapons, equipment, and tradable goods) and had to frequently return to base to offload stuff.  Meanwhile, I was also growing crops to either sell for a profit or turn into resources which ultimately led to building bigger ships, heavier armaments, and better armor. 

As if all that weren’t enough, I also had to emancipate islands from Black Skylands‘ human foes, the Falcons. Why? because the populations of those islands count as resources I need!  Of course, every so often the Falcons return to take back what I’ve rightfully stolen. 

I’m usually not great at this level of multitasking, and I’m also not generally dexterous enough to succeed at twin-stick shooters, and yet I am loving Black Skylands despite of (or maybe, because of?) the sheer number of things there are to do.  Once I established a rhythm and figured out a gameplay loop that worked for me, I always looked forward to my next session. 

tinyBuild says they’re going to need up to another 12 months for Black Skylands to reach it’s full potential — apparently it’s only half content complete! I can’t wait to see this one grow and mature.

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