Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Solace Crafting, developed and published by Big Kitty Games.
Solace Crafting is an open world, sandbox-style RPG game. I had the privilege of originally playing it in October 2017 when it was still early in development stages, and now again after its Early Access release and several updates.
When starting, the player creates an character, names it, and then creates a world from a seed. As of right now, all seeds seem to default to the same one, and only one map is available. The same character can be used in multiple worlds, which makes it nice for those who don’t want to keep recreating characters.
Armed with a pickaxe and some basic underwear, the player must navigate the world while mining from nearby stone, ore, and wood sources in order to develop themselves and their surroundings. There are also carrots, cabbages, and other food sources to be found in the environment. The world is beautiful, and boasts detailed graphics featuring lush plants, gorgeous skies, and detailed weather patterns.
Solace has a massive crafting menu, but one that’s easily navigable and equipped with one of the best sorting and filtering systems I’ve seen. The game allows the player to explore their options from the start, and each item has the necessary materials listed by its side (ex: 10 Timber, 5 Stone). From there, the player has to prioritize and accomplish their goals.
The interesting thing about Solace Crafting is that, as much as it plays as a straight sandbox game, there are story-like elements. In the beta version back in October, I ran across some interesting castle structures and notes hinting at human activity. The magic powers available to the player beg the question of who the character really is, as does the link to the home base and the “soul” designation in the create-a-character menu.
A home-teleport key is assigned from the beginning and neatly allows the player to transport back to their original spawn-in point, where a post sticks out of the ground to make it easy to see from a distance. This is particularly helpful when navigating the environment, as I found myself wandering into swarms of monsters well before I was equipped to handle them and could teleport myself out of the area before it became a problem.
Finally, a ‘build’ menu allows the player to create projects that are bigger than simple crafting can accomplish, listing structures of wood and stone. Magic is a part of Solace Crafting as well. I wasn’t able to dive much into magic during this playthrough simply because my priorities went to building shelter before making a wand, but I look forward to seeing how that will factor in.
While there are options and Solace doesn’t feel too complex, many menus (most notably the Build menu) are difficult to use — a big contrast from the approachability of the crafting menu. Often, there is no instruction provided and multiple windows will be open on screen simultaneously to accomplish simple tasks like selecting which part of a home structure the player will build, or navigating some skill and resource trees.
The cursor also doesn’t transition well from interacting with the menu to interacting with the environment, and I would often try to click on a feature like when building a wall, only to find that I’d clicked through the menu and placed another floor panel.
There’s also no clear “create” button or anything to show the player precisely how to build anything. Is it game breaking? No. Is it frustrating? Absolutely. At the same time, that sort of complex, text-based GUI is popular right now, and players more accustomed to that style likely won’t struggle as much as I do. Unlike games like Minecraft and 7 Days to Die, which offer menus with fully image-based GUIs, Solace Crafting is almost purely text-based. It actually reminds me a bit of the Pip Boy in Fallout. Instead of searching for the icon or image corresponding to a given option, the player must search for the line of text that indicates the action instead.
While the crafting menu is significantly easier to navigate, my biggest problem with this aspect is the time involved. As an example, mining brings in about 1-2 resources per 3-4 seconds, and the amount of resources necessary for even simple things is massive.
In order to construct a bow, I need 10 lumber. To get this, I have to work timber (raw wood) through a saw station. The saw station takes 20 timber and 10 metal. To get metal, I have to work ore through a forge, but the forge takes 50 stone. Making a bow now requires 90 resource units (plus however many ore and timber to work into the next material). That takes a long time, and it’s offputting when constructing even simple weapons requires so much effort.
Another big issue was the camera. Even with the mouse and camera sensitivities set to low, I struggled to line up with a carrot on the ground to pick it up, or to angle myself appropriately towards rocks before collecting stone.
Solace Crafting does offer the sort of independence that I think other games have almost unanimously failed to. I felt like I was constantly discovering new things, and exploration was rewarded. If I was going to be dumped into a magical world alone, I would guess that this is what it would be like, and I appreciate a game that lets me figure out survival for myself.