It's been a strange day. First you get a message to head into the village and find your father. His letter didn't say what it was about, just that it was urgent. When you arrive, your mother pushes you down a well, which is pretty out of character for her. When you finally find your way out, you find everyone in the village has been turned to stone and your father has been taken prisoner by unknown invaders. Whatever is going on, and how can you put it right?
Thus begins Driftmoon, a top-down RPG with a cracking story and a delightful cast of characters. In one sense it's pure hokum - an evil king, trying to assemble an ancient magical artefact that will allow him to conquer the world unless you can stop him; a quest to find all the missing pieces of said artefact first - but it does so with a delightful touch of whimsey and there's plenty of humour to be found here. How many other games would have the deadly Hoe of Doom as an early weapon? Or such wonderfully ordinary conversations with undead skeletons?
The game is easy to learn and get into. You only directly control one central character, assisted by various friends and comrades as the game plot demands. You have a set level of HP, which is sapped by combat, and MP, which is used by various special abilities. Use the mouse to move your hero around and to click on interactive objects, such as things to operate or pick up. Collect coins for use in shops, use armour to boost your defence, wield weapons to attack enemies. Gain experience to level up and learn new abilities. The early part of the game doubles as a tutorial, so it's easy to learn everything as you go along, and you can set the game difficulty at the outset for an easier or tougher game.
The graphics are superb. The top-down style works well, with building roofs "disappearing" as you enter them, and there's a wonderful throwaway gag about the local king banning multi-storey buildings after an incident involving stairs. Various different areas have different styles - the dark, spooky mine, for instance, is quite claustrophobic... especially when you see the footprints of the Bogeyman! Objects you can click on are indicated with "sparkles", but many small items, such as ingredients, are still quite subtle.
Sound is plentiful, with a host of ambient and spot effects. Most of the game uses ambient sound rather than music, neatly avoiding the problem of repetition. You could be looking around one area for several minutes, after all. Music is used for events, such as entering a new area or starting a battle, and tends to be short and to the point. The range of both music and sound effects is large enough to provide plenty of variety, and is just one of the many areas that Driftmoon demonstrates polished professionalism.
Driftmoon is very easy to play, with a number of good ideas. If your HP gets low in combat, for instance, it automatically pauses - ideal if you want to look for a health potion in your inventory. You can use ingredients gathered on your journey to craft items - if you have the blueprints - such as torches, potions and so on. Many natural ingredients will grow over time, so you can return and gather more. And then there's food - all food you gather is automatically stockpiled and as long as you have some your health will regenerate over time. If you pick your battles and take time to rest up between them, you can seriously reduce the need for health potions.
There's supposedly about 10-20 hours of gameplay in Driftmoon, though this doesn't include any mods that you might want to try out (or create!). I'm not done with it yet, being a poor reviewer with limited time, but I can see me continuing with my adventure for a while to come. Though the quests are fixed, which limits the replay value a little, the range of skills and strategy should help to keep it fresh if you choose to try a different path. And besides - the story is fun and engaging, with characters that you actually care about.
I've only encountered one strange bug with Driftmoon so far, which has otherwise very clearly been tested and retested until everything sparkles. On one occasion, as my characters left the mine for the first time, I spent several minutes wandering about the outer village. There were trees and streams and all manner of scenery - but no buildings, despite them appearing on my minimap. I eventually used the map to leave that area and come back, and then everything returned to normal, but it may be something for the developers to look into.
My biggest regret is that I have not had enough time to do this game justice. What time I could spare has been filled with high quality gameplay and, most of all, it has been fun. The plot may be predictable, but I actually cared about the characters and the quests, and the gameplay is tough enough to be challenging without being so tough that it stops you progressing. A gold star is richly deserved by this offering. Well done, Instant Kingdom!
Keywords: driftmoon review, instant kingdom reviews, instant kingdom games, driftmoon scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.