Played on Windows
It’s that time of the month, it’s about half way through the month, which means it’s time to look at the Humble Monthly Bundle for September 2018. We have three games this month, Staxel, Sniper Elite 4 and Tales of Berseria, which I’ll tackle in that order. I am going to up the priority on Humble Monthly Bundle so it’ll knock a few reviews out of order, but I will try to maintain the order after I get these out of the way.
So when looking at Staxel and I saw that it was called a 3d multiplayer farming simulator. I also noticed the art style and I said what everyone has probably said about this game. “It’s Minecraft meets Stardew Valley?” The fact is, I don’t think it’s possible to avoid that comparison and we’ll get there for sure. At the same time, it’s in the Humble Monthly Bundle and has been in Early Access for seven months so let’s see what there is in this game.
First, this review needs a disclaimer. As a rule, I do not review Early Access games. I think it’s too early to really look at a game and with the game in flux, the review is only really valid for a couple of weeks unless the developer is near finished. I might break this rule for Exapunks, depending on if it feels like a full release, but for Staxel… well, I hope it exemplifies everything that’s wrong with Early Access, otherwise… well….
You see, that “Minecraft meets Stardew Valley” is a little on the nose. This is clearly a 3d version of Stardew Valley, with multiplayer. The bad news for Staxel though is Stardew Valley just released multiplayer so that’s one less thing it has.
The worst news though is, as I played it, the more I realized how accurate that first opinion is. You run a farm, you buy seeds and you plant them or buy animals and feed them. From there you gain produce and sell it for a large profit.
I’ll get into the gameplay later, but it’s clear that at the very least there is a heavy inspiration there. There is also a pedantic argument to be made similar to “it’s based on Harvest Moon instead of Stardew Valley” If that’s the case, fine, however it doesn’t change the fact that is just merging two very popular games together.
The big change is this is now 3D so you can build your farm and look around in 3d. Which is where the Minecraft comes in. We once again get a voxel-based game where we can build anything. Always an interesting thought, and it leads us to the graphics.
Now I’m sure people will look at it and say “it doesn’t look like Minecraft” and admittedly there is a little puffiness with the environment, however I use the term Minecraft, mostly due to the 3d Voxel environment, the ability to build anything and Staxel really wants you to build in its game.
It’s not a 1 to 1 comparison though, the gameplay is clearly more focused on farming, however, the graphics here aren’t that compelling for me. The characters don’t look interesting and feel almost two dimensional when they talk to you. The design of those characters don’t really pop out at me and I’m not that interested. While you can be a catboy or catgirl, or an elf, I don’t know if that’s enough to really stand out and the fact is, I didn’t really feel connected.
This is what the characters look like in game as you talk to them..
The world does look better than Minecraft, but not amazingly so. Though Portal Knights did bend the rules of the cube style world too far, I feel that the art style world in Staxel is more consistent and better. The trees look fantastic and are the high point of the game. I love chopping them down in interesting patterns. The downside is that interesting design to the tree comes from the “puffiness” of the tree pieces. That same puffiness is found in many objects, and they aren’t as interesting to look at. Dirt and stone have the same puffiness, and it doesn’t work there in the same way.
Overall the graphics work but that’s about it for them.
So let’s return back to the gameplay and go through it piece by piece. Now, again, this game is in Early Access and I’m crossing my fingers that there will be some big changes coming, as there are a number of areas in the game that are a bit flawed.
The biggest flaw, in my opinion, is the one that affects everything. The UI in this game feels hideous. The inventory screen isn’t horrible, but the overlay only takes a portion of the screen, and the inventory takes a smaller portion of the screen. Why have this massive screen when you squeeze everything into a small part of it? The inventory works at least. It’s a good part of the UI because it’s fully functional, makes sense, and works as you expect.
The other screens in this game are very weak. There is a collection screen that works but feels underdeveloped. It just shows a bunch of images of stuff that’s greyed out if you don’t have it or you can see the real images if you already owned it once. An achievement screen that’s hard to understand what you are looking at, and only shows “completed” and “not completed” by tiny icons on each achievement that’s colored in. Some of them are too small for me to even see if they’re grey or not.
The crafting recipes screens feel misaligned and just poor. It doesn’t show you what you’ll create once you’re done, and even when you use the hint system, if it’s a multi-step for the craft, you only see the first step outside of the menu screen.
It’s not very ugly, but it isn’t exactly amazing looking either, and these are just instructions, you have to craft outside of this.
The crafting itself is not done in the UI and has its own system. You find different crafting stations, each claiming to do something different, such as “Assemble”, “Saw”, or “Combine”. You then place your items in the right amount on it to do something. So if you want lumber, you can put raw wood on the Saw table and then chop it up to be lumber. If you then want wood blocks, you can then take the lumber and buy glue, placing both on the Assembly station and get wood blocks. The UI will tell you how to craft anything you can make, but you’ll have to find the parts yourself.
Finding the parts is a mixed bag. Most of the time you can buy the items from the shops. This too doesn’t use the UI and I’m mixed on it. The UI is weak, but the solution the developers came up with might be worse. You walk into a store and then have to browse all the shelves hopefully finding what you want. I believe all items are always available, but the shops do something a bit annoying. They’ll shuffle the order of items on the shelves. So if you want nails or glue, and it was on the top shelves, they might be on the bottom shelves next time you walk into the store. In addition, there is no way to find out where something is without wandering around and hoping it’s in that store.
Need rope for instance? Well, it’s either at the general store or the building store. In this case, it’s at the building store so if you look in the general store, you’re out of luck. Then you have to find it, it’s like a building material like glue so it’s on the same cabinet as it. You’ll eventually find it, but when I walk into a supermarket, I like to know where stuff is. Here you’re going to wander a bit and can’t just ask the employee “Where’re the Cornflakes”.
There is another option as well. If you have enough money (5000 petals), you can buy a shipping station and a brochure. From here you can buy ANYTHING in the game, even stuff the stores don’t have and get it delivered. The good news is you can sort and search in this version of shopping. The downside is that it takes a day to deliver, and it appears only 10 items can be bought a day. However it’s clear they have a UI for it, why couldn’t they use a similar UI for the stores?
The character creator is also a bit underwhelming. For some reason there’s empty slots for the pants and shoes? Why?
The other problem with the shipping station and the brochure is that they’re both overpowered. You can get anything from the brochure from what I hear. Even hard to find and unique items you’re supposed to collect. So what’s the point in hunting for Rhino Beetles if a couple bucks will pay for them? You can just buy anything you are missing from what I saw.
However, if you need certain pieces for a building, like a patisserie counter, you’re going to need the shipping station and brochure to get those pieces. At least that was the way I found the furniture for a new restaurant.
If buying items wasn’t bad enough, selling items is pretty poor as well. Once again you don’t have to use the UI for it, though I would prefer that. Instead, you have to place any item you want to sell in a specific location (either a selling platform or your shipping station). This sounds good until you want to sell a bunch of items. You have to open your inventory, put as much as you can in your hotbar, and then place the items one at a time, selling the stack. I didn’t see a way to select how much to place, so you’re selling a full stack each step.
If you have 10 items to sell, you put 8 items in your hot bar, sell them, then put the last 2 items in your hotbar, it’s not a very fun system and feels like the UI could have assisted with this. It’s great if you want to sell one item, but when you’re selling a large number of items you can’t help but feel there has to be a better way.
So that’s the UI, and shops taken care of. The core of the game though is the farm. If there is one thing Staxel gets right, it’s the farming aspects. In Stardew Valley the majority of your day is upkeep on your farm due to stamina. You only can perform a certain amount of actions. However, Staxel shrugs at that. It actually gives you some great tools. Every tool can be charged up, so if you want to smash a small object you can just click quickly, but the hammer, for instance, will change from a small hole to a medium size hole to the taking down an entire wall at once.
This is the base hoe, and it can till this much with one swing. Very nice.
The same is true for the shovel, pickaxe, and hoe. Each moves quickly to the largest size and it makes felling a tree, or digging places for your seeds quite enjoyable. I was able to quickly plant any amount of seed in a couple of minutes. The watering can doesn’t require stamina (nothing does) and I can water a large farm in a couple of seconds.
The downside of this is it’s rather easy to run the farm. Items grow in a certain amount of days which you can see on the packages of seeds you buy, such as onions only taking 4 days. You can quickly grow them and turn a profit. However I was noticing after getting into a pattern after the first 10 days or so, I would water my crops and then want to go to sleep to advance time. Unfortunately, you can’t do that and have to wait until most of the day is over.
The problem I ran into is the fact that I had nothing to do. There were small quests like finding items for people, but they weren’t interesting to do. There were a couple of things I was asked to build and those are better choices but they required a lot of money.
I could wander and see the island, but I already toured it a couple of times over the previous ten days, so I didn’t need to see more. Instead, I got so bored I decided to dig a hole to the center of the earth. Using the charged pickaxe tool this was relatively easy, and I dug a rather large hole, but there is nothing to find in the hole, just “raw stone”. I was amazed at how deep I dug without the game calling me out or just making me hit bedrock. But the fact that there was nothing to find in the hole or ground is disappointing. There wasn’t even coal, copper or silver from what I saw. The game just lets you dig as you want. There was a hint of a mine in the dialogue from the mayor, but without ore in the game, what’s the point?
You can go hunting bugs, but honestly… I only really found the common ones and never felt like hunting the rare choices.
There is also a festival that happens in spring, but I didn’t understand how to participate in it, apparently online people are saying you need to “Catch fairies” but didn’t understand that in game, and honestly, doesn’t seem like a reason to return or something I wanted to do with my day to day play.
The fact is I didn’t see much of a reason to keep playing. You can build a nice farm, and keep growing food, but I didn’t see a purpose for it, other than buying some mild objects and building the few buildings I was asked to or just running on the treadmill called capitalism.
I spent maybe four hours in the game, and honestly, I felt done. Whereas Stardew kept me playing for according to steam over one hundred and thirty hours (probably more like 60), Staxel had me feeling bored within 4.
I would wander around town and talk to people and most of the time everyone said generic stuff, it was rare to get a quest and even rarer for me to be asked to build something specific. It’s great when the game wants to do that, but the majority of my time wandering around town was fruitless, and even when I was asked to build it didn’t feel that interesting.
The biggest problem is I don’t know if this game doesn’t have content because of Early Access, multiplayer, or if the developers think this is enough of a reason to buy their game.
I go back to the Minecraft and Stardew Valley comparison. If I wanted a 3d building game, I’d play Minecraft. If I wanted a farming game, I’d play Stardew Valley, but there is not a strong reason for Staxel.
Worse I’ve played over 5 of these games in the 8 months. Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Portal Knights, Slime Rancher, Dragon Quest Builder, and now Staxel. The thing is, each of those games does something different, except one. Staxel doesn’t stand out. It doesn’t have much to add to the genre or player, and that’s an important distinction.
Pop Quiz, which game is this from. Yeah It’s Staxel, but it also looks like almost all of them.
Staxel isn’t a horrible game, but it’s not great either. It’s lacking a reason for me to play it over all other games on that list. And that’s the problem I have with Early Access. I don’t know if Plukit doesn’t have an idea of what to do to differentiate themselves from all the other games, or if there isn’t ever going to be something original here.
Personally, I think it’s the latter problem, but I’m giving this game the benefit of the doubt. I still can’t recommend it and think this game is a bit bad, but at the same time, this game could turn it around with a lot of design work or just one solid idea, but I’m not seeing it yet, and because of that, there is no way I could recommend this game at this point, but I’m giving this game a higher score than I might if it was fully released.
However, the fact they are putting the game on the Humble Bundle should mean the game is representative of what they want the game to be, but I hope not for their sakes. Staxel is getting a generous
Give it some time, maybe in 6 months they’ll have something really unique there, but personally, I’ll stick with Stardew Valley when I want to grow things.
Final thoughts: It feels a lot like Minecraft meets Stardew Valley, but that’s about all it feels like. It doesn’t differentiate itself enough from those games to shine, and thus is not a compelling game.
Stats: 4.2 hours 7/23 achievements earned.