Before anything else, I must stress the fact that this is a game made, with the exception of the music and most portraits, by two people. Granted, I have previously praised a game made, again with the exception of the music, by a single person, and that one is far more complex and quite simply much better in terms of combat and enemies, and probably also character development, but Driftmoon is more of a typical RPG, also involving exploration and much more interaction, which is a notable achievement for such a small team. There are limitations and simplifications that I’ll get to later, but it is nevertheless one of the examples proving that the age of games being made by “two guys in a garage” doesn’t need to be a thing of the past. Just that now they’re not necessarily guys anymore and they may work in something a bit more comfortable than a garage.
If I were to describe Driftmoon in one word, it would be “charming”. That’s the overall impression I got from it, whether we’re talking of the atmosphere, humor, characters, enemies, graphics, locations, music, or the many references. Despite the typical plot of saving the world from a great evil and the inclusion of themes such as torture, it does cater to a younger audience and doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet manages to avoid actually becoming childish or just a parody. Take any single element out of those I just listed aside and it most probably won’t charm on its own, some possibly even bothering adult gamers seeking something other than just amusement from their games, but see them as part of the whole and, from the first moments all the way to the end, this one word describes the game almost too well. At least as long as you manage to ignore one particular infuriating theme, or of course if, unlike me, you happen to be among those at least not bothered by it, Driftmoon is simply charming.
On top of that, there’s something to be said about it managing to avoid the typical elements that make a game frustrating, at least for me. I could hoard pretty much anything I thought could be useful at some later point without running into inventory problems and this hoarding is at times even rewarded, some items proving useful in less expected ways. I never felt that if I made a choice at one point, whether in terms of story or of character development, I was going to mess up more things later without even being made aware of it before it was too late, and I also want to make note of the fact that companions who leave drop all equipment you gave them, so you’ll never lose anything that way. Also, with one late-game exception that you’re very clearly warned about when you mean to leave, areas I had moved on from remained open until the, again very clearly specified, point of no return at the entrance of the final one, so I could always go back and make sure I had really found everything, and the number of quests completed and available in each area is listed on the world map, so you’ll very easily know if you somehow “managed” to miss one. And no fight or other challenge felt unfair or cheap, and it was nice how you could move freely while using ranged weapons and you found a quiver that used mana to provide endless arrows even early on. Admittedly, the game was rather too easy on what should be normal difficulty, but keep that younger target audience in mind and, either way, there are higher settings available for those who want them.
And I really must mention all the references as well. Yes, there’s a lot of humor in the game and it usually works well enough, at least for me, but it’s how many other things, whether also humorous in themselves or not, the developers managed to squeeze in that stands out far more. The entire Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is reproduced with a skeleton in the crypt. A secret room in the library acts as a tribute to quite a number of classic games, Discworld, Muse and Don Rosa’s Disney comics. You can pretend to play a bit of hockey in a frozen area and, also there, a character whose resistance to cold helped him end up just frozen instead of petrified recovers after you get him in a sauna, which is an obvious reference when the developers are Finnish. And many, many, many other things, in dialogues, little quips, writings, book titles, item descriptions, places… Identifying all of them may well be a game in itself, and now I’m even wondering whether the way in which the outcome for each character whose life you influenced is presented at the end isn’t at least in some part a nod to Arcanum.
Unfortunately, one of the things the developers insisted on including is Christian proselytism. As a simple reference like all the others, even to the extent of hiding the entire New Testament in a couple of places and adding a paragraph at the end of the ending credits thanking “Our Loving, Forgiving and Almighty God”, it would have been quite fine. This game is a work of passion and it’s made by two people who really put a lot of themselves in it, including all these references to what’s important to them, what they enjoy or what they personally see as otherwise sufficiently relevant. That’s fine, I get it, and if it’d have been treated like all the others, and possibly just focused on more in the monastery, including by having crosses or even pictures of Jesus instead of the duck images, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But these are not just references, but instead something pressed and hammered in, the game sliding into proselytism plenty of times, even if mainly advocating blind faith and devotion and not also the conservative “values” usually associated with organized religion. Considering that younger target audience, I’m tempted to see it as even more troubling, even more so considering the reaction religious or conservative people tend to have when progressive, liberal or secular values are taught or even simply presented to children.
Otherwise, there’s the matter of the game being rather too simple. I was mentioning the complexity and diversity of combat and enemies in The Spirit Engine II, which was developed by a single person, at the beginning of this review, so the fact that it’s lacking here isn’t because it can’t be done by a very small team. Yet, while the number itself may perhaps be passable, the reuse and to a fair extent similarity leaves the impression that there are only a few actual enemy types, and they pretty much just go all out to attack you with whatever means they have. And your companions behave the same way when aiding you in battle; you can’t even give them any orders such as to attack without you or a different enemy or when to switch to ranged or melee during combat if they have both types of weapons. If they use a melee weapon and you switch to ranged and put some distance between you and the enemy, you may even find that they disengage and just follow you around.
Still on the matter of being too simple, there are rather too few items available. The number of melee weapons is perhaps passable for a game this size, but the rest is quite restrictive, barely a few items of each type being available. Potions also don’t have different strengths and the crafting system, which might have been interesting if used properly, can only produce basic consumables, plus maybe the tickers if you care to use any, so felt like quite a waste to me. And not that there even are more actually useful rings to wear, but being limited to equipping a single magical ring is rather odd. On that note, have to wonder why isn’t there even an equipment panel and you just select what you equip by clicking on the items in inventory, which makes the background turn green. It just seems rather lazy, even if the reduced number of items does indeed help when it comes to not getting frustrated with inventory management.
And I may also mention the length here, but in truth, once again considering the team size and also that likely younger target audience, the bigger issue is elsewhere. According to the save timer, it took me 17 and a half hours to finish the game, but I likely spent less than half of that actually playing, much of it consisting instead of double and triple checking every little bit of every map and moving absolutely everything that could be moved to find all the silver feathers and the few other hidden items. And while it’s nice that you can move so many things around, it gets a bit annoying that you have to, considering the effect and eventual importance of the feathers, especially when we’re not talking just of candles or flowers that you can just throw around, but also of large heavy items that barely budge, plus the cases when some need to be cleared away before you can get to others, so you’ll be spending plenty of time slowly moving absolutely everything you can, just in case there’s something under or behind it. And what makes that even worse is that there are some items that sometimes move and sometimes don’t and there’s no way to immediately tell, so you’ll click and drag and find your character moving instead, then likely try every direction, just in case the item is blocked in some directions and you can’t see why, then conclude that the item in question can’t be moved, but maybe later find one that can be, and then you’ll go back to see if you didn’t miss any others. I was saying above that the game avoided the typical elements that make games frustrating for me and that fights didn’t feel cheap, but this one thing is cheap and frustrating.
Overall, Driftmoon is, in one word, charming. Maybe intended for a younger audience and not taking itself too seriously in terms of the story or characters, but not going too far when it comes to that and being, in my view, enhanced by most of the many references and personal touches included by the two developers. It is rather too simple in some ways and the search for the feathers can get frustrating and feel a bit cheap, but in spite of that it’s quite an enjoyable experience that manages to be close enough to a typical, albeit not exactly serious, RPG while doing away with many of the elements that make many of those almost as frustrating as they are enjoyable, or in some cases even more so.
Or it can be all of that if you can ignore all the Christian proselytism or just aren’t generally bothered by it. I for one tried and largely managed to enjoy it in spite of this, but while the developers, especially when it’s such a small team and they obviously put so much of themselves in it, are free to make a Christian game, I am also free to hold it against them. The other flaws may well be forgivable, but this is not, because it’s not something immediately obvious before you purchase or start playing and even more so because of that likely younger target audience. Quite simply, Driftmoon would have been quite an achievement for a team this size if not for this one very obvious and annoying issue.
Note that this review refers strictly to the game itself. Driftmoon includes an editor and supports mods, some of which are included and just need to be selected, but I played it without any of them installed and didn’t check any other content created by users using the editor. It’s always a good thing when such tools are included, however… And I didn’t check, but wonder if somebody made a mod to get rid of that particular main problem I kept stressing in this review, even if it’d require a fair amount of rewriting.