Every week we launch Brendan into the early access stratosphere to see if he can find gems among the clouds. This time, the floating islands and airship building of sandbox MMO Worlds Adrift [official site]
I fell off my sky boat. I’m now falling through the clouds wondering if this world has a bottom – a large lava pit or possibly a vast, endless ocean – and also: how long will it take to arrive there? I say “fell”. In fact, I was forcefully ejected from my ship – the Flabbergaster – by some kind of violent spasm of the game’s inner workings. This isn’t the first time I’ve died to a janky accident of the overzealous physics engine, nor is it the most embarrassing. That honour is reserved for the time I crafted a plank of wood and it landed awkwardly on my own head. It might be difficult to describe the merits of this crafting-heavy multiplayer world while the wind rushes so mercilessly around me but I’ll try, because it has many, despite the jank.
Worlds Adrift is a universe of islands separated by large patches of cloudy abyss. At first glance, it is a game about punching wood and building an airship. In reality, it’s a Spiderman game forced at gunpoint to wear MMO clothing. You have a grappling hook from the moment you are brought into being, you see, and it is wonderful.
Due to the nature of these floating islands, you’re at risk of falling off the edge, or tumbling into a giant cavern that often form the islands’ hollow insides. The grappling hook will save you. It lets you swing and leap all over the place, at first with great difficulty, then with hilarious semi-competence, and finally with a weird circus-like grace. You can also use it to speed up runs across a flat plain, by grabbing the ground in front of you and double-jumping forward. It’s not as easy to grasp as say the grappling hook from the Just Cause series, but it does feel like a liberating superpower once you get used to it. Here’s a picture of me using it to mine some rocks on an otherwise unreachable cliff edge.
You mine these to get metal and “Atlus shards” (magic stones that power machinery) with which to build your airship(s). There is a dreadful tutorial process that leaves you starved of vital information for the first hour or so of play, instead forcing you to go out and scan everything around you for “knowledge points” which – once you’ve accumulated enough – finally let you unlock the shipbuilding options via an obtuse crafting menu. It’s a pity the whole process of building a ship and crafting the workbenches and shipyards necessary for that task isn’t described more thoroughly. It also pains me that the first thing you must do in this lively and intriguing world isn’t hop on a crappy ship and explore but to scan dozens of plants and rocks for tiny incremental XP gains.
Once you've unlocked the shipbuilding processes, however, that annoyance subsides. You need to build a shipyard, stations which act as both building points and parking spaces (grabbing ships safely as they glide into the gravity well). You also need a separate workstation where you can build panels, engines, sails and the like. When your ship’s frame is done, a big forcefield bubble appears around the shipyard and you can use this to grapple up to your vessel or just swing around like a monkey trapped in a biodome. I spent the first couple of hours on my small island alone, learning the shipbuilding process mistake by mistake, before the place suddenly became popular. A waystation for travellers and ex-pirates. At least, one of them told me they were an ex-pirate, before promising to bring me some resources to help me get started.
“Let me grab my ship though” she said, and immediately collapsed in front of me, dead.
I carried on making my ship, understanding that she had simply forced a respawn at a personal revive point - little metal platforms you can attach to your ship that act as a home spawn. I gathered materials as I waited. At one point, I was almost killed by a flying carnivorous manta ray, which took exception to my cutting down some nearby trees and attacked me, knocking me off my feet and into the air like a ragdoll. This may have also been revenge for an earlier altercation, in which I shot a grappling hook onto one of these creatures and rose into the sky with it like a hot air balloon. I don’t remember how I got down.
Anyway, I survived my brief encounter with the manta ray by fleeing and munching on some berries from the trees I'd been harvesting. After some time, I looked up and saw a ship floating gently down towards the island. It was the ex-pirate.
“IF YOU USE ALL CAPS,” she shouted, “YOUR VOICE TRAVELS FURTHER.”
She landed at a shipyard and swung over to give me the blueprints to a big pipe-covered contraption that supposedly made my engine more fuel efficient. I added the giant piece of kit with a mechanic’s enthusiasm. I did this despite the fact my ship did not have any combustion engines and therefore did not use fuel. It was to be propelled by single sail. During flight, I would have to leave the steering wheel to raise and lower this sail because I am a crew of one and I enjoy the sensation of flying with nobody at the wheel. Anyway, with the fuel contraption my ship was now heavier for no discernible advantage. But at least it had some neat pipes. Finally, I added a figurehead – a giant eagle-like noggin that hung down and looked at everything below. The Flabbergaster was complete.
“Nice clawspirit,” said the ex-pirate.
“Thank you,” I said, not knowing what the hell she meant.
It was time to leave the waystation. I grappled up to the deck, upped the sail and grabbed the wheel, making a slow and wide turn toward a much larger island in the distance. I bellowed my final goodbyes to the island below in all caps. We were on the way, slowly, but we were on the way.
Players with more time in the game will have unlocked engines, wings and other bits that increase the speed and maneuverability of a ship. You get these by scanning yet more do-hickeys for knowledge. Casks and rusty machinery litter many of the islands, which grant chunks of XP. Likewise, little diary entries and lore can be found in chests and loot boxes, which you can use to up your knowledge levels and unlock more along a tree of craftable items. Some recipes can also be learned with blueprints, found in the same goody boxes. This is how you get beyond a rubbish tugboat with a single sail and a bad captain. Later, I would see some ships that leave glorious smoke trails in the sky and I would come to regard these ships with a deep and vigourous envy. My ship had a barrel. It’s where I hid my berries.
As the Flabbergaster approached the island, a storm came. Not an in-game storm of magical lightning (which does sometimes occur and damages your shipyards) but a storm of frame rates. Every so often my game would suffer one of these apocalyptic seizures. It would stutter, freeze up, crash. I tried putting the graphics options down but, aside from making it marginally less pretty, these attacks still occurred with frequency on a machine that is otherwise beefy enough (I don’t have the recommended specs but I’m well above the minimum). I heard others in-game complain of similar problems but whether you’ll experience that, I don’t know.
In any case, this particular seizure was a STRONG ONE. After a juddering moment my body was suddenly wrenched from the wheel and flung from the ship at high speed, limbs flailing at impossible angles, as if I had been clotheslined by an unseen physics object.
The ship sailed on, but I was no longer aboard. My descent into the abyssal chasm had begun. There’s no ocean at the bottom, nor a lava pit. I know that now. I died of being in a grey killzone far beneath the deck of my beloved Flabbergaster, which I never saw again. Because I forgot to register myself to the personal revive point installed on board.
My second attempt at a smaller, more maneuverable ship was much better. I’d respawned on the big island near to my deathspot, which was uninhabited save for a single floating monster. We ignored one another and I created a new ship, a better ship, a –
Oh my god I’ve built her backwards.
I've accidentally designed it with the wide part at the front and the narrow at the back. But it's too much work to change now. So, with my new, very un-aerodynamic vessel I set sail for the next island that caught my eye – a giant triple-tiered landscape with grand plateaus and pillars of stone. I like this sense of exploration, of going slowly from isle to isle. Along with the need to use wind power (at least in the early game) it reminds me of Wind Waker in a calming way. Progress is slow but when it goes smoothly it’s a relaxing joy to sail the skies.
It is possible to mount cannons on your ship and attack other players but this kind of skulduggery had yet to occur to me. Instead, the world feels empty most of the time, though not in a bad way. I like my run-ins with players to be infrequent in games like this. I prefer brief and interesting encounters to waking up in a city full of town criers shouting “FIREBLOOD AXEMAN SET / 100 STR / 50K!!” Although, that kind of rowdy MMO city also has its charms. For instance, you’d never meet a man like Foulbeast there.
I met this reprobate soon after I approached the next island – the gargantuan plateau lands with pillars of rock. I decided to set the boat down on the highest plain and go for an explore. But there were no shipyards there to rest the boat in. I brought the Ass Backwards to a rest and grappled down to the surface, where I built a handy shipyard. Allez-oop! Back onto the boat and time to steer it onto the… HEY. THAT WAS MY SPACE.
As I was turning the Ass Backwards in a wide loop to park her on the yard, a bigger ship with four combustion engines and propellers and wings and fancy instruments swooped in and took the shipyard I had just built. I left the steering wheel, took down the sail and hopped to the front deck as we glided forward.
“HEY,” I all-capped, “THAT WAS MY PARKING SPOT.”
A man in a hood and brown clothes paused in his scavenging and looked up at me.
“there’s literally like 3 other spaces on the island. go take one of them.”
This irritated me, but I was determined to stay cool.
“Okay,” I said, close enough now not to shout. “Where are they?”
“go into the sky and look unless your blind”
This struck me as a rude response.
“Nice boat,” I said, and grappled up from his bubble onto the ship. I sat down on the deck, trying to communicate my dislike for this impolite player by simply being there.
“im assuming you’re new”
“How dare you!”
“am I wrong?”
“I’m a professional,” I said. “This gun looks interesting.”
“out,” he said. “now or your ship get blown up.”
I grappled onto his bubble and hung there insolently.
“How about YOU get out of my parking space!”
He responded by blowing up my ship.
I hung from the bubble and fumed.
“That was not cricket.”
I swung around his bubble furiously, lacking any weapon or means of revenge. I heard a few potshots and assumed he was trying to shoot me down with a hand-held pistol. But I was flying around inside the bubble too rapidly for the shots to land. My only method of retribution being to mimic an annoying mosquito that you cannot kill.
“well its been fun,” he said, hopping into his boat and starting the engine. Black smoke began to pour out.
“Hey! You owe me a ride!”
I grappled onto the rear of his ship just as it took off. Trailing behind it and flapping in the wake like a can on a string.
But the game could not take the intensity of this comedic moment and started to splutter and twitch. Within moments I had become dislodged from the ship, cut off somehow from my new arch-nemesis, Foulbeast. I fell to the ground of the island with a thud and just managed to conserve enough health to shout into the sky.
The ship rose with its thick smoketrails, which were probably inconsiderately polluting everything. That’s just the sort of person Foulbeast was.
“YOU GOT YOUR YARD BACK” he shouted.
I walked over to the shipyard, glad to be rid of such a knave. I tapped ‘E’ to claim the use of it.
“YOU PUT A CODE ON IT DOUCHEJERK,” I all-capped.
But he was already gone. The parking space thief had left me stranded on this plateau, where I would have to gather enough material to build both another shipyard and another ship. I looked at the wrecked pieces of the Ass Backwards and seethed. But I will take my vengeance upon thee now, Foulbeast. Wherever you go in this vast world, know that your name is besmirched. Your actions rendered null and void by my story and your own callous nature. To all the noble pirates and ex-pirates of Worlds Adrift: trust not the Foulbeast. For the Foulbeast is a man without virtue or righteousness. And should you see him, I ask you to revenge me, revenge the Ass Backwards! Blast this wanton villain from the sky and all your past sins will be forgiven. I put this curse on you, Foulbeast. May you be chased from island to island, may you never know rest or safety.
May you never park your ship again.
[Note: Beta access to Worlds Adrift sadly only becomes available in batches on Steam or through the developer's website. But! The next batch of paid beta keys is expected tomorrow at 5pm BST. I suggest you use them to hunt and kill the one called Foulbeast. These impressions are based on build 1928111]