There’s been a wide variety of survival games launched in recent years, with notable titles including Don’t Starve and Crashlands offering plenty of crafting and killing – though they’re usually a bit light on story.
First-time developer Solar Sail Games is looking to right that wrong with its upcoming Switch game Smoke and Sacrifice, which takes all the usual survival elements and wraps them in an intriguing story of death and motherhood in a steampunk universe.
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It’s an ambitious game, especially for a four-man team, but after getting our hands on it for an hour at a recent preview event, we can say that it’s shaping up quite nicely.
Ashes to ashes
Smoke and Sacrifice lives up to its name in its opening ten minutes, as you’re given control of hero Sachi and almost immediately asked to sacrifice her son to appease the gods.
It’s a bit of a rough opening emotionally, but it sinks its claws in deep, and as everything unfolds, and you realise that there’s shadowy things going on behind the scenes, you’ll be totally invested in finding out more.
Get through the harrowing intro and you’re dropped into a strange, steampunk-inspired world, with naught but your fists and a plentiful bounty of seemingly useless objects to gather.
The environment here lives and breathes regardless of your input – the creatures roam around, picking fights and mating with each other (which we’re promised is super gross to watch), and you need the right equipment to tackle each of the biomes you come across.
Building equipment is fairly straightforward. First you need a recipe, which can be earned through quests or just offered to you by friendly characters, or you can find them hidden in the world if you explore enough.
There’s also plenty of materials around, though you may need to get your hands dirty to get them. Within minutes you’ll be punching trees to get sticks, building a net to catch flies, and then smacking gross jelly things to get their brains for food.
Different biomes contain different materials and monsters too, so you’ll need to get the right equipment early to make sure you can fend off the cold in snowy areas, and the terrors that lie within.
Luckily, Smoke and Sacrifice‘s intro propels you forward at quite a pace – we may have only had an hour to play, but we were soon kitted out with a full armour set, a big knife made of bones, and a handful of bombs to chuck at the nastier foes.
This is largely due to the game’s focus on questing. Yes, it’s a survival game, so you’re free to muck about and gather as much as you like first, but the story is always there to give you a focus.
Between the main quest, you’ll also be making candy for children, fixing broken workbenches, and killing off enormous beasts that will take the patience of a saint and most of your equipment to defeat.
Combat is fairly simple, with one button for attacking and another for dodging. You’ll also unlock an energy shield pretty quickly which you need to use sparingly and can only be recharged by strong lights.
Light me up
Light plays a key role in the game overall, as you’ll spend half of your in-game days wandering around in a thick smoke that slowly kills you unless you’ve got a torch to banish it away.
From what we could see, it’s not a particularly big hinderance, but it does give you an extra layer to think about while playing, which could trip you up in the long run.
That said, dying isn’t a particular big issue – as long as you save regularly. The team wanted to make death meaningful, so you can only save at certain machines in the world, and death sends you straight back to the last time you checked in with one.
It means that you’re not going to lose everything if you go charging into battle against a boss creature, but if you start to get complacent, you could find yourself thrown back by several hours with nothing to show for it.
And enemies are not easy to kill. Even with some decent equipment on you, regular enemies can easily swarm you and sap your health way down, and bigger beasts will require you to learn their attack patterns and use actual tactics to take them down.
It’s all a lot of fun, however. While Smoke and Sacrifice has a pretty heavy story, the core gameplay is well-tuned and enjoyable enough that you can ignore everything else in favour of just slashing up monsters.
That said, the story is intriguing, and it will doubtless help push players to explore further and unlock new equipment – Solar Sail are suggesting that a regular playthrough of the game takes at least 30 hours, a figure which is doubled if you’re trying to see everything there is out there.
There’s no word on a release date just yet – expect it to launch on Switch sometime in 2018 – but we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for it when it does eventually land.