Firstly, let’s talk presentation. I only like to feature what I would consider to be ‘good’ indie games in my articles, and as a result I play a lot of indie games with great presentation. For the sake of clarity, what I mean by presentation is simply all of the various artistic elements of the game that the player would necessarily experience in the regular course of play, e.g. the graphics, the menus, the music, the sound effects, the animations, the art style, etc. Think of a game like Persona 5 and how stylized it is in just about every way. It’s unmistakably Persona 5. That game has exceptional presentation, but the developers had a lot of resources at their disposal thanks to their triple-A status. In terms of indie games, Verdant Skies is seriously on another level. Anyone who has experience with indie game production can feel it as soon as the game boots up – there is a high level of production quality at work here… with only a few missteps.
It’s presentation is comparable to the two games that it seems to borrow influence from the most – Stardew Valley and Don’t Starve. Similar to Don’t Starve, Verdant Skies features 2D sprites on a pseudo 3D plane with an isometric perspective. It feels more three dimensional than a traditional 2D game like Stardew Valley, and maybe even more than Don’t Starve as well, since the perspective angle is more exaggerated. Inside buildings, for example, you’ll notice a greater three-dimensional feeling due to how the big, imposing walls are presented with the sharper perspective angle.
I actually liked the pseudo-3D effects in this game, but I do have one gripe; you’ll inevitably encounter rock walls and other cliff faces forcing you to alter your path, and they simply look strange. They act like a three-dimensional obstacle, but they don’t look like one – they just sort of look painted on the ground, creating a somewhat jarring perspectival ambiguity. Besides this one blemish, Verdant Skies successfully manages to create a pleasantly unique looking game, even if it is derivative of other games in it’s genre.
The music is quite good and on the same tier as other indie classics like FTL, Starbound, and Terraria. It’s also somewhat reminiscent of those other games in its musical styling, though. Derivative, one might say. It consists mostly of unobtrusive, ambient synth soundscapes, but it works in Verdant Skies just like it did in those other games.
Perhaps one of the themes of this article is to impart the sentiment that being derivative isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as it was with the pseudo-3D effect and the perspective. In fact, it seems blatantly obvious that being derivative is the mark of many a great game – Stardew Valley itself is no stranger to this. There are times when being derivative is offensive to us because we value authenticity, such as when a deliberate “clone” tries to cash in on the success of a popular game. Most recently we saw that with Overwatch, where some games developed in it’s massive wake were considered derivative but acceptable competitors (Paladins, Battleborn, Lawbreakers), whereas others were considered a little too derivative. So while the question of whether or not something is derivative is worth asking, a better starting point would be to question why being derivative is considered detrimental to begin with.
There is one more presentational aspect to gripe about, though: the character models. Specifically, the player character. The animations just look a bit… awkward at times. The character models in-game simply feel out of place and of lesser quality considering how beautiful everything else is on the screen at any given time. The walking animation makes the characters look like they’re skipping, which is amusing at times. The NPC models aren’t as guilty of these flaws as the player character model is, though; the expanded, hand-drawn NPC models that show up during dialogue are particularly detailed and stylized.
Verdant Skies features a very polished presentation and clearly has a high level of production value.
Moving onto its gameplay, here’s no surprise – this game is derivative of the other, very successful games in it’s genre. And of course the ones that come to mind most immediately are Stardew Valley and Don’t Starve. Bearing that influence, Verdant Skies is heavily based on gathering and crafting. But in terms of the player experience, Verdant Skies isn’t a roguelike, and it features a lot of story based content including a quest system as well as some scripted in-game segments; it’s a more linear experience as a result. Verdant Skies plays more like Stardew Valley, but looks more like Don’t Starve.
I wrote an article last year lamenting about the state of crafting in most games these days. I generally tend to dislike games tagged with ‘crafting’ and ‘sandbox’, for instance. I never cared for Garry’s Mod. Considering the untold levels of popularity of Minecraft, and the subsequent effect that it will continue to have on developers and consumers, there’s no doubt that I’ll have to suffer through countless games featuring crafting and ‘emergent gameplay’ for years to come.
But maybe this is one of the reasons why I can enjoy a game like Stardew Valley or Verdant Skies. These developers understand how to exploit the dynamic relationship between linear, ‘traditional’ game mechanics and non-linear, ‘emergent’ game mechanics. Our third amigo thus far, Don’t Starve, falls short for me here; it relies much more heavily upon emergent gameplay than Stardew Valley or Verdant Skies.
But this lack of total reliance on emergent gameplay in Verdant Skies isn’t the only streamlining happening in its favour. The crafting in Verdant Skies isn’t as depthy or sophisticated as other games in it’s genre. But again – this is a huge plus for me. I put up with the crafting system in World of Warcraft for over ten years – I’m sick of collecting ten lesser scraps of crappy leather just to make one scrap of crappy leather. The crafting system in Verdant Skies isn’t so tedious as this. The relationship between the gathering and crafting is greatly streamlined and the game is better off for it.
Verdant Skies has a lot more to offer as you dig further into the game, but since this is a preview article I won’t be getting into that too much. But it does feature a seemingly very deep and detailed ‘seed genetics’ system whereby you re-sequence the genomes of various seeds by combining them to create seeds with different traits and qualities. And one of the great surprises in this game is it’s fishing mechanic. It’s pretty unique and probably the best fishing mechanic in any game that isn’t a bona fide fishing game.
All things considered, fans of Stardew Valley and other RPG/Farming Management games would be remiss not to place Verdant Skies on their wishlist. It’s both similar enough and different enough compared to the competition in it’s genre to be a legitimate contender. And while it probably won’t live up to the insane popularity of Stardew Valley, Verdant Skies is destined to be an indie darling all the same. You can pick up Verdant Skies starting February 12th on Steam for $19.99 USD (or your regional equivalent).