Craftopia: First Impressions
Version reviewed: 20220114.2018
I recently spent some time with Craftopia, an “open world survival crafting game” in which you rebuild civilization, one elephant-powered hamster wheel at a time. The game’s cheerfully eclectic style drew me in immediately, and the surprisingly rich building and automation mechanics kept me hooked. After about 10 hours of building, crafting, and dungeon-ing, it felt like time to jot down a few basic observations.
I’m not exactly a hard sell on “survival crafting games”; honestly, I’m down to try almost anything that lets me build forts, farms, or factories. Still, that space is a pretty saturated one in 2022, with lots of established titles offering different takes on the same core themes. Moreover, Craftopia’s developers position their game as a fusion of concepts from many different genres, raising the question of whether those ideas will hang together as a coherent whole. I went in with measured expectations and was pleasantly surprised.
The Story So Far
Craftopia hit early access in September 2020, and development seems to have continued at a brisk pace since then. A look at the Steam charts shows that it had a pretty successful EA launch that cooled to a simmer for much of 2021. After a major update this past December, the game seems to be picking up steam again (no pun intended), with player counts growing in early 2022 as server hosting companies like Nitrado add it to their list of offerings. Craftopia currently has a reasonably well-fleshed-out single player experience and an experimental host-and-play multiplayer mode.
A Quirky Hodgepodge
Style is easily the game’s strong suit right now. The broad graphical style resembles Breath of the Wild, and the title card really drives home that impression. The soundtrack, too, seems to take a lot of cues from BotW, and not in a bad way. It’s piano-forward, with dreamy, lightly impressionistic material in the more Earth-like overworld regions and a perky minimalist/pointillist style for boss fights. The BGM you hear the most is pleasant, relaxing, and unobtrusive—perfect for building and crafting.
The game world itself has a quirky cows-and-spaceships eclecticism that takes me back to the PlayStation/Dreamcast era. Magic and sci-fi elements coexist with donuts, streetlamps, and baseball bats. A lot of the game’s humor and charm comes from its juxtaposition of realistic and cartoony elements, something that brought to mind Katamari Damacy or Suzuki Bakuhatsu. The human NPCs, for example, look like people from an architectural rendering, but they share a world with cartoon goblins and “Monos,” which are Craftopia’s version of the “RPG mascot slime.” Adding to the weirdness is the game’s whimsical sense of scale: deer and horses are the same size, but a human skull is somehow much larger than a human head. Craftopia is a toybox world where some assets look like army men and others look like minifigs.
A quick note on localization: it’s … uneven. The English translations of in-game text run the gamut from crisp and native-sounding to charmingly off-kilter to, well, whatever this is:
To be clear, this is by no means a dealbreaker. It’s not even an annoyance, except on the rare occasion that the text is not translated at all and I have to piece together Japanese vocab I haven’t used in years. That said, lots of items and features still have placeholder text (this is true in the original Japanese as well), and the translation options are currently limited to English and Chinese.
Developer Pocketpair says Craftopia represents “what would happen when we combine our favorite video games altogether.” They deliver on this promise, though at times the combination feels more like a pastiche and less like a truly integrated whole. There’s automation à la Satisfactory, a pet capture/tame mechanic that involves throwing prisms (not balls!) at monsters, dungeon delving, and even puzzle solving of a sort.
Let me be clear: this is not a survival game in the 7 Days to Die, Valheim, or Don’t Starve sense of the term. The only real survival pressure in the game is hunger, and food is ridiculously plentiful. The fact that you don’t spend much time “surviving” doesn’t mean, though, that the base- and factory-building mechanics aren’t satisfying in their own right. It’s just that they’re more like building toys (“look what I can make!”) than solutions to immediate in-game problems. You start off with very basic building blocks, but that opens up a lot once you tech up a few times using the Altar of Civilization. Most building pieces are cheap, too, so you don’t have to spend hours logging and mining to build a cozy, picturesque house.
Open-world exploration is firmly in the style of BotW, complete with the emphasis on climbing and gliding to reach new areas. Dungeons are separate from the main map and play like simplified versions of BotW trials. Combat, including boss fights, is extremely simple and intuitive at lower levels; if you have played an Elder Scrolls or 3D Zelda game in the past decade, you will know how it works. Fights get a little dancier at higher levels, but I haven’t seen anything so far (bosses included) that makes Souls-like technical demands on the player. Even the world boss that caught me by surprise could be whittled down pretty straightforwardly.
Speaking of levels, progression in Craftopia is highly structured. There’s a Terraria/Minecraft-like materials progression where you need copper to gather iron, iron to gather silver, and so forth. Mineral nodes are brightly colored and easy to spot, speeding things along. Unfortunately, though—or conveniently, depending on your viewpoint—it’s easy to vault over several islands’ worth of content by just climbing the tech tree as far as you can on the starter island. The player also levels up RPG-style, but this happens much more gradually than recipe and crafting station unlocks.
The islands themselves are smallish, self-contained maps on which gameplay takes place. They’re generated semi-randomly as you unlock them, combining a level range with a specific layout and theme. Thus, you can have a “Desert of Mountain” island and a “Cherry Blossom” island of the same level range, or two “Fallen Leaves” islands with the same biome and layout but different levels of monsters, items, and resources. The devs announced in January that they would be doing away with this instanced-islands system, but frankly I don’t mind it. In particular, I like that I can “reroll” individual islands (albeit expensively) without starting a world from scratch.
Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with Craftopia so far and will probably continue to check in on its development from time to time. It’s not a “hard” game, at least on the default difficulty setting; survival pressures as such are extremely light, and combat happens largely on the player’s terms. Instead, in its present form, Craftopia is a sandbox game where you occasionally have to do some digging to unearth new toys.