Smalland: Survive the Wilds is a survival action game developed and published by Merge Games, where players play as Smallfolk, a tiny race of humanoid fairy-like creatures. Throughout the game’s story, players must obtain various materials to craft armor, tame and defeat giant insects, and complete quests for the game’s various NPCs.
As a big fan of survival games, I was pretty excited when I heard about Smalland: Survive the Wilds. A PvE survival game where you can team up in groups of 10 as tiny little humanoids that take on giant ants and spiders? Count me in. And after playing through the game, I can indeed report that Smalland is a delightful time.
While initially, the game appeared to be a bit rough around the edges, Smalland shines in what it does right and the fantasy world that Merge Games has been able to construct.
While many have drawn comparisons to another game of the same ilk, Grounded, in all honestly, it’s a pretty different kind of game outside of the main premise of “being small,” and I don’t think the comparisons serve any meaningful purpose in a review of the game.
Make the Smallfolk of Your Dreams
In Smalland, players customize their character, a small humanoid creature called a Smallfolk that resembles a mix between a bug and a fairy. The character customization screen allows you to change your Smallfolk’s hair color, face, and other features. While character creators are pretty commonplace in many games nowadays, as a person who likes to fully immerse, it’s always appreciated.
Customization in the game doesn’t go as deep as in other games, opting for a selection of pre-set options over being able to mold your character’s facial features and body. Still, there’s enough variety here to make your character stand out.
The one criticism I’d make is a lack of body type selection. I’d love some options for tall and short or rotund and skinny. The prospect of making myself a chubby king sitting atop an ancient Great Tree is something I think needs to be fulfilled at some point in this game’s early access period and would also add a nice sense of variety for the game’s in-game characters.
No Handholding Here
A hot take on survival games that I have is that I actually enjoy the aimless nature of them. In an era where QoL often translates to “let’s make this playable on an iPhone screen,” it’s refreshing not to have markers and mission objectives constantly cluttering my screen.
The game has NPCs you meet right at the beginning of your playthrough, but it never explicitly tells you exactly what you need to do next. Instead, it’s left to the player to explore and find more characters, materials, and boss insects. Along with Owl Effigies that provide additional clues, these are really the only directives the players are given.
So, whether you’re the type to spend 12 hours building out the most impressive base in your Great Tree or if you like to cut to the chase and kill all the world bosses, the way you want to play is left to you.
Smalland is a Love Letter to the Survival and Fantasy Genres
In Smalland, small tweaks and adjustments really let the developer’s love for the survival genre shine. Having a moveable base, for one, circumvents the need to create small sub-bases all around the game world to give yourself a place to sleep. This mechanic enables players to create one massive mobile base, making the grind for materials feel less like a grind.
There are a ton of construction materials, making modifying and customizing your home to your exact specifications more possible. It has an easy demolish feature that doesn’t get locked by a timer, so you can edit your constructions as you please. As you advance through the game, you’ll get new building materials that provide a nice sense of progression when it comes to building your tree house.
The game also circumvents another huge annoyance prevalent in many survival games — the endless walking through vast nothingness to find your next location. They do this by providing players with mount options early on, and players can find different mounts with different strengths and abilities as they get into the later game.
Smalland’s world-building is pretty good — and each of the game’s in-game NPCs feels distinct and diverse enough that players won’t get them confused. Everything fits a fantasy/nature theme, and it works considering the game’s premise. The graphics and sound design complement the theme perfectly and add to your sense of immersion. You really will feel like a tiny bug in a big world.
There’s Still a Lot of Potential
Smalland: Survive the Wilds originally started on Indiegogo prior to its addition to Steam in 2017 and slowly built a cult following that has stayed up-to-date with developer updates. Fast-forward to today, and there is now an official early access version people can download on Steam.
That being said, some aspects of the game still feel early access. The movement is OK, but there’s just something slightly off with it that can hopefully be improved upon before the official launch. Clunky movement becomes especially apparent when maneuvering the game’s mounts, as the turning radius feels unnatural and gives me World of Warcraft Classic vibes. The game does not have voice acting for their characters, which I think could help with the narrative and story elements.
There also could be more variations and species of insects, mounts, and NPCs — something that the game’s developers have already stated they are working on in their roadmap for the game. Smalland didn’t crash throughout the entire duration of playing and never suffered from stuttering framerates or performance problems, so from a technical perspective, it’s one of the more sound EA titles I’ve played as of late.
If you’re a stickler for polish, your proclivities might be too much to overcome in this instance, but if you can see around some of the rougher edges of the game, the internal mechanics and gameplay loop are rewarding, fun, and pretty nice to look at, too.
Smalland: Survive the Wilds is a love letter to the survival and fantasy genres where players can team up with their friends in groups of 10 to uncover the game’s lore and challenges. While still under development in its early access period, this unique take on the survival genre has a ton of potential. Ultimately, what’s most important is whether a game is fun or not, and Smalland accomplishes that and more. If you like survival games, can appreciate the beauty of nature, and need a new indie title to sink dozens of hours into, I recommend Smalland: Survive the Wilds.
Smalland: Survive the Wilds Early Access Review
Smalland: Survive the Wilds is an enjoyable fantasy survival game where players can team up with their friends to battle giant insects, discover new lands, and thrive amongst mother nature. While some aspects can be improved upon in early access, the title has enough content to keep players occupied for hours of fun.
Smalland: Survive the Wilds is available on Steam.
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