Review – Deadcraft
As age catches up with me, my taste in the magical world of gaming changes. Growing up, I was open to testing my reflexes and inviting a feeling of fiery frustration into my world – whether it was conquering God of War on the hardest difficulty setting or Bloodborne at the, well, default one. Let me tell you, during those sessions; I was shouting an unfathomable amount of obscenities. Being thirty-three, I now want the calm, tranquil experience of farming simulators. With grey hairs appearing in my beard, I find I’m frequenting franchises such as Story of Seasons or Rune Factory for a stress-free time. What if I were to tell you there’s a title that’s a fascinatingly weird amalgamation of the latter, with an injection of the undead? Deadcraft melds crafting, combat, and zombie hunting into a unique bundle of intrigue, but is it good? Well…
If you’re approaching the writing with an expectation of wholesomeness, think again. While there is a sparse dusting of warmth, lunacy takes the wheel on this one. There’s also an obscene number of F-bombs waiting to grace your ears. Deadcraft does a moderately okay job showcasing just how rough living has become in the current, yup, post-apocalyptic world. It’s not an original premise, dredging through a backdrop that, at this point, has been done to death. Still, I have to appreciate the effort put into fleshing out the lore, and you know what, there are some genuinely fascinating details. None are expunged upon, however, being mentioned ever so briefly before fading away. The pacing is absurdly quick, never capitalizing on any plot points. As is, the narrative is half-baked, littered with ambiguity that allows the curiosities to stagnate because it’s eventually forgotten.
The characters fare a smidge better. An apt comparison for their presentation is Borderlands meets Dead Rising. Like the former, there’s a crudeness, with a healthy dosage of being crass. Whereas with the latter, the sense of humour is rooted firmly in how utterly bonkers it is. I did enjoy how each of the leading NPCs has a distinct personality. It separates them enough to avoid blandness, although I loved one out of three, which isn’t good. Within the first village you go to, there’s a man. He’s pretty generic in terms of mannerisms, but at least he’s somewhat charming. As he begins opening up, there’s a pleasant tale told – heartbreak, anger, and a hunger for revenge. The thing is, that fast pacing handicaps revelations to be a lot less impactful. It glosses over substantial tidbits at blistering speeds without much exploration – it’s incomplete.
The final of the three spotlighted NPCs that you meet has an air of being rushed. There’s zero development in his character, and all attempts at shock and awe are muddled by how haphazardly tossed in they are. To his benefit, he maintains his individuality which is a strength of Deadcraft, as previously mentioned. The actual star of the game is the second one you meet; a girl that’s a slight reminder demeanour-wise of Tiny Tina. Her name’s Jesse: she’s an unhinged stalker that, while appearing psychotic, fits the anime archetype of being a Yandere perfectly. Her obsessive love can and will embrace the brutal musings of dismemberment. I was immediately attracted to her, not because she has a well-fleshed-out backstory, but because she remains consistently deranged. Her quips have a strange touch of innocence, despite being anything but that. She has dimension to her identity.
Up to now, I’ve discussed the overall literary prowess of those that aid you along the journey, but not about the playable character. You see, Reid is a no-nonsense, blunt type of guy. He’s rough around the edges and is uninterested in befriending anyone unless, of course, he can profit from it. My only qualm with him is that his reactions feel stilted, especially with Jesse and her craziness. I appreciate wanting to maintain his distant persona, but not at the price of making him a one-note wonder. That’s what plagues Deadcraft – even though everyone is different, Jesse, and to a lesser degree the first NPC met, are the line two examples of having a squirt of variety. The DeadRising influence is smack dab due to the villains met. They each come equipped with a warped, twisted ideology. Some of them have outlandish mannerisms, too.
It’s hard to articulate how I feel about the gameplay properly. To pull the curtain back a bit, I have written and rewritten this section countless times and spent a good amount of hours finding the right words to show my feelings. Even now, I struggle because the truth is, this is a fun romp. In fact, after my initial few hours in the world, I was smiling. My gripes only began rising as I made progress. See, there are these odd decisions that are actively trying to stunt Deadcraft and keep it from fully flourishing. What’s especially aggravating is none of these choices should even exist – there’s no rationale behind it. Their purpose seems only to be to prolong playtime artificially. The worst part is if they were to address those issues quickly, it would tighten up the package and expose the potential that I know is here.
To get into specifics, the game implements a Wanted System. It’s standard fare in functionality and is an exciting way to spice up a session. You never know when that murderous itch needs scratching, and fortunately, Deadcraft wants to satisfy it. You see, increasing notoriety attracts all nearby fighters to your position. It’s inevitable to be rushed, so, at times, escaping is the best next move. By stepping outside town boundaries, you may remain a marked man, but you also lose those chasing. At this point, I had to wait it out, and boy, howdy, if it ain’t agonizingly slow to reset. I couldn’t begin to lay out the number of instances that saw me aimlessly going in circles, slaughtering zombies for three or so minutes. With four tiers to the meter, the waiting adds up, becoming excruciating to sit through.
With the above laid out, I’d reckon most would decide against recklessly attacking civilians. You could, but it’s rather beneficial to ransack the innocent and be a menace. See, you won’t only be cultivating crops. Dead bodies can also be grown, and as you harvest them you can recruit each one as an ally. I’d recommend working out that green thumb. A crazy little detail reveals itself at this juncture too, because to get a fully intact corpse, a blunt object is prime. By using a bladed one, there’s a higher chance of dismembering it into pieces. Obtaining either does contribute to their own set of recipes, keeping that wheel of crafting spinning. If you’re wondering, there are methods of slaughtering humans without angering the locals; however, it limits the variety of partners. I had way more fun with this feature than I thought, especially once customization was introduced.
Of course, as the saying goes, Deadcraft takes a step forward before taking two steps back. Sidequests are the primary avenue for acquiring a bulk of materials, as well as money and skill points. Nothing really out of the ordinary, but that changes thanks to redundancy. Since you can only accept one at a time, it opens the door for the feature to become a massive, and I mean a massive, time sink. It’s an utter slog that forces you to do monotonous tasks like fetching, speaking to a particular NPC, and, my favourite, reaching an objective, only to be told I was lied to, then returning and finding out I was lied to yet again, before rushing back to the original goal. All the while, my sprinting is matched by snails. The sluggish movement is painful, immediately souring any prior enjoyment because of its abhorrence.
The storage system in Deadcraft is a mixture of excellent and bloody annoying. Probably the most prominent quality of life factor that eases it into the stomachable territory is universal usage. Crafting can access any ingredients within it, limiting the need to go back and forth. It’s just as well since Reid’s inventory is irritatingly tiny. What proves egregious is there’s only one unit in the entire game. For some inane reason, if I’m in another town, I must fast travel to home base, grab what’s needed, and return. There were sometimes long spans of repeatedly doing just that within mere minutes. Bluntly put, there doesn’t seem like there’s any respect for the player or their time. The way it works now is an excellent repellent from doing any. I got to a point where I would happily forego sidequests entirely.
Another strike towards synthetically extending game time is the stores. Look, I’m okay with only having a set stock of an item. It mimics a proper shop, giving the world realism. The problem is, what’s available is minuscule. I can see the thought process behind this choice. The developer wants you to grind and not just purchase what’s needed. While I understand that, I also think the restocking process could occur faster. Maybe have it, so seeds are infinite, but the materials dropped by enemies aren’t. As is, there’s just a lot of waiting, a sentence that’s too common in this review. What commits this sin the hardest, though, are the machines that create things such as paste. Why do they have timers like it’s a part of free-to-play mobile garbage?
Sure, you can speed it up by sleeping, but it’s the principle. Everything else is instant, so why doesn’t it apply here?
Now, Reid himself is a unique character in that he is a halfling – a zombie/human hybrid. His arm has a very noticeable deformity, capable of unleashing an untold amount of devastation on enemies. Using that power comes with a caveat, though; it’s a risk and reward mechanic. See, throughout Deadcraft, you’ve got the option of pandering to the undead traits or humanity. Particular actions are tied to each, such as eating fruit or drinking water helping the latter, while chugging zombie blood is, naturally, detrimental. It’s an intriguing little wrinkle, giving it a bit of strategy due to the balancing act. My only qualm is it’s easy to negate the need to even worry about any negative impact. By simply being proactive, it never gets to the point of activating ill effects, rendering everything I’ve just said utterly null.
As seen in a handful of farm simulators, there’s a hunger and thirst meter. When Jesse isn’t onscreen, a swig of fluid rectifies the latter. As motivation to keep them in tip-top shape, going to bed with both a satiated appetite and full bladder bestows greater health and more vitally (energy) for the next day. Preparing cuisine won’t be a complicated task. All it demands is planting seeds and harvesting those delicious yummy-yum veggies. As a nice bonus, extracting any may net you extra seeds that can be redistributed along the soil. It forms a fluent cycle of give and take, which, admittedly, helps alleviate the stock issue mentioned previously but only slightly. By now, it’s become evident that the hiccups can be amended by simply adjusting the number values, but until then, Deadcraft remains time-consuming.
I was pleasantly surprised with the inclusion of a skill tree. Of course, others may see it and groan due to the implication of grinding, and you’d be right because that exists. Deadcraft, for as much as it disrespects me and wants my every moment spent in the wastelands, it’s generous in this facet. Skill points are the currency that unlocks the many branches, and with it new techniques, a higher tolerance for getting hungry, acquiring more pieces of materials when rummaging through boxes, and more. Earning them isn’t tricky, as frivolous activities like watering crops or breaking destructible environmental objects get you a small amount. It’s nothing substantial, but due to the sheer volume scattered around the areas, it adds up. With every new paragraph in this review, I hope it’s blatant that this game isn’t terrible, awful calls just mar it.
Visually speaking, I’m surprised by it. My initial impression is it tries to mimic the Borderlands aesthetic. Textures aren’t perfect, but I firmly believe that the camera’s bird’s-eye view works in its favour. It only becomes clear just how saturated it truly is when speaking to NPCs. The point of view is suddenly third person, and it’s hard not to notice that details are subpar. They’re adequate though, because I can always discern what something is. I am doubly in awe of the flame animation – it’s effective. Still, I miss the vibrancy and a sharper, more concise image, but then again, maybe that’s just a byproduct of the dystopian world. I did notice some strange shading on characters. Most of the positioning is accurate, but as you continue looking, there are one or two arbitrarily placed blotches.
While Deadcraft has voice acting, it takes a page from early-era titles, only having audio tied to crucial dialogue. My opinion of the performance quality is mixed, with Reid having a very stoic and no-nonsense tone. I know it’s to reflect his hardened attitude, but the majority of his reactions still felt stilted. The one that excels is going to come as no surprise, but that honour belongs to Jesse. It encapsulates her chaotic nature to a tee. The cadence matches her body language and plays out exactly as you’d expect. As far as music goes, it’s nothing overly memorable. Most of it blends into the background, remaining quiet to not distract from the gameplay. Much like with the graphical fidelity, there’s an apparent similarity to Borderlands. It’s disheartening that the heavy guitar from the title screen wasn’t used further for other tracks.
Deadcraft is an amalgamation of inspirations coming together to create something distinct. And you know what, the various fascinating ideas and mechanics are enough to assure there’s fun. What ends up bogging down the session are odd decisions. I haven’t even touched on the puzzling choice to have a few of the items go upwards to ninety-nine in your inventory. Yet others can only reach ten, with any excess filling up a second space. I can’t even fathom what went into deciding this, mainly because it fills an already severely limited space. Some jitteriness does occur during dialogue exchanges, but seems to be due more to skipping exposition than issues with the code. I recommend playing, but I’d do so when it has a slight sale. Hopefully, by then a patch will be released and Deadcraft will finally realize the potential that’s currently laying dormant.
When looking down, you don’t get the full impact of the textures. Once you begin speaking to NPCs, it becomes clearer. Although, while I do like the character models, I don’t think they are as crispy as they could be.
When I was in the first area with limited backtracking, I loved it. I still enjoy the mechanics here and happily finished the game. Still, there’s no disputing how much of a slog it becomes once you go into the next town. Luckily, these are problems that can be patched out.
Jesse has great delivery and she stays true to her character. As a degenerate anime fan, I was smitten by her Yandere personality. Otherwise, the music isn’t stand out, but I believe that’s the intention. It was meant as ambiance.
Much like with gameplay, my fun quickly turned into frustration at the slog it becomes. There are ways to exploit the horrendous quest system but even then, it doesn’t solve the big problem of disrespecting my time.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Deadcraft is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Deadcraft was provided by the publisher.