As of the time of this writing, Worlds Adrift has been officially available in Early Access format for a week. In that week I have logged fifty hours of playtime. In those fifty hours I have progressed from dying dozens of times at the very beginning of the game to awkwardly flying to a new island, to soaring through the sky at ridiculously high speeds and engaging in the aerial equivalent of naval bombardments against other players.
It’s ridiculous how fun this game is.
Here’s what’s there so far: you design a character on a server, and it spawns you on a small island floating in the sky. The ‘tutorial’ tasks you with accruing enough Knowledge to learn a skill in the tech tree called ‘Shipbuilding’, by equipping a scanning tool and walking around your island scanning things until you can afford it. Once learned, you then harvest wood from trees and minerals from rocks to build a rudimentary airship to escape the island, flying to another island to start the scanning process over.
That’s the entire loop, basically. You’re trying to find more and better materials to make better airships, and scanning things to earn more Knowledge to learn random schematics for airship parts.
Once you have a decent airship, you can fly through a physical barrier dividing every region called a Wall. There are three types of these, each progressively harder and dividing the beginner, medium, and high-end zones. Once through any of these, the materials get better and the schematics you can find while searching islands do too.
There are more than twenty of these zones, and hundreds of islands. The amount of places available is staggering, helped partially along by the fact that the game comes with a program called the Island Creator. You can design an island, submit it, and if it’s good, it ends up in the game.
The amount of people in the game can be a bit of a sticking point, in contrast to the amount of places. In the starting zones, it seemed like every island had dozens of players on it. With small amounts of interaction, but every player easily equipped with a pistol, islands have quickly turned into giant murderbrawls.
At one point, a team of two players kept running over and damaging my reactor — the thing that makes your airships fly. Enough damage to one of these will drop your ship out of the sky. I killed them a few times, they killed me a few times, and my core continued to take more and more damage. So, I jumped onto the helm of my ship and made to fly away. One of the team of two got on, and kept damaging my core.
Knowing I was about to lose my ship, I did the only thing I could do; I shoved the stick forward to nosedive my airship down into the abyss, making sure I was far enough away that the attacking player couldn’t grapple back up to land. He destroyed my reactor, we both died, and at some point his own ship had been destroyed by some third party, meaning we both respawned in the same revival spot.
So I spawn camped him for a solid hour. I liked that ship.
For me, all of that is almost secondary to the game. The real magic is in the physics-based grappling hook that each player has. When you don’t know how to use it properly, it leads to taking fall damage consistently, which means you die. A lot. Once you learn how to use it though, you end up swinging all over the place, exploring the underside of islands, and even intentionally swinging off your own ship in huge arcs to launch yourself through the air, only to grapple onto other ships to continue swinging.
I made a point to get good with the grappling hook. It’s maybe my favorite video game mechanic in years. At one point I allied up with a pair of players to take on a Skyhawk — a PVP focused player who parks their airship as high above the islands as they can get, who then will dive off their ship, plummeting down onto other ships, grappling on and swinging around to board them to kill and ultimately sink their ship.
We flew up together, each circling this ship from opposite sides, unloading our cannons into it until we had blown up engines and wind-sails, and then one of the players suggested we board it, to see if there was anything worth salvaging. I agreed, launched off my own ship, threw myself through the air to theirs, then used theirs to launch myself at the now disabled ship to give it a quick look over. These two players panicked and started shooting at me, thinking it was the enemy. I traversed the distances that quickly.
Early Access games have — pretty justifiably — garnered a kind of reputation as being unfinished, incomplete messes. Which is to be expected, really. That’s sort of the thing with early access. It’s… it’s early access. Worlds Adrift is definitely an early access product. The loop is simple, there are a number of bugs and client crashes, but what is there has me genuinely excited for down the road, when this is a more fleshed out experience.
Until then, I’m content to zip around on my grapple hook, building ridiculous ships to explore a world of floating islands.
Worlds Adrift is made by Bossa Studios. It can be purchased via Steam. A comprehensive roadmap of future updates can be seen at their site. This preview was based on a copy purchased by the writer.