After over a year in Early Access, Black Skylands finally saw a full release not long ago. The game has seen a number of additions and modifications to its existing content and new content that I haven’t seen since I last played in Early Access over a year ago. However, I’m happy to report that the core pieces have remained largely the same, albeit with a twist here and there.
Black Skylands is a semi-open world 2D shooter with ship-to-ship aerial combat. Players take control of Eva, a young woman who is tasked with protecting the massive civilian ship, the Fathership, as her Marshall. As protector of all the free peoples of Aspya, Eva has the responsibility of reclaiming the surrounding floating islands from the sky pirates who threaten the peace. And any creature that wanders the open skies.
The game begins with a cutscene showing a mysterious man taking an egg of some kind before running away. This caught me completely off guard. Firstly, I had no idea when this animated cutscene was added to the game, and secondly, this suggests that the Swarm will play a bigger role this time around.
The game is divided into two main stages: recovering islands and fighting other aircraft. The exploration element also plays an important role in the game. I’d say that about a quarter of the islands you visit are integral to the main story, while the rest are side quests and genuine curiosity. The regions are different enough that you can think of them as unique puzzles rather than copy-pasting content.
The empty space between islands requires more than a simple leap of faith. In fact, you often use a grappling hook to clear large spaces. It also comes in handy in combat if you ever feel like doing your best Scorpion impression. (Results may vary.)
How you decide to kill the enemies matters little. Shooting with weapons produces the same results as slowly and methodically eliminating enemies from afar. Either way, the objective remains the same: kill all the enemies guarding the area.
There are lighthouses in key locations giving you an overview of the entire area. These are very useful in more complicated designs where you can’t immediately know where to go next. Over time, you will have the ability to enter previously inaccessible areas with the help of eagles when you summon them from their nests. But that happens so deep in the game that you forget where those nests are on the liberated islands. And it’s not like there’s anything worth finding there, other than the occasional upgrade box.
By far the airships are the best aspect of the game that I rarely think twice about. This is mainly because the controls are so good. If the controls were poorly executed, I would have more to say about them. When the game first came out, the controls were comparable to the controls of a tank. This applies to both the driver and M&K. The controls in the full keyboard version remain the same, but on the controller, your ship turns in the direction your joystick is pointing instead of turning left or right depending on where your ship is pointing.
It took me a while to appreciate the change, but when I accepted it, I couldn’t imagine what the game would be without it. Moving with a controller seemed natural. As if unconsciously he was drifting easily. It’s still hell trying to stay mobile and aim at the same time, but I enjoyed it more than the first iteration. Firing cannons was also as satisfying as ever. Maybe it’s something in the canyon, I don’t know. All I know is that AC: Black Flag and Sea of Thieves got me hooked on the idea of ship-to-ship combat.
La Paternidad is our Mobile Operations and home to many wandering souls. All the resources you find on your adventures will eventually go towards repairing and developing support facilities. The implementation was initially interesting. You don’t get many resources at first, so you really had to choose which ones to invest in. But near the midpoint of the game, you get so many resources that they immediately become useless. After that, I didn’t really like resource gathering.
The only resource you’ll constantly run out of is scrap metal from weapons. I would say that the metal scraps from the ships are also on the same ship, but you can completely upgrade the half dozen ships you have in your possession. All of your weapons, on the other hand, require a lot more to fully upgrade.
When the beta first launched, I expected there would be dozens of weapons to wield. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for the number of Borderlands weapons, you’re in the wrong place. Instead, the game takes a more focused approach with a handful of normal but highly customizable weapons complemented by special weapons to spice up combat. Think of them as Destiny 2 exotics, not good enough to dominate the game, but much better under certain conditions.
You would be surprised to know that the game comes with more than 250 upgrade modules. Normal weapon mods are pretty easy to get, you just need to find mod boxes and you will get a random one depending on the rarity of the box. However, getting upgrades for swarm hunting weapons is a completely different beast. You must complete challenges while surviving a dungeon. Now, that’s some exotic mission level stuff. Destiny 2 would be delighted.
Combat was always involved and often required you to do three different things at the same time. It was fun for the most part. But the fights became even more lively the moment I discovered the Time Stopper ability. I had a lot of fun playing as Flash… without the blue lightning in the background.
I love the necklace accessories. They change your play style in many ways. You can have a setting that allows you to instantly reload with a timed press when using the Mage Talent. Combine it with the Last Chance necklace to turn your empty magazine into a grenade. You have collars that allow you to reload your weapon the moment you roll. This is the one I like the most because it reminds me of one of the Hunter dodges from Destiny 2.
When it comes to things I don’t like about the game, it’s probably the writing. I can barely read two sentences without wincing. Eva, Marshal of Aspya, has the charisma of an overworked substitute teacher. There is no voice acting in the game, but I can hear the monotony in her delivery every time she talks to someone. We learn the reason behind this at the end of the game, but that doesn’t excuse everyone else for being poorly written.
Other than that, the game still has bugs that need to be fixed. I’ve had more than a few cases where Eva would throw the hook out of her, only to start shaking violently. One time she got so bad that I lost control for a long time before everything calmed down. It’s gotten to the point of breaking the game yet, but I have no intention of finding out. I should have done something about this after a year in early access.
The island hopping campaign is probably the best side activity this game has to offer. Almost all of the combination lock puzzles made me feel smart when solving them.
One particularly memorable one went something like this: “50 people on the left and 60 people on the right, the combination is all in total. I wonder who I’m missing…” Of course, the answer was 111 and not 110 as I initially thought. You have me there.
The rest of the puzzles, such as the weight boxes and the battery puzzles, also did their part to challenge the player, even if just a little. I liked them as much as searching for buried treasure.
To put it plainly, Black Skylands is Starcraft 2 and Destiny 2 in 2D! I didn’t get the D2 connection until I started writing this review and when I got it, it was like a ton of bricks. I understand why I like the gameplay so much even though I don’t like the writing. What Black Skylands lacks in polish, it makes up for with a wealth of content. I recommend this game solely for its gameplay. And who knows, maybe you’ll even like writing.
Black Skylands – Review
Definition of punctuation
We tell you, it’s a good game! It is not normal! It may have a few issues here and there, but you have to admit it’s a “good” game.
Fun shootout once you get used to its quirks
Responsive airship controls
Many weapon customization options.
A well-balanced variety of regular and special weapons.
Occasional problems when picking things up.
The boat can get stuck in some awkward places
Potential to lose control of your character after fighting