Simulation games have made quite some headway since the dawn of video games. We had city simulators, life simulators (yup, The Sims clones), or farming simulators, and recently, even the simulation of animals (Goat Simulator is so cool!). With the evolution of simulations, some of them offer a different approach – game mechanics allow life management, while the central game is focused on a particular theme. It is with that theme that Stardew Valley made it big in the online world, leading to the production of games which have similar themes, but have certain different features, mostly ones like Yonder : The Cloud Cather Chronicles, My Time At Portia, and case in point, Staxel.
Staxel is a multiplayer, farming, sandbox game. The game is developed by Plukit and published by the Humble Bundle. The game released for the PC on 23rd January 2018.
The game features a prominent singleplayer as well as multiplayer mode. While singleplayer is a typical feature of most of the ‘life management’ simulators, multiplayer from launch is an unique feature that adds variety to the game. Also, since you’re pretty limited in what you can do, extra hands in doing farming, gathering, shopping and other stuff is appreciated. Many hands make light work,after all! Not that the game’s a bad experience in solo.
Staxel’s essentially a farming simulator by heart. You grow crops, sell them, and continue to do the same till you make enough money to move on to bigger stuff. You can cultivate a wide range of crops, some of which can be harvested only once, while others can be harvested multiple times. You also need a wide assortment of stuff, like better gear for faster harvesting, or better seeds, or even grow out orchards of trees or rare animals.
It’s rather the open ended approach to progression that is most interesting, and keeps people hooked. Staxel allows more freedom than the games it borrows from so heavily (cough cough Stardew cough cough), and the non-linearity means that you can do a lot of stuff (other than game-breaking stuff, like killing NPCs) in different ways. \
You could for example plant and look after crops, apply fertilizer and water to ensure the crops have a good yield, (both of which are time consuming activities) all so that you can earn more money. Or you could simply roam around aimlessly, wasting time that otherwise could be used in bringing up a profitable farm, or taking care of your pet. But hey a rebel can’t help but be a rebel.
The only cliche stuff here is, you buy the animals and seeds, but you don’t need to contact anyone to setup a barn for you. You set them up yourself, designing on the go. Crafting is one of the better portions of the game, and unlike other games,Staxel employs extensive use of crafting, allowing you to save money for better/essential stuff.
In-game quests help you understand the NPC’s better, and improve your relationship with them, which provides benefits in the long run. There isn’t a real sort of story, but this adds to the progression. Interested in free beer from the tavern, or discounted seeds from the supermarket? All you need to do is to sugar-talk your way to it.
Sadly, while the game does try to do a lot of stuff by adding the crafting, the game essentially copies mechanics from games like Stardew Valley and Yonder : The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, and does little to innovate there. The farming and gathering remains same – there isn’t a change.
Sound and Music
The music is a pretty relaxing one, and ensures you do not feel bored while playing the game. It is pretty soothing – not something masterful, but it gets the job done. Sound effects give a real feel of what happens at a farm – digging,digging and more digging! Also a bit of the mooing and snorting and the sounds made by the various animals, besides the occasional bark from your pet dog. The bustle of the settlements, and the cricket’s chirping at night. All ensure that you get the feeling of living out in the countryside (which you will never do in the real world anyways).
Graphics and Optimization
The game is voxel-based, just like Minecraft (one of the games which inspired this). The textures are pretty well done for a voxel-based game, especially for the particles which you can interact with. (flowers, crops, and the like) The only real problem with the game was a texture loading issue, which happened occasionally (depends on the specifications of the rig you are trying to run it on). The draw distance is pretty small, and it does affect your experience in the game, as it causes quite some pop-ins while playing.
The game was tested on the following specifications :
AMD FX 8320
GTX 660 2 GB DDR5
6 GB RAM DDR3
There were quite a few stutters, freezes, and huge pop-ins and texture bugs. Game appears to be RAM heavy, which is seen from the frequent freezes. Also, the draw distance for textures is very less, and really needs to increase, which is seen in the amount of pop-ins that occur frequently. The freezes also need to be looked into.
While we did play a majority of the game a week before the release, and considering that the game is just in its 2nd week of official release, we do expect most of these technical issues to go away in the future.
Staxel is worth buying only if you have an okayish PC, and can put up with the frequent pop-ins and graphical glitches, and have not looked into games like Stardew Valley, My Time At Portia, and Yonder : The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. It’s pretty much a hopeless combination of Stardew Valley and Minecraft, and the few additions to the gameplay mechanics do not make it better.