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After the disappointment that was X Rebirth, I really needed some game to restore my faith that somebody out there knows how to make a good game.  As usual, respite came not from a company whose triple-A game budgets meant they were desperate to invent some art-ruining methodology to recoup their investment.  Instead, it came from an indy development house that kept their belts tightened and just banked on just making something good.

You don't get much more humble than Dekovir Entrertainment, whose previous games were the usual casual fare of solitaire, hidden object games, and so on.  These kinds of games do not attempt to reinvent the wheel; they just make a good-quality product by using known mechanics.  Normally, that's a formula I absolutely hate, because it just creates derivatives of games I'm already bored of.

Yet, something special happened when these developers turned to improving the established wheels of Terraria and Dwarf Fortress: theyembarked upon territory that actually is quite mysterious and not too heavily overused (though it's getting there) and their practiced eye for recognizing fundamental game mechanics then enabled them to make Craft The World, and the result is actually quite a bit better than the originals!
Craft The World's genetics would seem to be mostly steeped in Dwarf Fortress, right down to the focus of the game being about supervising dwarves.  Terraria is mentioned as an influence, but the only aspect I see if it here is in the side-perspective with parallax scrolling.  Dungeon Keeper is also mentioned in the Steam description of the game, but its resemblance is as fleeting here as it was for Dwarf Fortress.

This is a pretty ballsy accusation when leveled against games that shook the Internet: Terraria was based on the most profitable indy game ever made, Minecraft, while Dwarf Fortress remains a marvelous geek singularity.  Yet, it seems to me that one need to play Craft The World briefly to feel secure the conviction it's a genuinely better game than either.

To be fair, the developers of Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress were outnumbered, Craft the World was developed by a team of about six people that has several released products in different genres, and so it was a reasonably sure formula of success: take the general game flow methodology proven by Dwarf Fortress, present it as a two-dimensional, foreground-and-background-tile-based, side-perspective game with rudimentary fluid simulation (Terraria's shtick) and then utilize Dekovir Entertainment's professional developer expertise to realize this concept.
There's definitely no shortage of quality pixels to be seen in Craft The World, though you do not need to zoom in this far to notice them.
The quality of the work in Craft The World is evident even at face value: the dwarves, creatures, and even the environments all animate surprisingly fluidly, with a definite respect to characterization.  Yet, if this was simply a skin-deep thing, I would probably be lambasting this game as shallow garbage for players who were easily dazzled by pretty lights.  I'm not; Craft The World has a great focus on the game design, too.

At heart, this game is mostly Dwarf Fortress in focus: you assign tasks for a number of dwarves under your command to do, and they follow your orders.  The main goal is to survive while progressing the overall progress of your little dwarf civilization.  However, Craft The World adds a number of supporting gameplay mechanics, such as:
  • A timer that counts down the time until the next major siege of monsters is due to hit the stronghold  This reinforces a sense of suspense that you are up against the clock.
  • Your colony has an experience level.  Increasing that level rewards you with increased maximum dwarf capacity, more maximum mana, and sometimes bonus items.  Experience is primarily earned by defeating monsters and digging up precious ores.
  • A task diary that gives you about 4-6 things to do at any given time.  Completing a task awards bonus experience and sometimes free items.
  • An extensive "craft tree" of new technologies to unlock by completing the previous one on the tree.
By lacking these features, one could say that Dwarf Fortress might be a more effective storytelling medium, as it leaves the happenings more up to the players' imaginations.  However, I find improved game mechanics to be a worthy enough replacement.

As Craft the World currently stands, version 0.9.004 is an extremely polished product for an "Early Access Game," but it's not without issues to earn its, "Early Access" status:
  • It does occasionally crash.  Fortunately, automatic saves are in and being done frequently, so lost progress from crashes is fleeting.  
  • There's quite a bit of balance work to do.  Most crafted items provide a benefit that is not balanced against the resources that went into producing them.  Many of the monster encounters are too strong, often wiping out my poor fortress (but being a better player may help with that).  Mana currently seems to regenerate too slowly.
  • Some features are undocumented, such as controlling time with F1 (normal speed), F2 (two times normal speed), and F3 (three times normal speed).  Speeding up time is known to cause buggy behavior.
  • The crafting interface is somewhat Minecraft-based: there's a 3x3 grid that you drag items in your inventory to produce.  I find that to be an unnecessary step, I think the grid should load items automatically by default.
  • The artificial intelligence that drives dwarven behavior will likely continue to be a work in progress.  For the most part, they're rather intelligent about what they do, but they still have a number of strange hangups that may be frustrated in extended play.
  • A few features are not yet implemented.  One such feature is a store that looked to be manned by a particularly large green monster - currently, it perpetually has a "clozed" sign hung in front of it.  Another feature is additional maps besides the first "small" sized map.
Despite those flaws, I think Craft The World is fantastic, and a bargain at the $14.99 they're asking for it right now.  I've already got my hour-per-dollar out of it, and look forward to seeing the improvements the developers will add between now and release.


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