Smalland: Survive the Wilds is a new survival game from Merge Games and is set to launch on Steam Early Access on March 29, 2023. We have been given an early access look at the game and so far, we have been extremely impressed. Smalland: Survive the Wilds has a little twist to the story…and I mean little. The player is a Vanguard of the little folk of the undergrowth. A place we would normally not pay much attention to as “giants”, I mean humans. But there is a fantastical world to explore amongst the blades of grass and rocks. The story sets you off into the world to find out who stole the key to a vault that contains an elixir to save your Queen.
Little folk rarely venture out into the world but as a mighty Vanguard you must brave the elements, use your survival skills and of course battle to the death some of the dangerous insects and creepy crawlies that lurk amongst the rocks. I absolutely love survival games that hit the mark with good exploration and base building aspects. If the developer creates the game the right way, I can lose many gaming hours wandering around in game, figuring out how to build a new base house or taking on an enemy that I can now fight because I’ve unlocked a cool new weapon.
When I first logged in to the game, I was surprised at the detail of the environment and the rich colors that brings Smalland to life. The developers have also captured the scale and feeling of what it would be like to be as small as your character very well. I followed the path out of the starting point, clicking on owl statues as I went that give you hints or descriptions on how to survive. Very handy info to receive as the game basically just throws you into the deep end and lets you go and explore to find out things yourself instead of having it spoon fed to you like a lot of games do these days.
Right then, off we go into the unknown … but wait…what about tools, weapons, armor? Where do I start. Luckily you meet an NPC that will help craft you your first set of basic armor so you’re not completely naked in the wilds. But after that, you must explore the world and find out how to use the resources you find out in the wilds to build new and exciting items; or you could meet a stranger in the wild that may have some helpful items for you to craft.
The character sheet has a lot of handy little tabs to help you in game which I found very user friendly managing your character. Inventory tab shows you everything you are carrying plus character information like statistics, current armor, and weapon. There is also a tab for basic crafting items like a torch, axe and a club to protect yourself. All very handy things to have for your initial encounters in the world.
The creatures you come across are designed and thought out well; some are downright frightening. My first introduction to the world’s creatures was a ladybug. It quickly ran away when I got too close, but it was awesome to see an insect so up close and personal that most of us would barely notice in our everyday lives. So, I happily got to work collecting sticks and leaves to make some gear and hopefully find a place to start building my first base.
I found one location and thought, “Yeah this is the spot.” But the ants didn’t like my idea and decided to evict me. Combat in Smalland is dynamic and challenging. You must utilise your stamina well to be able to hit the enemy using a quick or strong attack but also have some saved up to be able to dodge out of the way of their attacks. I went up against a bull ant my first go and got wrecked.
When you die, you are brought back to life at your spawn point. For me it was the starter area but as you progress through the game, you can create multiple locations to use as a spawning point by using a crafted bed. The crafting element of Smalland: Survive the Wilds is great. The developers provide players with a good scope of pieces to build all manner of structures. From a large primary base camp to a quick shelter to get out of the storms. I can see a lot of room in the game to add a lot more features into the building that I hope is going to happen in future updates after release.
Weapons, armour and items you unlock as you progress through the game are well designed, especially the special armor sets that you can build. The art design of the high-end suits is just awesome. Currently I am wearing a suit that my daughter calls the ‘Bug Batman’ because it looks dark and mysterious like the caped crusader. I hope more armour and weapon content is also added into the game.
Another aspect of the game I love is the map. The fog of war opens as you discover new locations but what I find great about it is the ability to make location markers with your own labels. Find a spider nest? Mark it up so you know not to accidentally wander in there at night and become their next dinner. Locate a strawberry field? Drop a marker so you can come back later and collect the newly grown strawberries. It helped me more than I can count trying to remember where I saw a particular resource or dangerous area.
The atmosphere of Smalland: Survive the Wilds so far hits the mark in a big way. The soundtrack is wonderful and really captures the theme of the game and also during those tense moments. Tense moments you say? Yeah, like when the thunderstorm starts rolling in and you have to seek shelter immediately or get annihilated. The sound effects of the storm combined with the music captures that feeling of being so small in a moment of absolute terror.
Nighttime is also another aspect that I love about the game. The sounds of the insects, environment and the level of darkness that sets in creates for some real hair-raising moments. Especially hearing the sound of an unfriendly spider coming up behind you to turn your character into a midnight snack.
Pro tip for you. If the game lets you build a torch, then there is a good bet you are going to have to use it. Because nighttime is dark, really dark. For example, trying to find your way back to your camp and you can’t see more than a couple of meters in front of you without a torch. You zig when you should have zagged and bam… you fall into a den of wolf spiders or killer bees.
Did I mention mounts? Yup, you can get a mount. Grasshopper, geckos, you can even tame ladybugs to be a pack mule for you which is so worth getting! I believe there are more mounts to come on or after release, like spiders (hell yeah!)
I have only encountered a couple of code bugs that have annoyed me so far. I built this very cool Lord of the Rings inspired house that I was quite proud of overall. I decided to move to a different tree encampment (one thing I will touch on in a follow-up article) and my whole house became disjointed and misplaced. I had to take it all down and rebuild. Also, multiplayer mode was not being nice to me the other day when my fellow Roundtable buddy, Chris, tried to jump into my world and it would load him in and kick him out again. I’m sure the developers are working hard to clean up before launch but for early access play through, there is not much to complain about at all and more wondering what other cool things the developers can add to this great game.
Smalland: Survive the Wilds offers you an experience in a small world but one that I can see is going to be a big hit. For an early access title, what’s on offer is fantastic and really captures that feeling of being so small in a large expansive world begging to be explored. There’s danger around every corner, particularly with storms and at night-time, but the weapons, armour and bases that you can build will help you to survive and thrive. We had issues getting multiplayer to connect but we are looking forward to many co-op survival sessions.
This early access review utilised keys provided by Hooligan PR and Smalland: Survive the Wilds will launch on Steam Early Access on March 29, 2023.