The following is a review by IM Dave Angel, who is joining on the Complete Xbox Team. Smalland: Survive the Wilds by Merge Games, available on Xbox Series X|S & PC.

Let’s delve into the world of Smalland: Survive the Wilds, an open-world RPG that invites players to step into the tiny shoes of wingless pixie-like creatures. These little adventurers are on a mission to build a new home in a vast and captivating world.  But there are so many little flaws and annoyances that it spoils the experience, especially compared to some other games in the same genre (Grounded, Valheim).

Now I have not finished Smalland: Survive the Wilds, so I would consider this a review in progress.  A second article after some further story progression may change the view expressed here.

Smalland offers a wide palette for you to create with, where crafting and world-building take centre stage.  As a player, you’ll have the freedom to shape your experience—whether that means following the story, creating intricate armor and weapons, or simply existing harmoniously in nature.

Unlike some survival games, Smalland doesn’t punish exploration. You’ll roam freely through an exciting world, collecting materials and encountering critters. Your LB button activates your antennas, giving you visual cues as you scan areas for resources and highlight nearby creatures.

Talking of creatures, at this point I think we need to poke our finger into the sticky bees nest of problems Smalland has to see what will bite or sting us.

The first of which is the difficulty curve.  I am a Valheim veteran with over 150 hours logged on the Xbox version.  I am currently taking my friend through the campaign and we are having an absolute blast.

But at any point, I thought that if I was prepared then I could face any of the issues or enemies I found.  But Smalland doesn’t have a difficulty curve, it has a difficulty wall.

The first major boss is a Rhino Beetle and i have tried over 30 times to beat it, with the same result every time (me spawning back at my bed and having to walk back to the combat area to pick up my gear), which leaves me in the firing line of the Beetle again.

And the Hornets….. they are simply evil.  Enter their self-declared perimeter and you are the latest piece of toxic target practice for them and all their friends in the same area, all of whome will chase you for no reason. And not only will they chase you, they don’t have a ‘zone’ to stay in, so will continue to chase you, and every other bug you come across will join them until you have a terrifying conga line of bugs baying for your blood. They cannot be bargained with, they cannot be reasoned with, and absolutely will not stop until you are dead.. (dum dum, dum, dum dum.)

Now this is a personal area of complaint. Well, it’s more a gaping wound.  I am an arachnophobe which makes me want to stand in my hallway, holding a broom and my slipper becomes I saw something move, possibly.  I am crying and hyperventilating and whilst this is happening and I usually have to be retrieved and settled down with a mug of cocoa by the long-suffering Mrs Angel.

Smalland has an “Arachnophobia mode” which changes the spiders in game to floating bodies with no legs or fangs but are still recognizable as spiders, which defeats the whole point of the mode! Maybe turning them into blue blobs or something amusing would have been better, for now I’m glad I have my slipper handy!

Effigies of owls and interactions with NPCs provide guidance and missions that either advance the story forward or give you access to materials for upgrades.  If you are a hard-searching survival sandbox explorer I think you are, explore everywhere and pick up everything.

There are great trees situated throughout the map, inviting you to climb them to the top with suitably thick vines and mushrooms to aid you.  Once at the top, you can claim the area at the top of that tree as your personal encampment.  You can then build your empire to your own personal taste to give you safe harbour from great storms that come in, causing everyone elf-like to run for cover.

Whilst exploring (or running for your life) there are natural nooks and crevices into both rock and wood which would be ideal places to hide from critters and the storm.  But sadly, they are purely for decoration and lead to nowhere.

During my playtime, I encountered several bugs including an interesting duplication bug, as well as a handful of game crashes that threw me back to the dashboard.  However, I did not lose too much progress and it did not stop me from going back in for another try.

Main highlights and takeawys from Smalland: Survive the Wilds –

The game has an immense sense of scale, with everyday human items taking on whole new dimensions and uses.

The building mechanics are fresh in that they offer the ability to spin the parts in any direction, allowing the user to get very creative with their structures.

The great trees allow the player to teleport their encampment from one place to another, which reduces the amount of building you may need to do.

The taming and riding of beasts is possible but was not experienced within the confines of this review time.

What the game could have improved on –

The “Arachnophobia” mode does not particularly help those that suffer, as the body and head still move and thus is identify as a spider.  I’m still clutching the slipper!

The initial difficulty curve can be a barrier to progress, but perseverance will see most people through.

The game has several little annoying bugs that have caused the game to misbehave, and for a few incidents crashed the game completely.

Graphically, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

CONCLUSION

Smalland: Survive the Wilds stands out for its ambition, crafting depth, diverse setting, and survival experience. Whether you’re a seasoned explorer or a cautious settler, there’s something here for everyone.

However, the game has issues and niggles that sour the experience slightly.  It’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, but it does show that there are great things to come from Merge Games.  I await their next survival title with great interest.

Overall
  • 70%
    CX Score - 70%
70%

Summary

Pros

  • The sense of scale is amazing
  • Building mechanics feel fresh
  • Good use of Teleporting around

 

Cons

  • Arachnophobia mode could be better
  • Initial difficulty curve can be a barrier
  • Graphically a mixed bag, and a few bugs upon launch

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