Some time during 2011, a fledgling indie-game studio revealed the title that they had been working on for years; a game promising an exciting blend between the mold-able world of the popular voxel-based genre that gave birth to Minecraft, as well as the strategy inherent within the RTS genre. Years later, Castle Story has found itself released under Steam Early-Access, with the majority of it’s content seemingly finished… and for better or worse, the game that was shown in it’s initial debut is more or less the same today.
In its current iteration, Castle Story contains 3 modes (not counting the competitive multiplayer that I was unfortunately unable to preview) – Sandbox, Tutorial, and Survival – each are different, but also in many ways the same. Tutorial is rather self-explanatory, and is a work-in-progress that hopes to be an introduction to the game and its various mechanics, including, but not limited to; job creation, building, camera controls, and other various control and gameplay tidbits. Although so far it is not complete, it currently acts as a satisfactory tool to teach new players the controls, though for the moment not much more.
Similarly, Sandbox explains itself very well; but much like the aforementioned tutorial, there doesn’t seem that there is that much that you can actually do; you can build, you can chop down wood, and you can mine out a mountain (which in and of itself is noticeably absent from the other modes, for whatever reason), but when it comes down to it; despite the vast possibilities of what structures you can make, Castle Story is not Minecraft, and it is painfully obvious in this mode. Resource management is still a thing, but without raids to break up the leisurely pace; this mode is currently recommended for only shorter sessions – and may be benefited by an option to speed up time, as the timer present in the Survival mode is nowhere to be found here. A good comparison is perhaps to Minecraft’s Creative mode; but with all the tools present from the “main” mode.
Survival is perhaps the most fleshed-out portion of the game, and it can be a very enjoyable experience on many levels. In some ways, like games that have come before it, Survival Mode as it is today is yet another testament to what type of engrossing experiences you can make with a relatively limited tool-set, and yet many possibilities that you can use these tools for! Thankfully so as well, as the meat of the game is found within this mode, despite the fact that all of the tools that you have at your disposal in Survival are also present in Sandbox and Tutorial.
For example, this mode is where the RTS portions of the games formula unravel; and where the various mechanics that Sauropod Studios boast about are at display. Much like Sandbox, your main objective is to build; but in Survival you must build for a different purpose then just creation; instead to create a means of defense against the rock-like creatures that intend to destroy your “home crystal”. This mode is endless, and is primarily a test for seeing just how good your management skills can be, and how far that said skills can take you before inevitably succumbing. In this mode your buildings have a purpose, and so does your resource management; and despite the relatively simple basis for the mode, it can be easy to see individuals creating radically different castles to house their crystals, as the game gives you just enough options to make different structures a reality. This is currently where the game shines, and it really lets it stand out from the crowd; and with enough polish and content I could even see it becoming truly great.
As far as the other aspects of the game go; the graphics are simple on the eyes, and are par for the course as a voxel game; except for the downright excellent shadows and lighting. Music is used well, and tends to do a good job at creating an atmosphere for the game–many of the tunes currently in use are relatively catchy, and it’s hard to not enjoy at least a few of them.
When it comes to controls, Sauropod has done a great job at crafting a control scheme that allows for the complex creations that the game calls for, while maintaining a simple interface; camera controls especially are done well, and while radial menus can sometimes be misused in other titles, they work well here for editing and creating tasks.
Overall, Castle Story’s Beta is a charming title, and acts as hopefully a very solid foundation for a wonderful game to come. If you wish to find out more about the current version check here, and if you wish to try the Beta out, you can find it here on Early-Access on Steam.