Sizing Up Smalland: Survive the Wilds

Can Smalland go head-to-head with Obsidian's Grounded for the tiniest of crowns? Read our preview to learn more about this early access survival game!

Published: March 27, 2023 9:00 AM /

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Smalland Preview - Cover Image Whacking a Bull Ant with a Club

Surviving in this world is all about perspective. Each and every survival game gives you unique challenges to overcome that you wouldn't encounter in real life such as a deadly plague, terrifying aliens, or apocalyptic weather. In Smallland: Survive the Wilds, you're playing from the somewhat underutilized perspective of a tiny humanoid creature living in our world.

Smalland: Survive the Wilds puts you in the shoes of one of the Smallfolk, a race of diminutive, fairy-like people shorter than an inch in size. Creatures that we would think are tiny are, to the Smallfolk, massive monstrosities that are worthy of an epic battle. It's an interesting concept that isn't utilized all that often, and I spent some time with a pre-release version of Smalland to see if it makes the most of it.

Smalland Preview - Running to a House in Winter as a Storm Approaches
Storms can kill you very quickly. Cold weather will cause you to "freeze" and shrink your maximum life until you get warm again. If you don't get to shelter, you'll freeze to death.

A Great Big World

Let's get the obvious out of the way -- Smalland will inevitably be compared to Obsidian Entertainment's Grounded, another open-world survival game where you play as a character that is much smaller than your average person. These similarities extend beyond the surface level, too. Both games feature an eclectic mix of sci-fi and fantasy themes. Smalland, though, leans a little more toward fantasy.

Your initial motivation for heading out into the "Overland" is pretty straightforward: the queen of your realm is sick and it's up to you to explore the land and find a cure. Along the way, you'll encounter other brave surface-dwellers who have problems of their own. These problems typically boil down to "we are tiny, and that giant bug is trying to eat us." It's a simple thematic concept and it works well.

Most of the core survival systems work well enough in this early version. You have to stay fed and warm lest you die a premature death. You have to explore areas and fight monsters. There's not a huge amount of content just yet, but a solid foundation is there -- with some exceptions.

Smalland Preview - Using a Bow on a Sawyer Beetle
It's nigh-impossible to kite enemies with a bow, so this weapon is only really useful for instigating a fight from a distance.

Rough Moves and Tough Fights

Survival games tend to have hostile wildlife, and that means you'll have to fight them. Smalland is no different -- it has a combat system that seems pretty robust in theory. There are five types of damage -- Blunt, Edged, Piercing, Poison, and Fire -- and enemies will have different resistances and weaknesses to them. Having the right weapon at hand is the key to succeeding in combat.

Unfortunately, you're going to have a bit of a tough time no matter what you're using. Either the weapons are too weak or the enemies are too strong. It just doesn't feel like you're doing enough damage, especially in the early game. The combat system needs a little fine-tuning so that it feels a little more balanced.

There's not a huge amount of content just yet, but a solid foundation is there -- with some exceptions.

Damage and armor values are easy enough to tweak, but there are deeper problems here. You have a dodge that can be used to avoid damage, but it cannot be used to interrupt an animation. That means using a bow at point-blank range runs the risk of being totally vulnerable after the arrow has fired. It's difficult to properly kite an enemy with ranged weaponry. Since a bow will usually be one of your first piercing weapons, that will occasionally put you in a bad situation: you can choose to either use your bow at close range and take a fair amount of damage or use the wrong type of weapon and have a fight last a long time.

These combat problems are exacerbated by a somewhat clunky movement system. Jumping feels a little too floaty and there's a lack of decent air control or the ability to do shorter jumps. My colleagues and I have accidentally jumped too far and sailed off of a cliff or drowned in a small stream because we overshot our target.

 Smalland Preview - Standing on the Shore Near Water
The Smallfolk can't swim and falling into water will kill them quickly.

A Dash of Jank

The combat and movement systems definitely need some work, but they aren't the only rough edges in Smalland. There are a number of other tiny annoyances that spoil the experience somewhat.

For example, friendly NPCs and bosses will show up on the map as icons. These are only revealed once you've activated a particular trigger, typically by learning the location of a boss or NPC from another NPC. However, talking to an unmarked NPC will not cause their icon to appear. It makes little sense -- this needs to change for the better.

The building system is a little rough, too. Sometimes, building pieces will not snap correctly no matter what you do; you'll have to fiddle with the grid system to get things to line up properly. Smalland also has a structural integrity system similar to the one in Valheim; you can only build so high before things start to fall apart. The interface does a poor job of communicating how well-supported your structure happens to be and what your limitations are. The only way to find out the limits of the building system is by building something and seeing if it works. The limitations of structural integrity need to be properly communicated to the player; trial-and-error gameplay is rarely fun.

Smalland Preview - Building a Staircase Without Enough Support
There's no indication of the building system's structural integrity limits until you try and fail to build something.

Smalland Preview - Final Thoughts

Smalland certainly has its rough edges, but that's not to say it's a bad game. I quite enjoyed my time exploring the world from the perspective of my tiny protagonist, and I think that Merge Games has laid the groundwork for a game that could be a solid entry in the open-world survival crafting space.

Either the weapons are too weak or the enemies are too strong -- it just doesn't feel like you're doing enough damage, especially in the early game. The combat system needs a little fine-tuning so that it feels a little more balanced.

One day, we might see an excellent experience with a fun building system and tight combat, but Smalland isn't there just yet. What you will get, however, is an early access game that is built better than many other early access experiences. If you're looking to check out a new survival game (and you don't mind a few rough edges), then Smalland is something that you should definitely check out.

TechRaptor previewed Smalland: Survive the Wilds on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the publisher.

Previews you can trust: To ensure you're getting a fair, accurate, and informed review, our experienced team spends a significant amount of time on everything we preview. Read more about how we review games and products.


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A photograph of TechRaptor Senior Writer Robert N. Adams.
| Senior Writer

One of my earliest memories is playing Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System. I've had a controller in my hand since I was 4 and I… More about Robert N

More Info About This Game
Learn More About Smalland: Survive the Wilds
Merge Games
Merge Games
Release Date
March 29, 2023 (Calendar)
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