Staxel (developed by Plukit and published by Humble Bundle) is the kind of thing that's right up my alley - a fantastic, colorful town where you're plopped down with a large tract of land and plenty to do. Ever since the advent of Minecraft, there have been a number of games of a similar voxel style that are very hit or miss. Even so, sandbox voxel games tend to bring something new or unique to the table. I was quite pleased to see how this game mixed up the formula and added in some of its own interesting quirks.
I initially checked out the game for our Coverage Club series. By the time I had a couple of hours in the game, I felt like I had just barely scratched the surface and I was quite keen on exploring it a bit more. While I could have continued my original save file, I elected to start a brand new game from scratch and see how things were different.
Staxel is a game that plops you down on an island with a heck of a lot to do and not much in the way of demands on the player's time. Much like Stardew Valley, you're free to play the game at your own pace with little consequence for not being as efficient as possible. Of course, I'm the kind of guy who likes to earn a lot of money in-game, so I may have gone a little hardcore with the farming in this particular title.
One of the key differences between Staxel and similar games is the idea of flooding the market with a particular good. Most goods have a certain sale price. If you sell a large amount of them, the market will have been flooded and the sale price will drop. It takes around 10 days for the price to mostly recover and about 50 or so days for it to completely recover. (For context, a month is 16 days and there are 4 months in a year making for a total of 64 days in a year.) I usually would sell goods as I got them, but this system necessitated an adjustment. Seasonal crops would be sold in bulk at the end of the month and year-round goods would either be held until the very end of the year or sold as I needed money at odd times. At the very least, I would wait to sell them until the end of the month so as to at least get the majority of the price recovered.
This initially presented some challenges with funding. While you can make many different kinds of blocks in Staxel, there are certain kinds that you just can't craft at all. You'll have to buy them, and you'll quickly find that a single building might require 50,000 Petals or more in order to properly complete and furnish it. I occasionally supplemented my income with catching bugs or fishing, but the majority of my money was made by growing crops and raising animals.
Unlike some games in the farming game genre, Staxel does give you some sense of purpose. One of the first tasks assigned to you by the mayor is to build a barn on your property. Two other townsfolk similarly give you quests to build a pâtisserie (a fancy word for bakery) and fishing hole for them to work in. I built the community buildings first and ended up putting my barn together later. Completion of these buildings gives you paltry rewards compared to what you invested in them, and I think that this is something that is in severe need of rebalancing in the future.
Functional buildings like stores and NPC homes are based on a system where signs mark the borders of the land. A building will have certain requirements for materials, furniture, and the like. So long as you have all of those pieces within the borders, the building is considered complete. This gives you an immense amount of freedom in deciding how exactly you would like to set up the businesses in the village.
After a bit of time, the mayor begins to hand you mailboxes, which function similarly to signs. Rather than businesses, these are used to mark plots for homes. A new NPC will move in a day or two after you finish construction, and they will typically give you some sort of reward via the mail as well as something in person. Much like the business-building aspect of the game, the rewards are paltry and don't quite compare to what you've invested into the buildings themselves. That said, there isn't a whole lot to buy in the game save for clothing for your character, crops, animals, furniture, and a nice selection of blocks. It feels like the entire system acts as a sort of money sink, but it ultimately ends up feeling like you got a really terrible reward for managing to construct a much-needed building.
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If you're out to just build the town for fun, the signs system has a nice byproduct - you can pick up literally any sign or mailbox in town and move it. If you really wanted to, there doesn't seem to be anything stopping you from picking up the entire town and relocating it somewhere else on the island in another configuration entirely. The NPCs seem to be able to navigate and pathfind just fine in my limited experience with moving existing buildings around.
For players less experienced with these kinds of games, a helpful tutorial exists to get you started, but it is optional. I used the tutorial the first time I played and ended up skipping it the second time around with no real major detriment.
The game's map is very handy. In fact, it may be one of the best iterations of a map I've seen in any kind of game that has an open world for you to explore. When you press the map key, you zoom out to a bird's eye view of the surrounding area. Building signs, mailboxes, animals, and NPCs are all visible as icons representing their real-time position. You can pan the camera around as you like. If you zoom out to the map, turn around, and then go back to the first or third person, your character will actually be facing that direction. It makes it practically impossible to get lost above ground, and I think this is a brilliant bit of design on the part of Plukit. It's very intuitive.
Staxel does a lot right, but that's not to say it has no issues whatsoever. I encountered a crash where the screen went gray after beginning a new day. This bug cropped up a few times throughout my 86 hours with Staxel. It seemed to happen at random times after at least an hour or two of play and it always necessitated a restart.
I also experienced the odd bit of lag in the single player game every now and again. Sometimes I would try to interact with the world only to have nothing happen and then the game would suddenly lurch forward and catch everything up. Whatever the source of this problem may be, I hope it gets fixed in the future.
The game has a multiplayer component, although I wasn't really able to put much in the way of time in with this game mode. With the exception of the tutorial, a client can do absolutely everything in the game that the host can. Players could live on one big cooperative farm or they could slink off to their own little corners of the island and set up their own areas. Unfortunately, only the hosting player gets a starting farm and the opportunities for griefing are rife, so it's probably best to play with people that you're certain you can trust.
As the game stands right now, Staxel would probably give Stardew Valley and Minecraft fans plenty to do for a good few hours. I spent 86 hours in the game myself, but that also has a lot to do with my meticulously constructing my farm and insisting that everything be on level land. You could hit the wall of existing content sooner or much later depending on what you decide to do - it's very open-ended. Nonetheless, there is a point where quests and the like run out (save for the randomized ones where someone loses an item in the world). I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming 1.3 Update to see what new directions the developers will be taking the game in.
Staxel was played on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer. Humble Bundle works with TechRaptor for affiliate partnership.
Have you had a chance to play Staxel? What do you think of the game? What would you like to see added in the future? Let us know in the comments below!