Staxel is a game that I had high hopes for. I first played it for our Coverage Club series before expanding it into a full-blown preview. I really enjoyed the time that I had spent with the game, but it felt sorely lacking in content. Now that it's left Early Access, I figured it was high time to find out if Staxel stacks up.
There is a serious amount of Farming RPG gameplay in Staxel; fans of Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley are going to be well-familiar with what to expect from the game. You'll start off with a simple tutorial that shows you the basics of planting and growing crops. The crops are sold for money and then you can use that money to buy more crops, animals, or otherwise improve your home and the town.
Improving the town is a big part of Staxel. At first, the Mayor will want you to build homes for people. Later on, the people already living in the town and the new arrivals will ask you to erect other buildings for the community. Each of these structures has minimum requirements like a roof and specified pieces of furniture. You could build a single wall, put a roof on it, and technically fulfill all of the requirements of the building. This means that players have a large amount of creative freedom to design things however they like.
That freedom extends to the structures that are already in place when you first enter the world. Don't like the Town Hall? Pick up the sign, put it down elsewhere, and you can build it anew from scratch. There's absolutely nothing that stops you from disassembling the town in its entirety and moving it down to the shore or cramming everybody and everything into a gigantic skyscraper. It's very Terraria-esque in this respect.
Unfortunately, getting the materials to actually construct these buildings can be a bit of a chore. Unlike Minecraft, crafting many (if not most) of the blocks and furniture is going to cost you money. Some items require a mix of gathered materials and purchased materials and some items can only be purchased outright. What's worse is that crafting is often a terribly slow process; it's often easier to just purchase the blocks and furniture outright if you have the option. It might be more expensive, but you'll save a heck of a lot of time.
There's also the issue of the rewards once construction is completed. Some citizens may be generous and give you 1,000 or 2,000 Petals, but you're going to end up with something silly like a table more often than not. This is far from decent compensation considering that a Clawfoot Bathtub — just one of many pieces of furniture required in many buildings — costs 800 Petals all by itself. I think there ought to be a better reward or perhaps some kind of rent or mortgage mechanic that gets you more (if not all) of your money back.
Gathering materials is now a little less of a chore. A bimonthly festival has four portals pop up on the festival grounds, each of which goes to one of four different realms. The mines and the forest are easily the most useful; you can happily whack away at the trees and rocks without worrying about tearing up the land on the island. Moreover, the portals will regenerate these special realms, effectively making them a renewable source of many basic materials.
Thankfully, making money has been made a bit easier too. The majority of crops occasionally spawn golden seeds when they're harvested and run through the seed maker. Most of these crops are one-offs, but coffee beans will keep growing year-round. This can make for a valuable source of income that doesn't really have to be maintained all that much once you get things going. That said, Staxel can be an awful grind. No matter how you cut it, you'll need money to get furniture for the buildings in the town. There are plenty of ways to earn, but the best way by far is to grow crops.
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The town in Staxel starts off pretty small and more than doubles in size over the course of the game.
Another issue is the notion of flooding the market. Staxel has a sort of timer for every single salable item in the game. Sell it once and you're good. Sell it again and you'll find that the price is now lower. It takes a good chunk of time for the price to come back up, but this means that you can't just sell crops as they come in. I've found the best solution is to wait until the end of the season (or in the case of year-round goods, the end of the year) to sell so I can maximize my profit. This also, unfortunately, results in periods of financial drought where I have things to construct and I can't afford to build them. It's an interesting system, but I'm not sure if I like it.
One final bugbear deserves mention: the "Teleport Home" feature. Plenty of games have some sort of mechanic for players being able to escape when they're in a bad situation and Staxel is no different. However, this feature costs you a percentage of your money and there's no confirmation on it whatsoever; if you click it, you're going to teleport home and lose money. I've lost tens of thousands of Petals to misclicks on my part. Teleport Home should really have a confirmation dialogue and the lack of one is a pretty big oversight.
It's not all downsides, mind — the cooking system is an absolute treat. You don't just throw a bunch of ingredients onto a workbench and spit out finished goods. You can chop vegetables, fry them, toss them in a pot with something else to boil, and eat or sell your finished product. There are dozens of recipes (for cooking and crafting items alike) that require multiple steps and I think that this multi-step crafting system is one of the more intriguing parts of the experience.
Overall, players have a somewhat smaller variety of things to do than in comparable titles in my estimation. Moreover, there aren't really any character events in the same way that there are in games like Stardew Valley. There aren't even any options for romance.
Graphically, Staxel has an adorable blocky art style. It's more sophisticated than that of Minecraft in many respects, but it also has its fair share of flaws; as an example, water is just a placeable block that doesn't spread out like you would expect it to. The lighting from ceiling lamps is often too dark. You'll have to rely on floor lamps if you don't want every house to look like a cave. On the upside, the sounds fit the theme of the game nicely.
I clocked in 109 hours for my review. This is on top of my 86 hours from the Early Access version. It's a little difficult to qualify this feeling, but Staxel still doesn't feel quite complete. The developers have said that this is Version 1.0 (and they've added new content in one post-release update so far), but it just doesn't feel like it's there yet. Hopefully, Staxel will grow and mature in the coming months and years into a title that can provide dozens or hundreds of hours of fun in the same way that Stardew Valley and Minecraft can.
TechRaptor reviewed Staxel on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
<em>Staxel</em> has some solid fundamental systems, but it doesn't feel like a fleshed out, finished game.
- Incredible Freedom In Building The Village
- Adorable Art Style
- Robust Cooking System
- Money Grind Is Time Intensive
- Villagers Don't Feel Fleshed Out
- No Romance