Drifting Through the Wilderness

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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Waking up from a horrible nightmare full of titanic monsters, countless dead bodies, and a monster of shadow, a lone individual makes their way to the nearest bit of civilization, sometimes pausing as they double over and cough up their own blood. Aided by nothing but their skills with the sword and gun, they are about to make it to the city when, suffering a sudden coughing fit, are seemingly assaulted by the very same shadow creature from their nightmare. Finding themselves in the house of the person who saved them, they set out to the four corners of the land, exploring the regions, unearthing exotic technology, defeating cunning enemies, searching for the keys that might be this land’s salvation, and finding a cure for their illness before it is too late. From here, a challenging and open world of beautifully pixelated art inspired by the likes of MetroidThe Legend of ZeldaDark Souls, and Hayao Miyazaki becomes open to the player, bursting with secrets waiting to be revealed.

Launched on Kickstarter on September 12 of 2013, reaching its goal of $27,000 the very next day, then finishing its campaign with $645,158, Hyper Light Drifter was finally released on March 31, 2016 on Windows, Mac, and Linux, with the PS4 and Xbox One versions slated for a later date. Taking place in a mysterious world filled with relics of a golden age, individuals that scour these ruins for their lost technology are known as Drifters. The player assumes control on one such Drifter, traveling through the land’s four regions and collecting whatever odds and ends they can get their hands on. Much like Journey, there is absolutely no dialogue present. While there are characters that can be interacted with, their speech bubbles only contain images showing what they’re talking about, such as a shopkeep and his friend being saved by the Drifter that saved the player’s, a traveler recounting how he was mugged and left for dead by a gang, and regional travelers foreshadowing the bosses of the areas and what happened to these places in the past.

Like other Drifters, the player’s is a very skilled fighter and has a tine drone helper to unlock doors and find secrets. However, they suffer from a mysterious illness and are searching for a cure of some kind, all while the entity of darkness they dreamt about harasses them every so often for unknown reasons. They also come across the Armored Drifter that saved them every so often, who shows the location of the four Modules of each area, which seem to contain the power that will put an end to the shadowed abomination. Curiously, the Jackal from the vision also shows up in each region, acting as a guide and appearing to steer the Drifter on the right path before disappearing, usually before they meet up with the Armored Drifter…

While this world is beautiful, it is also dangerous and contains a bloodstained history, from the four ancient Titans seen in the intro (who’s design is inspired by both the Evangelion units from Neon Genesis Evangelion and the God Warriors from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) whose corpses now dot the landscape, to the main enemy “factions” in the four areas. A cult of avian sorcerers to the north, preserved soldiers to the west, brutally sadistic amphibian warlords to the east, and still-functioning machines from the previous age to the south. While these foes all have their own agendas, the one responsible for state of this world and, ultimately, the main antagonist of the game is Judgement, the shadow entity hounding the Drifter for unknown reasons.

While the plot, history, and dialogue of the game are intentionally ambiguous so that it is up to the player to decipher and interpret it, the gameplay itself is clear and easy to understand. The main form of attack is the Drifter’s sword, useful for clearing out weaker enemies with a three-hit combo. Hitting enemies also fills up the energy bar, which is used in tandem with the different guns the player can find, ranging from simple pistols to railgun sniper rifles. Combining these mechanics with the Drifter’s dash mechanic and you have slick, fast-paced combat that’s as exciting as it is challenging. The best way to describe the difficulty is tough, but fair, with many likening the game to FromSoftware’s Dark Souls games. Dying is inevitable and is usually because the player made a mistake. The next time they respawn, it is up to them to formulate a new plan and win the battle.

Much like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, there are plenty of secrets to uncover in this world and the player is allowed to go wherever the wish after the prologue’s end (sans the southern area, as that requires the completion of the other three). From hidden Med-Kits and well over a hundred Gearbits to buy upgrades and other items with to hidden Monoliths that hint at the backstory and keys to unlock doors to gain differently colored cloaks, swords, and drones, there is a lot to collect in order to reach 100% completion. The game might not take long to complete, but when there are so many hidden goodies to search for and discover, as well as just taking in the gorgeous scenery, that certainly adds in a few more hours of gameplay.

Hyper Light Drifter is the epitome of polish. Watching the first gameplay and comparing it to the final product shows just how far the title has come and how improved it is now. While a number of stuff seen in early videos aren’t present in the game (though some concepts might be added as DLC later on), which is inevitable in game development, everything else has been improved to the best that they can be, with the developer working very closely with players in fixing lingering bugs and better balancing the gameplay, implementing frequent patches since the game’s initial release. A wonderfully-made game, Hyper Light Drifter is a must-buy.

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