The creative sandbox genre shows no signs of slowing down but Staxel hopes to bring something new to the mix with its blend of farming and building. How is it shaping up?
Staxel, which is currently in Early Access, shares a lot of similarities at least superficially with both Minecraft and the Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley style of farming game. It tries to meld the building and freeform nature of the former with the structure and interaction of the latter.
Visually the game uses the ever popular voxel aesthetic and squeezes a fair amount of detail into both the world and the characters with its more detailed take on the style. It allows characters and animals to have expressive faces.
After inheriting a farm, you get tasked with fixing up the abandoned building and constructing a barn. This is where the game feels the most unique with its setup as construction is based around blueprints: placing a sign for a building illustrates the size constraints you have to work within and also tells you what things need to be within it to satisfy the conditions. The barn for example requires two troughs and a roof; how you reach those criteria is up to you.
The crafting system in the game is quite involved, like other sandbox games you take raw materials and magically turn them into other things but Staxel has a whole range of tools and machinery to help you complete the various blueprints. From the standard saw which turns wood into lumber to an assembly station and combining bench, you often have to use multiple machines to take a simple piece of wood and turn it into a piece of furniture.
Fortunately there is the handy ability to “pin” a blueprint so you can see what you still need to collect and what process is required to finish it. This is extremely handy, especially for folk like me who forget things they looked at a few moments ago. Unfortunately there currently isn’t a way to keep track of what tasks you’ve been given which would be a nice thing to see.
There is a nice focus on the characters that inhabit the village, providing you with tasks whilst also helping the world feel inhabited and active. They have basic routines such as heading home to sleep at night, for example. They don’t generally have too much to say outside of giving you tasks but they are an interesting bunch visually, with humans and cat-people living side by side.
The game has a really relaxed atmosphere so far with some really nice music to accompany the routine of planting seeds, watering them, gathering bugs and things lying around to sell to feed back into the loop. Growing crops to sell whilst also managing your budget for things you need like pet and animal food is definitely an interesting challenge, and surprisingly difficult early on.
Visually the game looks crisp and vibrant but it can feel a little busy once you wander out into the woods surrounding the village. The vast amounts of flowers and other plant life can make it hard to see the terrain and creatures that inhabit it. The draw distance is also quite jarring at the moment, with everything in the mid-distance being extremely simple and popping into full detail a little too close, this unfortunately makes exploration a little less fun than it should as you often can’t tell how interesting something is from afar.
These things could all be fixed before it leaves Early Access and hopefully they will be as Staxel is shaping up to be an interesting take on the relaxing Animal Crossing/Stardew Valley genre.