As much as I love epic adventures that pull me in with difficult choices or intense combat, there’s just something about sitting down with a relaxing game and giving my brain a much-needed break. These are the types of titles where I can pop on my latest audiobook, or even the most recent episode of GrinCast, and then easily slip into a smooth, low-stakes gameplay loop that doesn’t require a lot of focus; Stardew Valley, Slay the Spire, and Vampire Survivors are just a few that come to mind, but there are so many more I could list! Whether you want to call them “multitasking games”, “podcast games”, or — my personal favourite — “games I play when I really should take a nap instead”, it’s a category that Nova Lands fits into perfectly.
Developed by BEHEMUTT and published by HypeTrain Digital, Nova Lands is an island management game with a focus on automation, factory building, and exploration. As someone who didn’t play its inspirations — Factorio, Forager, or Satisfactory — I was a bit intimidated at the prospect of managing a bunch of resources and optimising production lines with various bots at my disposal. Nonetheless, for a novice of the genre, Nova Lands was very easy to begin and, surprisingly, the hours slipped away until I somehow managed to pull myself out from its almost hypnotic gameplay loop.
Playing as your custom character, you’ll crash land on a hexagonal island teeming with twig trees, berry bushes, rocks, and more. Once you hop out of your small space pod, the game offers a brief tutorial on movement and using your Extractor, a device that lets you harvest the natural, self-replenishing resources in the environment just by right-clicking on them. After that, Nova Lands adopts a hands-off approach, allowing you to uncover the rest of its mechanics in an organic fashion, spurred by curiosity and the desire to gain even more resources; this could be stressful for those who like a little guidance, but the game is designed and paced out in a way that never leaves you feeling lost.
There’s a delightful rhythm to the gameplay that makes it hard to put down, as it has an enjoyable, straightforward mix of gathering and crafting. You’ll spend your time obtaining resources with your Extractor, forging new items in factory buildings, and using said items to further your progression. For example, early on, you’ll fill your inventory with stone, which is a material used to build furnaces. Those furnaces break down twigs into coal for you, and when you smelt iron ore using that coal, you’ll get Iron Ingots, which are implemented in a plethora of functions: discovering new technologies with your Research Processor, in your Radar to search for nearby islands, as half of the recipe to make Steel, or as currency to upgrade some of your tools. This diversity of uses isn’t limited to Iron Ingots either; most items you make in Nova Lands can be used in many areas of the game and there’s a synergy to it all that feels highly satisfying.
Another integral part of Nova Lands is exploring the surrounding islands, each with its own flora, fauna, climate, threats, and occasionally other NPCs to discover. You’ll unlock them one by one when you provide your Radar with a select number of specific resources, and travelling to them takes a single hop with your trusty jetpack. Eventually, you’ll get a Rifle, in addition to your Extractor, which you’ll use against foes on some islands, but the combat became a minor mechanic once I was able to start capturing creatures later on. As you craft buildings, fight the local animals, and gather resources throughout each biome, you’ll earn XP, giving you skill points every time you level up. You can allocate your points to four sections: Automation, Personal, Production, and Exploration. In each quadrant, there are a bunch of quality-of-life perks you can choose from, including gaining XP faster, improving the efficiency of your buildings, and increasing the number of resources you can find. Important milestone bonuses are spaced out between levels 18 and 36, changing how you approach the design of your production lines, as they allow you to build without needing basic resources; as a result, you can get rid of unneeded structures and optimise your space usage, which is vital once you get to end-game production.
Before you know it, you’ll have a steady supply of resources being produced, paving the way to making your own Biofuel, Solar Panels, Plastic, Computer Parts, and even your own Personal Spaceship. This is entirely thanks to your Research tree, which lets you access new technologies, practically giving you a map to reach the end-game content. While it’s not the largest tree, it makes up for that by making sure unlocking each node feels meaningful. In some instances, it’s not always clear why you’d need a certain upgrade until you get it and figure out exactly what it's used for, but you don’t have to worry about selecting a wrong node, as each path is helpful in its own way.
The automation element of the game really escalates once you unlock the ability to create bots to take care of gathering, transporting, and depositing resources for you. There are three types you can craft — Collectors, Logistics, and Fighters — and while you start with a limit of three, you can upgrade to a maximum of five per island. Each one does essentially what its name implies. Collector Bots can be assigned to mine one type of resource and you’ll designate a drop-off spot for the delivery; Logistics Bots, on the other hand, are the ultimate multitaskers, as they attend to buildings, care for farm plots, deliver water to your Oxygenator, and a variety of other tasks. As you might have guessed, Fighter Bots are especially useful on islands with hostile fauna, protecting your Collector and Logistics Bots from angry Honey Bees or aggressive Lizards. I loved how effortless it was to get my bots going, and it was so satisfying to create a fully-functioning industry spanning multiple islands. I highly recommend getting speed upgrades for them as soon as possible if you want to enjoy seeing your busy bots zoom by like blurry flashes of light, thriving in the manageable chaos.
The automation is quite fun and relaxing — even when you have a myriad of buildings to keep track of. I love that you can take it at your own pace since there are no external objectives pushing you to be efficient. Instead, you can be as messy or optimal as you desire! There’s also quite a bit to enjoy in Nova Lands beyond the automation mechanics. I was surprised to discover an island solely dedicated to boss fights, adding an extra level of fun to be had in terms of combat — or you can stick with a pacifist strategy if pew-pewing things isn’t your style. You’ll also discover an island with other NPCs who offer fun upgrades and customisations for your character; even better, there’s a Space Station where you can unlock special shops as well as a Stardew Valley-esque museum that you can fill with resources, a low-stakes feature that I love in any cosy game.
Nova Lands’ colourful 2D pixel art is definitely one of its strengths alongside the enjoyable gameplay, adding to the game’s overall cosy sci-fi vibes. I only wish the soundtrack complemented the well-crafted art design; unfortunately, the music lacks variety and it doesn’t offer anything special. When it comes to sound effects, though, I have no complaints, as they perfectly evoke the atmosphere of a quirky, bustling outdoor factory.
There are some minor areas where Nova Lands falls short of its potential. Limiting you to five bots per island becomes a pain later on in the game, especially since there’s no priority system where you can rank tasks for them, making it difficult to maintain smooth automation when you have a lot going on. This isn’t helped by the fact that your bots can only carry one item at a time, which ultimately slows the whole process down even with all of the speed bonuses you can get. I also found that my inventory management could get a bit buggy; sometimes resources would disappear when I moved them into deposit boxes or even when I would drag them to a building, and they wouldn’t appear in the recipe slots. While not game-breaking, these issues do get annoying, and I’d love to see some updates to address them.
Nova Lands is a welcoming, cosy entry into the automation genre that will make you forget all semblance of time as you get sucked into its simple gameplay loop. All in all, it’s very charming, and it’ll give you at least 20 to 30 hours of relaxing content to enjoy. Despite some of its stumbles when it comes to bots and late-game progression, it’s still easy to recommend to anyone interested in low-stakes factory building and fun exploration in a world amongst the stars.
Nova Lands (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Equal parts relaxing and chaotic, Nova Lands is an easy-to-love automation game with a gameplay loop that will have you hooked for hours on end.