A Game With Layers
On the surface, Len’s Island is peaceful. It’s a game about exploration, resource gathering, farming, and building your dream home on an island resort. It is what we have come to expect from the survival/crafting genre over the last several years. Chop trees, mine rocks, gather food, salvage wreckage, and construct a home, all while taking in the sights and unlocking new things to craft. There are even NPCs to chat with if you’re feeling too secluded. But that’s before you begin to delve deeper into what is on offer.
What sets this island apart from the countless others is what’s beneath the surface. It’s dark, labyrinthine, and full of hideous monsters lurking in the shadows, ready to gang up on you for invading their territory. The fact that there are caves with monsters is not what stands out about this game. But rather, the dichotomy of the peaceful nature of the sunny forest that you call home, and the dark dismal destruction that awaits underneath. When I first left my shabby, yet cozy, cottage to investigate the depths of despair below–I was not ready.
While learning to make my way around the island, I had to get used to the controls. The default control scheme is mouse-based. Right-click the move, left-click to interact with objects and enemies. For some reason, this was a lot harder for me to grasp than I would originally have thought. While movement was easy with the mouse, I found myself constantly missing trees that I was trying to chop or rocks I was trying to mine, because my instinct to click on something to walk up to it and interact took hold. In combat, I found myself at a disadvantage as I could not move in one direction while attacking in another. This complaint is easy to ignore by switching to keyboard movement using WASD. With that one option, the game opened up. Suddenly I felt in control. Without control of the character, I lose interest in a game. After switching control schemes, it felt like a brand new game to me. The mouse-only option is a great accessibility feature, but is not for me.
What’s also not for me, is how bad I am at making my new island home look good. The home building system is very easy to dive in and use. There are enough options to make a home look as good or bad as your artistic skills allow. All of the pieces snap together fairly easily, with the exception of trying to build over existing foliage. If there is a bush that will slightly intersect with your foundation, you have to chop it down first, which can slow down the creative flow. The other thing that can slow down the process is the limited inventory space. Rather than having a set number of slots to hold resources, your backpack can hold a limited number of every resource in the game. At first, the limits seem generous, but it is easy to get lost in a minor home expansion only to realize that you’ve already spent all of your wood. While that is not any different than other games in the genre, it did seem to me that resources go faster on this island than other survival crafting titles.
When you do run out of resources or need to free up some space, making the short trek into town is easy. Buying and selling is very fast and there is even a backpack to increase the amount of resources you can carry. That is where the main gameplay loop seems to be. Get resources, build until you run out, rinse and repeat. When that gets tiring, ready up your food and your sharpest blade and try to make it a little further in the cave. Need coal to light your refinery? The cave is always there. The cave will always be there. Calling…
Once inside the cave, my inquisitive self took over. I have to know what’s down here. I could have been content with having my own island to explore, exploit, and expand… but I have to know what’s down here. The monsters are quick, the tunnels are dark, and the riches are plentiful. It’s clear that time was taken to lovingly handcraft the caves beneath Len’s Island. These are not procedurally generated death traps but rather depths rife with plunder, platforming puzzles, and plenty of baddies that you would expect from a 3rd-person action game.
I will say, as someone with a terrible sense of direction, it is very easy to get lost in the dark. If you are underprepared, you will probably find yourself becoming a meal for the horde of monsters. Thoughts of risk versus reward come up while exploring. If you’re like me, you will want to keep going. There are so many questions that lurk down here! Why are these monsters here? Who built the houses and mining tunnels and where did they go? What other plunder will I come across if I just go a little deeper? Death is relatively easy to avoid, but if you die, all of your progress since your last save game will be gone.
To my knowledge, there is no way of saving your progress while exploring the caves. While there are periodically warp points that take you back to the surface, I found myself getting lost too often to rely on them. That is my own fault, though. I have the same problem anytime I play a survival game and, for me, that is part of the fun. The time that it takes me to learn my way around an area is time I am also using to learn more about the game and how to play it.
Len’s Island is gorgeous. The water running around and through the island, the trees and foliage mixed with rocks and waterfalls… it’s all very nice to look at. The caves also look very good, though dark. The streams running throughout, the occasional staircase to a long-abandoned home, the hordes of monsters, it’s all very visually stunning. The controls are simple once you get a grasp on them and the crafting and building can be very enjoyable. While I do not know how much depth there will be to the game when it’s all said-and-done, the core gameplay loop is familiar yet fresh enough for most fans of the survival/crafting genre to enjoy. Early Access is a great place for this game to be while the devs flesh out storylines and quests, and work out the bugs throughout the game that are noticeable, but not game-breaking.
Personally, I don’t think there is enough to do in the game currently to justify spending a ton of time in it. If you want to build a home in a gorgeous game, there is a lot to like from this. If you are looking for a 3rd person action-adventure with a deep combat system, this is not for you. The combat and exploration does add a nice distraction from the core crafting/harvesting loop, but doesn’t stand on its own as of right now.
Len’s Island is releasing on Steam in Early Access on November 26, 2021, where the devs say it will stay for around 2-3 years. The core team of two is obviously passionate about his title and it shows in how easy everything is to grasp. If you want to take part in the development of this game, buying in during Early Access is exactly the time to get it! If you’re wanting a fully fleshed-out title where you can spend dozens or hundreds of hours, maybe wait for a while.
How well Len’s Island walks the line between peaceful nature and destructive darkness is my favorite aspect of this game and I look forward to seeing where Flow Studio takes this going forward.