Black Skylands

Pacing is a strange thing. If a movie spends its first hour treading water, it feels torturously slow and tedious. However, a lot of games start out at a snail’s pace and spend several hours slowly building toward the main event. A few slow hours at the beginning of a game are totally forgivable.

In fact, some of my favorite games of all time are really, really slow to start. Metal Gear Solid 3, for example, feels glacially slow for about the first five or six hours. Red Dead Redemption 2, one of my current favorites, opens with a whole section where you’re tediously marching through snowbanks.

Black Skylands doesn’t start out quite as slow as either of the games I mentioned earlier, but it starts out a lot slower than I expected it to, especially considering the animated trailer is filled with combat, explosions, and monsters.

Instead of getting straight to all that stuff with the flying pirate ships and Lovecraftian monstrosities — you know, the stuff we’re here for — Black Skylands opens like a classic JRPG. It reminds me of Chrono Trigger a little bit, actually. You see a little bit of the game’s world as the Fathership gears up for a festival of some sort, and you follow the protagonist Eva on a journey to fetch her brother Aaron. It’s interesting enough to keep you playing, but it’s also deliberately holding some of the fundamental game systems at arm’s length.

But the thing is, Black Skylands really does need to start slow. This is a game that’s attempting to be several things at once. Throwing too many systems at you right from the start would have been horrendously overwhelming. I mean, this is a story-based, open-world, twin-stick shooter that features both ground combat and ship combat. It also includes crafting and city building/management, and even an outpost capture system that needs to be micromanaged (which can be a lot to handle if, like me, you liberated Glutton Island a bit earlier than you should have).

In fact, just getting your head around managing your ship takes some time and effort. Not only do the controls feel a bit strange (I’m using an Xbox One controller), but there are somewhat convoluted ways to fill your gas tank and ammo reserves. Trying to keep all this straight while being fired upon by armored enemy ships becomes overwhelming really fast.

Black Skylands

So Black Skylands starts out slow. You’ve got a fairly uneventful opening sequence that probably takes a bit longer than it should. Still, you should savor it, because the game is going to start throwing things at you left and right, and you’ll eventually be wishing for a moment or two of solace.

And all of this is not to say that there’s anything wrong with Black Skylands. In fact, it’s quite good. But there are a lot of systems to manage in the game, and the slow-burn approach to the game’s opening hours was definitely the right approach — it just might not be the one you’re expecting.

Black Skylands launches in Early Access on July 9, 2021, but if you want to get a jump on launch-day players, you can check out the Black Skylands: Origins demo on Steam. Black Skylands: Origins tells a tale in the same universe as the main game, but with a different playable protagonist. And it’s free.

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