Black Skylands 1

Black Skylands (Early Access) Review

Fun but arduous

Black Skylands is a game that promises a vast open-world filled with beauty to explore, the chance to fight against sky pirates and horrifying monsters both on foot and while in a flying ship, and an introduction to what skypunk is.

You play as Eva, a daughter of the Earners, and someone who has spent a lot of their life aboard the fathership, which is basically just a big old flying ship in the sky. You see, the world’s not like the one you and I know. Instead, there are floating islands all over the world of Aspya, so you’d better not have a fear of heights. 

Naturally, while things all start off very peaceful, everything goes horribly wrong after the tutorial, and you suddenly find yourself having to fight for survival against not just a horrifying group of monsters called The Swarm, but also a bunch of sky pirates. These aren’t like the ones in Skies of Arcadia, so try to put them out of your mind. Anyway, that’s the setting, but how does it all feel to play? 

Is that a bush or a head?

Black Skylands is played from a top-down perspective, which means a lot of the characters you interact with will just look like hair and shoulders most of the time, at least when you’re not chatting to them and seeing the rather beautifully pixelated portraits. The pixel art style is stunning, but when combined with the top-down perspective, it can actually make a few sections of the game rather frustrating to traverse. 

I found myself getting stuck on bits of wood that weren’t obviously barriers here and there, and when you’re in the middle of a gunfight, or just in a bit of a rush, that’s really not what you want. 

Combat is mostly ranged, but is split between being on foot or in the sky on your ship. On foot, combat is basically just a twin-stick shooter, but you can melee enemies as well. You’ll find your ammo reserves running low if you only rely on ranged, so you’re encouraged to kill enemies off using melee attacks because it makes them drop ammunition. 

Yarrr, but in the sky

Ship combat is a little more convoluted. Your weapons are mounted on the side of your vessel, and you’ll need to adjust the angle of them as you go, along with making sure you actually fire the correct side to land a hit. It’s fun, but can feel a little finicky in some faster-paced battles. 

Outside of that, most of the game has you crafting and managing your colony. You’ll need to grow food, gather resources, clear debris, repair things, and even liberate islands as you journey around Aspya. This side of things is good in theory, but the actual time required to gather a lot of the materials can make the process feel rather arduous.

Of course, it’s all still in Early Access, for now, so this all might change over the next year or so, but as it stands, if you’re coming in here hoping for something with a spring in its step, you’ll be disappointed. Black Skylands demands you play it at the pace it’s set at, and that’s going to put some players off despite the setting of Aspya being fairly intriguing.