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Simulation games are hard to get right. If it’s too simple, you don’t feel that satisfaction at the end of the road; if it’s too complex, you may as well be working a second job with none of the benefits. That’s why I’ve always loved the Harvest Moon series, and more recently Animal Crossing, while I quickly grew tired of EVE Online.
Craftlands Workshoppe is an indie RPG-slash-business-simulation that puts you in the shoes of an apprentice crafter whose master mentor suddenly disappears one day—and now it’s your job to restart his business from scratch. Do you have what it takes? Does Craftlands Workshoppe live up to the greats?
My copy of Craftlands Workshoppe was provided by Excalibur Games, but my opinions in this review are my own and haven’t been influenced in any way.
I’m always interested when a non-violent game presents itself—not because I’m against violence in video games, but it often feels like combat is an easy way to force player engagement. If a game can hook me without any combat at all, that’s worthy of praise. And even if it doesn’t hook me, I always applaud the attempt.
Most of the gameplay in Craftlands Workshoppe comes down to worker and resource management. You have to gather ingredients to craft items to sell and earn money and unlock more recipes, which propel you to gather more ingredients to craft more stuff to sell so you can earn even more money, etc. You know, the usual gameplay treadmill. But there’s a variety of stuff to do in Craftlands Workshoppe, with a variety of places to explore, and a variety of content to unlock by fulfilling goals.
You start with one of the three main crafts—Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Cooking—and your ultimate aim is to become a master of all three. To do so, you need to craft and craft and craft. And once you do become a master of a craft, you can hire apprentices to craft items on your behalf, freeing you up to do other stuff.
Why is that important? Because every action costs energy, and you only have so much energy per day. There’s an in-game clock that dictates the world’s behavior: your shop opens in the morning, closes at night, and you need to sleep to replenish your energy. But sleeping skips ahead to the next morning, and your shop only gets customers while it’s open.
Craftlands Workshoppe puts you in breathing world. You’re limited by time and by energy, so your level of success depends on what you do within those constraints. And one of the more interesting gameplay mechanics is the dynamic economy: item prices fluctuate due to various factors, which impacts how much profit you can sustain.
Simulation games always lose me when the grind becomes unbearable. To sidestep this issue, there must be several ways to achieve any given goal (so I can bounce around if one gets too repetitive) or the actual act of grinding needs to be fun. Otherwise it can start to feel like a second job—and that’s a simulation I can do without, thank you very much.
Unfortunately, Craftlands Workshoppe has a lot of boring, finicky grind to it. Yes, yes, I understand that grinding is a core part of simulation games—it’s not the grind itself that I don’t like, but the execution of it. Too many incremental steps to do the simplest of tasks, for example. A little bit of abstraction would’ve really helped to make it feel more like a game than a chore; as is, Craftlands Workshoppe became too repetitive too soon, and I lost interest in reaching any of the many goals available. If you think games like Animal Crossing are too abstract, then perhaps you’d enjoy this aspect.
I’m also not a fan of Craftland Workshoppe’s mobile game aesthetic. It’s an indie game, I know; without a big art team, graphics can be tough. I get why so many games turn to the flat, cartoonish look that’s become so popular these days—but there are ways to do it well, and ways to flub it. In this case, there just wasn’t enough attention paid to having a cohesive look: some models are intricate while others have barely five polygons, some parts are shaded while others are flat, and everything blends together because the colors are overly bold and busy. Not to mention the UI, which carries an unfinished quality.
Frankly, there’s an overall lack of polish everywhere. One of the shops in town is called “The Empty Potion” but the map has it labelled as “Empty Vials.” One of the recipes is for creating a “Vial of health” but the blueprint calls it a “Health potion.” These minor details may be inconsequential to gameplay, but for me, they detract from the experience and leave me feeling like I’m playing an hobby project work-in-progress.
While Craftlands Workshoppe isn’t terrible by any stretch, I personally don’t feel compelled to keep playing. I can’t help but feel that it’s incomplete in all areas: art, sound, and most importantly, gameplay. There are some great ideas here. If the developers keep working on it, I’d love to see where it ends up in a year or two. But in its current state? I’m too burned out from my real-world job to hold a second virtual one.