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I’ve had Smalland on my Steam wishlist for a few years now, regularly checking for a release date. So, when they announced a concrete date in February, I was stoked and immediately marked my calendar.
I’m an avid survival game fan with thousands of hours in the genre. My top survival games are ARK: Survival Evolved, Conan Exiles, and Valheim (like a normie). Survival games I played but didn’t love like the rest of the world are Rust and No Man’s Sky.
So hopefully, this gives you a better idea as to my survival style. I remember when Grounded hit Early Access a couple of years ago, I deeply considered buying it. But at the time, I wasn’t looking for what it offered.
I didn’t want to play as a set character; I wanted to make my own. Grounded only allowed four players in an old-school co-op way rather than an open-world way. It felt much more like an adventure game with survival aspects.
I mention this because the differences between Grounded and Smalland are what made me so interested in the game featured in this Smalland review.
Creating Your Smallfolk
Smalland has an average character creation, but I think it looks great. The characters and the customization look way better than ARK and Valheim. I’m talking the details and the options.
There are only around five options for each section, but I think it’s more than enough to give your character personality. When it comes to adjusting your character’s size and proportions, it does fall flat compared to ARK or Conan Exiles.
But when you take a look at the options and how well they flow with the game, I say it’s leagues above most other survival games, especially in early access. It will never be an MMO character creation, but no survival game fan expects it to be.
Peaceful Mode May Break the Game, But I’m Okay with that
I want to talk about Peaceful Mode because it is one of the most controversial survival game options I’ve ever seen. In Smalland: Survive the Wilds, anyone can create a public or private world.
At the beginning of each session, you can choose to play in Peaceful Mode, where every enemy is now neutral, only attacking you if you attack first. This is identical to Peaceful Mode in Raft.
The reason I say it’s controversial is that it takes away a majority of the threat of the game. You can still fall down cliffs and die, but that’s pretty easy not to do if you’re paying attention. You can’t even die from starvation, as your health won’t drop below 10 when your nutrition gauge reaches zero.
While Peaceful Mode changes the genre of the game for me, I’m still not against it. I don’t want to dictate the way people play games; they should be fun for the person who is playing them. If you want an immersive experience, then play without Peaceful Mode.
In the beta, if you die twice in a row, your stuff disappears. They removed that, and I’m glad. Survival games can stress the inexperienced out, and some people can never hack the full experience, and that’s okay.
I don’t want to be a gatekeeper and say those people shouldn’t be playing the game. Let them play in the way that brings them joy, as it’s not forcing me to play in Peaceful Mode.
An Enchanting World
This is an area where Smalland: Survival the Wilds shines. The world is gorgeous, and the premise really launches it to another level. Nature is lovely, and no one knows that better than a Smallfolk.
A change in perspective can really bring out the environmentalist in anyone. Or at least help one to appreciate the beauty in life.
One of my favorite parts of the visuals is that the game has seasons. The updates have been changing the length of these seasons so I won’t confirm a time. Each season looks as it should, and the weather goes along with it. Nothing I could find to wear kept me warm enough in the winter.
I felt like Thumbelina camping out on an old shoe waiting for the winter to pass. Of course, I was far too impatient for that and ended up trying to race to a tree base with my grasshopper and ended up freezing to death.
But that’s just life. While nature is enchanting, the details on the human items were some of my favorites. That was very FernGully-esque.
Music that Sets the Mood
I am prone to sensory overload, so I’m pretty picky about soundtracks, choosing to turn the volume down if I start to feel uncomfortable. So it’s saying a lot when I actually enjoy the music.
Survival games are typically pretty good at setting the mood with their soundtrack. But I think Smalland does an exceptional job because it gives you that calming, peaceful music that I don’t think many other games do well.
The sound effects were also immersive. You can hear every insect sound and weather effect. I grew up in the countryside, so these noises were calming to me.
The first time it stormed in Smalland, I was freaked out because of the warning on the screen. But when I sought out cover and relaxed, the shaking of the screen, the burst of light, and the accurate storm sound enchanted me.
An Adventure without the Story
I’m a huge fan of Arriety, the Borrowers, and even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The movie Epic was brilliant too. So, the premise of Smalland caught my attention early on because, as intimidating as the thought is, it intrigues me.
As for the specific storyline, I think it is lacking. All you’re told in the first cutscene is that the queen is sick and you need to find a cure. There are NPCs to extend and enhance this story, but I didn’t feel immersed in the story at all.
Of course, this is a survival game, and I always say that a storyline isn’t needed. So the fact that there was an attempt at one is easy to commend, but because of the visuals and premise, I think non-survival fans will expect a storyline, and this isn’t going to cut it.
It is easy to follow, with little Owl Effigies to guide you (like Hugin from Valheim,) but after you do the first quest, it falls flat on any type of story.
Immersive with Few Negative Quirks
I have to admit that whenever I started up the game, I was fooled by the early 2000s whimsical vibe. But after I got out of the tutorial area, I realized this was a real survival game, just as I had hoped.
The gameplay for Smalland is what will keep me playing it – because visuals and audio will only get you so far. The gameplay is what allows me to sink hours and hours into a game and then come back a few months later to do it again.
One thing that some people may not like is that Smalland doesn’t drop you in the middle of a desert or beach. Instead, you begin the game in a safe area without anything hostile. You are guided through tutorial quests and taken to the wild.
But after you get there, things get intense fairly quickly. I wasn’t in the wild for ten minutes before I had to crouch and hide from wasps in a corner. I did notice that the closer to the starting place you are, the less aggressive and weaker the enemies are.
This is a common, but not consistent trend with survival games. It’s something I like because it gives a natural progression.
Something I had a love-hate relationship with is that you keep your primary weapon and your armor on when you die. Your pet also teleports to you whenever you die, so this was kind of an easy mode aspect of the game.
I liked it because it made it easy to get my stuff back but whenever you have a grasshopper or better or a wing suit, then it’s almost too easy.
The map in Smalland: Survival the Wild is kind of massive for this type of game. I can imagine new maps in the future, but this one will last me quite a while as I’ve only explored a fraction of it.
The large map makes travel a bit difficult without a mount or wingsuit, but there are Tree Encampments, which are one of my favorite things about the game. I don’t want to spoil how they work because finding it out was one of my favorite moments, but it makes traveling and getting up bases much more effortless.
Give Me Skill Points
This is where I think the game needs the most improvement – progression. There is no skill tree, leveling system, or perks in Smalland. This is a huge letdown to me because I like to customize my character or at least feel like I’m getting stronger in some way. But the only thing that makes you stronger in the game is gear.
The game has a classic crafting tier system. Meaning you need to use one tool to gather the materials to make the next one. The materials unlock recipes when you gather them.
So you can make a crafting hammer and basic tools in your inventory then you make different types of workbenches as you gather new materials. So basic stuff which I like because there’s something satisfying about unlocking new tiers and new recipes.
Especially whenever you find a new item without any clue what that item can make.
It’s a Small World with Friends
Smalland supports up to ten players per world. This is fantastic because I usually have a group of at least eight players. However, there’s a huge problem with the way that playing together works.
It is not currently PvP (you can enable friendly fire, but it’s not set up for official PvP) or co-op. You simply exist together in the same world. There are no clans, you can’t fight, and you don’t share loot/experience. So this is a huge letdown for me, but the roadmap states that PvP is coming.
So I assume that there will be changes to the way you play together very soon. If all goes well, the clan system from other survival games (like almost every other one) will be implemented here.
I didn’t find much to complain about in Smalland: Survive the Wilds other than the lack of leveling or getting stronger. But there are a few things that really bugged me and did not bring me joy.
The durability of weapons is quite horrible compared to other similar games. But this wasn’t a dealbreaker for me because it’s all relative. Repairing them is cheaper than making new ones, and that’s enough for me.
Another thing is that the combat is whack. The game ran smoothly for me, and combat didn’t have any latency. But the hitboxes of the enemies were far too small compared to mine.
I know what that sounds like, but I’m being real. It’s off. I think a few small adjustments could make combat great. There’s already a handy spidey sense tool that lets you see enemy weaknesses, so that’s a fun plus.
Another thing that they tried to do right but failed at is an “unstuck” button in the menu. This doesn’t unstick you, it kills you and puts you back at your last spawn point, so they should call it a kill button, not an unstuck button.
I had two major occurrences where this ruined my session. The first was when I was stuck on the side of the cliff and didn’t know what the unstuck button did. It warned me, but I didn’t have an option, so I used it.
Then I had to build a staircase and bridge to my gravestone. The second time is when I got stuck in a hole with my grasshopper and could not move. I ended up finding an angle that let me place a bed, unstuck myself, then I crouched down to reach a foundation I placed to reach my stuff and hop back out.
That was all unnecessary, so either the places you can get stuck need fixed, or they need to make the unstuck button actually unstick you.
Two other things that really bother me are that you can’t swim and that you can only have one tamed creature. I don’t see the point in either of these but they’re super inconvenient.
You land in the water, and you will die in less than a second. If you tame a ladybug and then go to take a grasshopper, you may be confused why it won’t work and spend 30 minutes trying to figure out that you have to release the ladybug first. That’s what happened to me.
Pros and Cons of Being a Smallfolk
- Decent character creation
- Enchanting visuals
- Immersive world
- Standard survival dangers
- Natural tool progression
- Beautiful music
- Peaceful Mode offers the easily frustrated a way to play
- Up to ten players in a world
- Seasonal changes feel unique
- Good map size
- Tree encampments are fun and make traversing easier
- Not currently great for team play
- No official PvP system (yet)
- Not a great story
- Getting stuck is frustrating, and unstuck tool kills you
- No leveling or perk system
- Weapon durability is not good
- Combat is whack, with hitboxes being off
- No swimming
- Only one pet tamed at a time
Alternatives: Games Like Smalland
Whether you loved Smalland: Survive the Wilds or felt it was lacking and want something better, here are a few games you may be interested in.
- ARK: Survival Evolved
- Little Nightmares
- It Takes Two
- Spirit of the North
Question: How Do I Claim a Tree Encampment?
Answer: You have to climb the first Tree Encampment you want to claim it. Talk to the butler at the top. Then, after that, you can just talk to the gnome at the bottom of any unclaimed encampment to claim it and ride the elevator up and down.
Question: Why Am I So Weak Against Certain Enemies?
Answer: Some enemies have weaknesses, such as blunt or slashing. So you have to use the spidey sense to find out what they are weak against and use that type of weapon.
Question: What If I Die From Drowning?
Answer: If you die in the water, your gravestone will be placed on the shore, so no worries. You can have up to ten gravestone son the map before the old ones begin to disappear.
Smalland Deserves the Love, Survival Fans – 8/10
I gave Smalland: Survive the Wilds an 8 out of 10. Though I don’t see it winning Game of the Year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an honorable mention because it really is a good game.
So far, I’ve not run into any red flags, and unless the developers drop it, I see it growing substantially in the future. Smalland is a beautiful game with everything I look for in a survival game aside from better co-op/PvP.
But because it doesn’t have that yet, I got to fully experience the game as it was intended to be experienced. That’s not something I usually do because I tend to hop straight into co-op. But with Smalland, I got a magical experience that I’ll never forget.
I’m not done with the game and I will read patch notes as they update the game and perhaps in the future, we’ll see that big things come in small packages.
My Smalland Playlog
At the time of wrapping up this review, I have spent around 10 hours playing Smalland: Survive the Wilds. In that time, I passively acquired nine out of thirteen of the Steam achievements for the game.