Ever since Minecraft, gamers have been awash in voxel building and crafting-based titles. Some were simple cash-ins while others took the basic formula and morphed it into something else. Developer Plukit have been going down the latter path with Staxel, which first entered into playable beta state a few years back. Since then the game has continued to grow with new players and ideas. Up until now, however, Staxel had absolutely no presence on Steam. While this has not stopped games from flourishing before, it is clear that offering a product on Steam can (and typically does) increase the playerbase further. That’s likely why Staxel is finally arriving onto Steam today.
This does not mark the end of the beta just yet, though! Staxel is coming to Steam Early Access and the developers currently expect it to remain there until late 2018. Even so, it’s quite playable in its current state. Basically, take the voxel world of Minecraft and change its focus from adventuring into farming and you’ll have a good idea about what Staxel has to offer right now. In this game, players are the newest residents of a cozy little town on an island. After being greeted by all the townsfolk, you’re given a run-down farm full of weeds and not much else. From there players are free to begin working toward creating a farm that suits their specific tastes.
Love the idea of adorable voxel animals roaming about? You can focus on raising farm creatures such as sheep, cows, chickens and pigs. If you’d rather focus on crops then that is of course an option, as is tending to both animals and crops. The mechanics are explained briefly in the tutorial and easy to grasp. Animals need food, shelter and affection while crops need water and time to grow. When you’ve reaped the rewards of all this labor, your goods can be sold for a bit of gold. Or, crops can be kept and used to create delicious recipes. To some degree, Staxel comes off a lot like a 3D version of Harvest Moon — just with more potential creative freedom and the option for online multiplayer farming.
Between farming day in and day out players can collect blocks of wood, stone, and metal as the starting point for crafting a huge variety of objects. However, unlike genre contemporaries, refining said items like raw lumber into usable wood takes time. While more realistic, this process also slows down the player’s potential to quickly collect blocks and get straight to building. Fortunately, there’s also a store and online shop (using in-game currency only) filled with everything a budding farmer could need… and some things they don’t. For example, a miniature house full of fairies can be rush ordered, as can strange chicken head statues.
Staxel still leaves a lot to be desired with regards to ease of use. For example, if you and a friend wish to play online together then one of you must host a server or find an existing open one to jump into. Currently it’s rare to find a server that’s both open and not passworded despite the game clearly having a fanbase. Perhaps people are opting for virtual LAN solutions such as Hamachi or Tunngle instead? Some aspects aren’t explained within the game, either, such as the fact that you need to name the server the same exact thing if you wish to reopen it with all changes saved next time. Additional improvements would go toward reducing in-game bugs, prettying up menus and streamlining the controller layout which currently feels tremendously unintuitive.
This is exactly what the Early Access period is for. Staxel still requires quality of life enhancements and suggestions for other improvements. Farming with friends is enjoyable, but that alone may not keep players hooked in the long run. Crafting and building is fun as well, but the world is confined to a surprisingly small island. Eventually there are limits to what can be explored and utilized, as opposed to other titles which continue to procedurally generate an ever-expanding landscape. The best that can be said for Staxel’s building at this point is that it has a wealth of items for you to create pretty much whatever you set your mind to. This is especially true in Creative Mode where you can build whatever your heart desires whether or not it has a darn thing to do with farming.
Early Access is best for games that are enjoyable, playable yet still in need of user feedback. Fortunately, Staxel is exactly this kind of game. There is already tons of room to start playing and unleash your creativity locally or online. Rough edges also crop up during play sessions that remind players it’s still an unfinished product. Fortunately, nothing has been completely game breaking in my own experience thus far. Staxel provides a great concept and still shows room for growth and player input toward the final product. As such, it’s best played currently by those who don’t mind sidestepping a few bugs and who want to provide their thoughts for improving the game’s solid foundation.