Smalland: Survive the Wilds – Review
Follow Genre: Survival
Developer: Merge Games
Publishers: Merge Games
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Tested On: PC

Smalland: Survive the Wilds – Review

Site Score
Good: Gorgeous aesthetics
Bad: Various glitches, especially in multiplayer mode
User Score
(2 votes)
Click to vote
VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 6.0/10 (2 votes cast)

Last summer, we took a look at an Early Access build of Smalland: Survive the Wilds. While our initial impressions were positive, there were certainly areas where the game needed improvement. Fast forward roughly seven months and Smalland has officially left Early Access. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to return to the Overland, so join us as we take an in-depth look at what Smalland has to offer.


The only thing that sets up Smalland’s story is a very short text blurb, which we’ll quote verbatim here -random capitalization of certain words included: “Years have passed since the Smallfolk took sanctuary in the burrows, seeking refuge from the dangers above. Emerging now, they strive to reclaim the Overland, a perilous realm where death lurks around every corner. The Vanguards, intrepid pioneers of the Smallfolk, are sent forth to establish the first settlements in this treacherous land. As a Rookie Vanguard, your initiation takes an unexpected turn When your party is attacked by a Giant Hornet…” After this, you find your Vanguard standing next to the corpse of said hornet, and your commander lying on the ground, gravely wounded from the attack. In all honesty, it’s a rather underwhelming start for the game, with the text feeling like a placeholder for a cutscene. If you’re playing in single-player mode, it’s also odd that your ‘party’ only comprises you and the commander, though in multiplayer, your fellow players form the rest of said party. Smalland‘s narrative is fleshed out more through dialogue later on in the game, as you hear rumblings of a war brewing between the Smallfolk and the hornets, but ultimately, the game doesn’t feel like a very narrative-driven experience.


From the get-go, Smalland impresses with its visuals, even on mid-range hardware. This is mostly thanks to gorgeous lighting, and fantastic mise-en-scene, which allows the game to present jaw-dropping vistas, even if the individual 3D models aren’t up there with the best of the best. A lot of the game’s storytelling is done through visuals too: there are man-made objects to be discovered, which add to the game’s sense of scale. This is one of those rare games where you’ll occasionally stop to take in the sights and see how creative the visual designers were. That said, we would have liked a more expanded character designer, as certain options like hairstyles felt severely limited, especially compared to things like eye shapes, which included options like double pupils or elongated eye slits.


Audio-wise, Smalland doesn’t impress as much as it does visually. There is no voice acting present in the game, and while the ambient sound effects are adequate, they don’t really stand out either. The game’s cinematic OST is good, although it is also very loud and we had to significantly turn it down to be able to talk to other players while playing online.


At the time of reviewing, Smalland had been officially released for well over a week. However, the title screen still displayed the words Early Access in the corner. As you’ll find out, this was a sign of things to come, as our time with the game was filled with bugs -and not the kind we expected to encounter. Before we get into the nitty gritty of Smalland’s rough edges, however, let’s recap the core gameplay experience: Smalland offers classic survival gameplay that centers around resource gathering, crafting, and building. Stepping into the very tiny boots of your ant-sized Vanguard, you start out with nothing but your own ingenuity and you’ll need to work your way up the equipment ladder. Basic materials like wood and fibers can be picked up and turned into simple weapons or tools, which you can then use to defend yourself as well as obtain better materials. These can in turn be used to obtain other resources. If you want to harvest flint, you’ll need a mandibular pickaxe, for example, but in order to craft said pickaxe, you’ll first need to kill a few insects for parts. It’s a tried and true formula that feels instantly familiar.

You’ll also need to keep an eye on your health as well as your hunger level, so it’s a good idea to carry around bandages and food in your inventory. Raw ingredients are all around you but the food that you prepare in your base camp provides more sustenance. We should note that there was no noticeable difference between different kinds of food apart from how much things filled us up. It would have been nice if different foods provided different buffs and debuffs for a limited time, as this would have fleshed out the survival aspect just a tad more. As it stands, there are two things that directly affect your Vanguard’s build instead: as you level up, you receive points that you can directly allocate to specific stats, such as speed or stamina. This isn’t necessarily permanent, as once you reach a certain point in the game, you can talk to an NPC to rearrange these points. The second stat-altering element is the gear that you wear, with that same NPC able to craft better gear provided you bring him the necessary materials.

So far, everything we’ve had to say about Smalland’s gameplay was quite straightforward, and that is because the game is, for better or worse, a very standard survival title. There are a handful of aspects that deviate from the norm, such as being able to use your antennae to see enemy stats and sniff out resources, and later on in the game you’re able to tame insects and ride around on them. These don’t do enough to really make Smalland stand out from other survival titles, however. The selling point that is meant to catch the attention of players is that you can team up with up to nine other players in co-op. While this sounds amazing in theory, in practice the multiplayer gameplay is one of Smalland’s more frustrating aspects. It took us well over half an hour before we were able to actually get a multiplayer game running, as other players’ games didn’t show up in the list, and attempts to host games ourselves often resulted in Smalland not booting up at all.

When we finally were able to join an online game, other glitches reared their ugly head. Enemies disappeared mid-battle, meaning we didn’t receive resources or precious experience points and other players seemingly teleported around the place. There was quite a bit of lag too, which resulted in several unfair deaths. To the game’s credit, the hosting player can adjust quite a few settings, such as enemies not attacking until you attack them, your inventory not becoming lost when you die, and even an arachnophobia setting. However, if you need to use these settings as a stopgap to make the online mode playable, and not as a way to make things more fun, then it’s hard to deny that Smalland could have used more polish.

The issues we encountered with Smalland aren’t just limited to the game’s multiplayer mode either. When we started playing, Steam warned us that Smalland was playable with a controller but not optimized for it, which seemed odd for a game that also is available on consoles. We’re not sure whether it was because we were playing with a controller or not, but the UI felt very counterintuitive, and our Vanguard didn’t always respond the way we wanted to, randomly crouching or blocking things. As a final thought, we felt like the game didn’t give us enough guidance. We’re not fans of hand-holding, but we were several hours into the game and we still hadn’t figured out how some things worked. The game kept telling us that a so-called World Event was happening, for example, but we had no clue what it was or where to look for it. Hopefully, the issues we encountered will be fixed over the coming months, but as it stands, for all intents and purposes, it seems like Smalland is still in Early Access, with the game’s only reason for officially being fully released being that it needed to meet a deadline.


Everything hints at the current “full” release of Smalland not actually being the final version of the game yet. On the one hand, this makes us hopeful that over the coming months, the game doesn’t just receive bug fixes, but also expands on certain areas, such as the undercooked narrative and better character customization. On the other hand, it feels like a scummy move to sell the game as a complete release, only to be greeted with the words Early Access on the title screen. The core survival gameplay is solid but nothing special, and the aesthetic appeal can only do so much to motivate players to keep coming back. We’ll be keeping half an eye on Smalland, but as it stands, the game feels unfinished, making it difficult to recommend.

VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 6.0/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Smalland: Survive the Wilds - Review, 6.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

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