The Stomping Land Early Access Review

Island of the lost.


GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

Several hours into my run with The Stomping Land, I stopped short of my sprint through a dense jungle--a scene I was quickly growing tired of--and realized something: there was nothing left for me to do. I had set up a camp by a lake where I went spearfishing, and I had explored a branching cave and stalked wild dinosaurs. I had even tamed one as a pet until another player snuck up from behind and killed it with an axe. I had fought other tribes, killed, and was killed myself many, many times. I had traveled the entirety of the available world; I had seen it all, and I was bored.

You will feel a little overwhelmed when you first begin your quest onto the large jungle island, but its depth is superficial. Peeling away the surface of this survival sim reveals mechanics that are either surprisingly limited in scope or otherwise broken or woefully incomplete. It is a game with a short laundry list of activities, all of which can be ticked off in a few hours. The Stomping Land lets you hunt and ride dinosaurs, from the quick-footed gallimimus to the massive carnotaurus. Indeed, while the dinos of Capa Island are large, it's unfortunate that everything else feels so small.

Fight for survival against other players and dinosaurs on an untamed island.
Fight for survival against other players and dinosaurs on an untamed island.

If you manage to find a welcoming server right away (the chances are about fifty-fifty), you will find yourself dropped either onto a sandy beach or in a dense jungle, armed with only a hatchet. You have several initial tasks you can pursue after spawn: collect resources for crafting, hunt for food, or explore. If you go the crafting route, you will find it a frustrating and often baffling experience. Wood and stone dot the island in abundance. But unlike in other games, resources, trees, and rocks don't deplete, effectively removing any system of risk and reward through exploration. Dropping more than one resource on the ground combines the items into a small wicker basket that grows as you add more supplies. There is no inventory system, so moving the basket requires you to pull it with a rope.

Interacting with a basket of resources displays a short list of tools and structures you can create with the gathered materials. As you add more materials to the basket, the list grows, tempting you to add as much as possible before you start crafting. That, as it turns out, is a bad idea, because the creation process burns up all your resources during creation, leaving nothing behind. Since the game doesn't show how many materials each item requires, crafting becomes a time-consuming test of patience, where the best course is to gather a small number of resources at a time and check the list over and over until you find what you need.

Hunting and spearfishing are necessary to find food.
Hunting and spearfishing are necessary to find food.

Even if you do have the patience, crafting culminates in only a handful of tools and necessary structures. Tools include a bow with arrows, which is great for taking out dinos or hostile humans from a distance. You can also craft a spear, a shield to protect yourself, and bolas, which tie up players and prevent them from escaping. Structures include a tepee, which creates a respawn point; a fire pit for cooking food; and a totem pole if you fancy creating your own tribe.

In its current state, the game doesn't offer anything else in terms of structures or ways to protect what you have. Without walls or traps to protect them, many times I returned to find my stockpile of food swiped or my tepee destroyed. Where other survival games, even those in early access, let you save the progress you make and protect your stuff, The Stomping Land leaves your fate to the elements. But it doesn't matter in the end; everything you build gets deleted when you log off anyhow.

When you're not busy crafting, you spend the game doing an inordinate amount of aimless jogging. Most available servers allow for no more than 16 players at once, yet few of those have more than 10 people online. You could run around for several day-and-night cycles before coming across anyone else. And when you do find other players, it has been my experience that their first reaction is to either stab you in the gut with a spear or tie you up with a bola and then drag you into the ocean while chanting "sacrifice him to the sea goddess!" To clarify, the latter happened during one of my earliest attempts at making friends with a three-player tribe. I also learned that you can't break the bindings once you're hit by a bola. After running into so many players flinging the darn things, I hope a way to cut yourself free materializes soon.

I did experience a few brief moments of excitement. Not long after my brush with the sea goddess clan, I discovered a cave on the beach. As I peered in, I spotted a small object glowing green. Delighted at the chance of discovery, I built a torch and delved into the inky blackness. It turned out the glowing object was called a healing herb, and it's used in taming dinosaurs. This was something that I wanted, but I decided to explore the cave further. I followed a twisting path of rock, bordered by pools of deep azure water. After some time twisting and turning, I entered a chamber to find a large Mayan-inspired painting on the floor. As I stepped onto it, the painting started to glow green and spin.

Visiting the neighbors can be risky.
Visiting the neighbors can be risky.

After the long period of tedium I had endured to get to this point, I was thrilled with my discovery, and felt surprised that the game held such a secret. A few seconds later, my reward flashed onscreen: "Expertise +20." Oh, I thought, that's it? In The Stomping Land, expertise is the single role-playing game element and is rewarded for staying alive. Expertise, which I calculated was doled out about one point per minute, is used to tame dinosaurs. The more points you have, the larger the animal you can befriend. I had half expected to find something special with the painting, but felt utterly disappointed when all it did was shave off about 20 minutes of gameplay.

A few seconds later, three torches lit up the cave from the other side of a rock. It was my sea goddess friends, and apparently the cave was part of their turf. In my haste to escape another ritual, I accidently fell into a pool of water, extinguishing my torch. The need for an inventory system never seemed so desperate. After fruitlessly hopping around looking for an exit, I eventually gave up and drowned myself.

There are many more issues that make The Stomping Land such an unsatisfying experience. Walking over small hills or rocks causes your character to clip and sputter through objects; the camera, which floats behind your character's back, stutters wildly whenever you enter water; and even one of the primary attractions of the game, riding dinosaurs, is unwieldy, and, in the end, just one other way to fumble through emotionless terrain. The game is in early access, and many of these shortcomings could be gone by the time it's finished. But when it will get finished is unclear. The road ahead of The Stomping Land stretches out so far that I can't foresee when, or if, that day will come. And with an asking price of $24.99 on Steam, The Stomping Land should be avoided like a charging styracosaurus--for now, anyway.

What's There?

Multiplayer survival on a jungle island where you fight to stay alive alongside several species of dinosaurs to hunt or tame.

What's To Come?

More dinosaur species, as well as a larger island to explore.

What Does it Cost?

$24.99, available via the Steam store.

When Will it Be Finished?

Unknown, but judging by what's available currently, it could be a long time before an official release.

What's the Verdict?

At this stage, The Stomping Land more closely resembles a tech demo than anything close to a finalized product. It is far from its end goal, and I have no idea when, or if, that goal will ever be reached.

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