Hyper Light Drifter is Your Gateway to Indie Gaming

Hyper Light Drifter will change the way you think about indie games - even if you've only played AAA titles. Here's why.

If you’re an indie game fan, Hyper Light Drifter should already be on your radar. If you’re not, this title is going to change the way you think about indie gaming.

Today, developer Heart Machine opened a “preview build” of the game for backers who gave $25 or more to their Kickstarter campaign (or for those who buy the preview). These early playable areas of the game have already been reviewed by Polygon, and will also be showcased at IndieCade 2014 next month.

Indie fans have been drooling over this title for a while now, but casual and “hardcore” players alike should be putting Hyper Light Drifter on their wishlists. Alex Preston, the mind behind Heart Machine, worked tirelessly and meticulously to create a game that offers an enjoyable experience for every player.

The result? A 2D action-RPG that not only exemplifies what independent developers can achieve, but also rivals the mechanics and player immersion of AAA titles.

The Indie Myth

Although indie games span all genres and platforms, they’re still a niche in the gaming industry. Because indie gaming is a niche, gamers often make certain assumptions about it – whether they have previously played indie titles or not. Unfortunately, these assumptions often keep gamers from picking up indie titles at all.

For some players, there seems to be an association of the word “indie” with games that just aren’t quite good enough to entertain mass audiences. There’s also the idea that indie games are always quirky or weird, and are not to be taken as seriously as bigger titles. While it’s far more common to see indie developers experimenting with strange new ideas or mechanics, this doesn’t brand every indie title as niche material that only a small group of players can enjoy.

Exhibit A: Horror Games

The recent outpouring of indie horror games shows that the independent gaming industry has something to offer larger audiences. With recent games like Five Nights at Freddy’s and Slender: The Arrival making a huge splash with gamers and lets-players alike, it’s downright wrong to say that indie titles can’t appeal to large audiences and “real” gamers.

Hyper Light Drifter is going to do the same. In fact, it could become a favorite among indie and non-indie players alike: If you were thinking about passing on this indie title, it’s time to think again Alex Preston has promised a rewarding player experience for anyone who picks up the game. And yes, that applies to you hardcore players, too.

All the Story Elements, None of the Reading

Heart Machine has been keeping most of the juicy details about Hyper Light Drifter under wraps. According to a PS blog guest post by Preston, the game’s storyline is not explicit. That is, there is a lot of room for individualized player experiences within a basic narrative framework.  We do know, however, that players will control a character called “the Drifter". The Drifter must travel to a ruined world. He must uncover the secrets of this world and learn about its dark past in order to find a cure for the mysterious disease that ails him.

For all you RPG players out there, Hyper Light Drifter is not just offering a great story – it’s offering a personalized one. But what about those of you who don’t want to get bogged down by a heavy plot?

On the PS blog, Preston writes that he wanted to avoid factors that might slow down the game or break player immersion. The solution: storyboards. Rather than giving you quests or dialogue via walls of text or long voiceovers, the game progresses through “storyboard-like sequences” that move the story forward without stopping to overload the player with new information. This also means that the game transcends language barriers – it’s playable regardless of nationality.

Goodbye, Button-Mashing

This is for all you action fiends and strategy players. Hyper Light Drifter uses innovative combat mechanics to create a combat experience that is both responsive and rewarding. Combat will hit hard and require a certain amount of strategy to succeed. The devs over at Heart Machine know that gamers aren’t mindless, so there isn’t any handholding.

Pop Quiz: What tried-and-true model of combat do we still see in AAA games?

               Harder Level = More Enemies + Less Health

To hell with bullet­sponges, witless drones and unfair scenarios.-Alex Preston

While this system does make for a more challenging level of gameplay, it doesn’t really enhance a player’s combat experience. With enough patience and enough button-mashing, players can tear through any number of mindless enemy hordes. Not so in Hyper Light Drifter. Enemies are well-equipped and reactive. They may dodge projectiles, deflect attacks, attack in pack formation, and even command weaker NPCs to gain an advantage in combat. The player must be able to think quickly and strategically in order to dispatch enemies.

Further details about combat have not been released. However, Preston has said that the game will feature drop-in/drop-out co-op play. He also hinted that some NPCs will not be threats to the Drifter, and players could potentially kill characters that didn’t need killing. They will have to be discerning in how they handle NPC encounters. 

This isn’t Kansas Anymore…

Atmosphere is key in Hyper Light Drifter, which is unexpected for its 2D graphics. Alex Preston had originally intended for the game to have 3D environments, but later realized that trying to create the experience he wanted in full-HD graphics would be too much work for one person. Instead, he chose to flatten the graphics and focus instead on building a seamless environment.

What really makes it for me are the environments and the sense of exploration. -Alex Preston

Each new environment has its own palette, and all are littered with landmarks that reflect the planet’s violent history. Alongside reactive wildlife and detailed architecture, players will find battle craters, grownover machines, rotting experimental laboratories, and the skeletons of hulking creatures. In each area, something will always feel slightly off, but the player will not know why. This creates a sense of anxiety for the player that compounds as the game progresses. The game’s eerie, darkening soundtrack won’t offer any relief, either. It only helps pull you deeper into this dark adventure.

Heart Machine’s devotion to atmosphere and total immersion appeals to all types of gamers. Whether you’re an RPG or FPS fan, a strategist or a lone rogue, a game is nothing if it isn’t immersive. And Hyper Light Drifter is shaping up to be a hell of a player experience – one that could easily rival the experience we get from some AAA titles in the coming year. To round out the immersive experience, Heart Machine did away with almost all the UI elements gamers are used to. In Hyper Light Drifter, you won’t see any UI elements that aren’t part of the environment. While that might seem like an inconvenience, Preston says it makes for a better experience:

“[It] helps to keep the player immersed and focused on the moments and constantly unfolding story in the world rather than on numbers, bars, and maps.”

Don’t Overlook It

Hyper Light Drifter is a promising title. It offers gamers a lot of options in the way of combat and plot, and works tirelessly to create an immersive and personalized experience. The “indie” label shouldn’t stop you from picking this one up – even if you’ve only played AAA titles.

The game is expected to drop around the end of this year or early 2015. It will be available on PC (Windows/Mac/Linux), PS4, PS Vita, OUYA, and Wii U. 

Featured Contributor

Resident SMITE fangirl.

Published Sep. 26th 2014
  • mohit singh
    A good article i enjoyed reading it. There are not many people writing about indie games. I hope you will write about rpg games also.

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