Bohemia Interactive have built their reputation over the past decade on the back of the Arma series. Uncompromising military sims sharing an engine with official soldier training software. While they branched out a little bit with zombie survival spinoff Day Z, it didn't do too much to affect their image.
This week, Bohemia broke their mold a little with the release of Ylands (pronounced the same as 'Islands'), their freeform sandbox game; A distinctive little low-poly world of creativity. It's early days yet, but it seems to have seen a relatively strong Steam-side launch, albeit under the Early Access banner.
Think Ylands might be joining our list of the best sandbox games on PC next year? I think it might be in with a shot.
At its heart here, Ylands seems to be more Minecraft than anything, albeit spread across several tech-levels roughly corresponding to various periods in history, and not constrained by the smallest standard block being a meter-square cube. The physics are more realistic, and there's more granularity to the building and crafting, but it's familiar stuff on the whole.
Probably Ylands' most interesting divergence from sandbox norms is a game-mode editor. While entirely new items don't seem to be an option for players to create at present, there is a basic scripting system allowing for custom play-modes on maps built without any restrictions. I'd say the degree of freedom reminds me a little of Second Life, but everyone seems to be keeping their clothes on in screenshots, so perhaps not the best point of reference.
While skewing positive, there are a number of negative reviews on the game so far on Steam. Mostly complaints about bugs (hardly a surprise for the first days of a sandbox game), although a few seem to be upset that there's a (currently cosmetics-only) cash shop attached to the game, too.
The most common complaint thusfar seems to be 'poor optimisation'. Granted, very few of these people have posted system specs, but given the mostly-untextured, low-poly environments I'd have expected system requirements for the game to be relatively low. Just speculation, but I'm hazarding a guess that while gentle on the GPU, the physics under the surface, plus keeping track of multiple players may be putting more strain on CPUs than expected.
A quick peek into the Steam forums did at least give me a chuckle at the sad plight of one poor builder who built a defensive tesla coil in the middle of his camp, only to find out that he can't come anywhere near his creation without being electrocuted. A shocking revelation to be sure, and the kind of thing that makes a sandbox game memorable.
Ylands will be lurking around in Early Access for the next 6-8 months, or so Bohemia estimate. If you're willing to brave some untested waters, it's £13/$15 (minus a 20% launch discount) now, with plans for the price to go up further closer to release.