We're looking for new writers to join us!

Nova Lands

Nova Lands

Written by Jason Dailey on 6/22/2023 for PS4  
More On: Nova Lands

There is something about management and city building games that does wonders for my brain chemistry – endorphins get released nonstop when I am immersed in an especially good one. Nova Lands does its job well in that regard, pleasing the far reaches of my analytical, box-checking brain. If you’re likewise a fan of city builders or supply chain management sims, I think you will enjoy it too. On the other hand, if you are intimidated by the genre and its larger scale offerings, Nova Lands is a good gateway game to help you get your feet wet in a somewhat dialed down fashion. There are some minor quality of life bumps in the road, but unfortunately that is part and parcel to the genre on consoles at this point.

The game opens with a small spacecraft (crash?) landing on an unknown planet, the door of the craft opens and out crawls your pixel art character. It prompts you to press a button to extract resources and off you go. That’s essentially all the tutorial you’re going to get too, which normally for this type of game would be a massive non-starter, but thankfully, the simplicity of Nova Lands works in its favor. I literally pushed every button to see what would happen and taught myself how to play the game in about 60 seconds. Beyond that, the menus do a great job of conveying useful and necessary information, such as what resources are required to craft what items, as well as what they look like. There’s nothing complicated about it, and I enjoyed learning organically what each resource was for.

At the heart of the matter are those very resources, which are extracted from objects in the environment: stones, trees, water, animals, ore deposits, and so on. Resources naturally replenish over time, so long as you don’t extract the source itself. Building, upgrading, or researching anything requires resources, and even more advanced resources require basic ones to be crafted. Like other games in the genre, it’s a formula that keeps building on itself, layer upon layer. For example, iron ore and charcoal are needed to forge iron ingots, but charcoal is made by extracting twigs from trees and throwing them in a furnace. Going in the other direction, iron ingots are one component required to make steel, which is required to make plasteel, which is required to make several items. You get the idea. It might all be severely monotonous if not for the impeccably paced gameplay progression that is perfectly tuned to keep you crafting and unlocking new things in harmony.

Perhaps you’re wondering what exactly you’re trying to accomplish in Nova Lands. There are no quest markers, no waypoints, or no real objectives in Nova Lands, but the impressive part is that it doesn’t matter. The gameplay loop is so compelling, so addictive, that I was driven merely by a desire to see what was next. “What’s that resource for?”, “what’s that equipment do?”, and “oh wait, a spaceship?!” were all common refrains playing within my head as the minutes and hours flew by. You see, there is this strange, hypnotic attraction of knowing everything on the game’s research tree from the very beginning but still discovering how it all ties together along the way. I know that eventually I can build a supercomputer, but what does it do? For better or worse, my brain requires that I play long enough to find out. Thus is the temptation and the promise of Nova Lands’ cleverly designed gameplay loop.

That progression happens in a few ways – through the research tree, skill trees, and unlocking new islands – all of which are done by collecting resources, using them to build new structures, and using those structures to craft additional resources. The research tree allows you to unlock more advanced equipment such as furnaces to create steel, or assemblers to craft computer parts. It’s also how you unlock new buildings such as farms, which let you harvest resources from the planet’s flora and fauna.

The skill tree is like every other game; letting you spend points to unlock boosts such as furnaces that produce 25% faster. XP is earned by crafting, building, and completing boss battles – more on that later. Your equipment can also be upgraded to make life a little easier, with boosts to inventory capacity or more oxygen in your tank, for instance. Unlocking access to additional islands is also a key part of progression, which is done by exchanging certain resources for them to become available on your map. These islands are not large, with you able to run across them in a matter of seconds, and each one has unique resources that you’ll need to keep progressing. Again, it cannot be overstated just how good the pace of progression is in Nova Lands. It was hard to shake the urge to build just one more thing or unlock one more node in the research tree.

As you gain access to more islands, you’ll discover other non-playable characters in the world, some of which appear to be from the same place you are, wherever that may be. NPCs will give you basic fetch quests that unlock access to equipment, shops, or sometimes reward items that grant helpful abilities. Some islands are also home to gigantic creatures that are boss battles in waiting. Yes, you read that correctly – boss battles in a resource management building game. It’s a strange inclusion for this type of game, to be sure, but thankfully they are optional.

Bosses can also be dealt with non-violently, should you choose, although I did run into what appeared to be a glitch that would not allow me to take the pacifist route for one boss. When you do choose violence, you’ll have access to an energy rifle that the game describes as used to “pew-pew” all sorts of things – and indeed it is. Along those lines, there are some light survival elements present as well. For instance, you’ll need to keep an oxygenator fueled up with water to produce oxygen or you’ll die, which respawns you at the starter island. That’s in addition to some of the local wildlife not taking kindly to your presence on their planet. Even so, it’s nothing too serious and surviving is largely an afterthought.

In other words, the main attraction of Nova Lands is without a doubt that core loop of gathering resources, crafting, and unlocking new stuff. The game really shifts into overdrive when you gain the ability to craft bots, which allow you to automate two key processes – collecting and transporting. This happens early on, but there are some skill tree abilities that give these bots an insane speed boost that I recommend you unlock as soon as possible. At that point you can rely heavily on automation and forming assembly lines that increase your efficiency many times over. Here Nova Lands presents a game within the game; challenging you to make your assembly lines as efficient as possible. Just when I thought my obsessive mind could go no further down the rabbit hole, there I went, with a metric ton of iron ingots strapped to my legs.

The game builds on its already addictive gameplay loop by adding a wrinkle that intensifies its allure, and suddenly you graduate from building assembly lines to building supply chains. At that point, you’ll be building things that rely on other things that allow you to keep stockpiling resources and, ultimately, progressing through your trees. It all goes something like this – you build an antenna to program a collector bot to mine sand. You then direct that bot to deliver the sand to a transport arm for a logistics bot to grab and transport it to the furnace where it becomes glass. Oh, but that island where the sand is located has angry creatures that attack your collector bot, so you’ll need to build a protector bot to pew-pew them to keep the bot safe. Now keep doing that and you'll be well on your way to proper supply chain optimization.

It may sound complicated, but the most impressive part is it all remains relatively streamlined considering what the game is, except for two minor frustrations. For starters, the inventory system can be a pain; nowhere near a deal-breaking pain, but a pain, nonetheless. For all its emphasis on automation and supply chain management, you will still have to do a bit of manual labor from time to time. For instance, building structures requires you to have specific amounts of resources in your inventory to construct them, which means you will need to move items in and out of said inventory to get what you need. The inventory is accessed by pressing down on the directional pad, and then down again to drop an item.

The problem arises from the game’s auto collect function, which, as you can imagine, automatically vacuums up items in your immediate vicinity. This can be toggled on and off by clicking the left stick, which you will be doing often to keep from picking up unwanted items. Inevitably, you’ll still pick up stuff you didn’t want or need and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. When you are in the thick of it, building things left and right, you’ll constantly be collecting resources, having to drop ones you didn’t mean to pick-up, toggling auto collect on or off, then rinsing and repeating the process. To be fair, I don’t know what else the developer could do within the confines of a controller, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it semi-regularly made me curse at my television and throw my head back in disgust.

In the same vein, for as helpful as bots are, they can also inadvertently steal resources you need right from under your nose. Remember when I said you should upgrade the speed of your bots as quickly as possible? You still should, but it’s a double-edged sword, as they become so fast that you cannot, for example, grab a steel ingot off the furnace fast enough before they zip by like The Flash and nab it before you ever lay eyes on it. For a game so dependent on resource management, these are both inconveniences of some consequence.

With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Nova Lands, and nothing could ultimately stop me from becoming enveloped in its addictive gameplay loop. In fact, I’ve experienced late dinners and missed bedtimes more than once during my time with the game. The straightforward nature of its systems makes it an appealing option for players looking to get a foot in the door of the genre, while its deeper focus on automation and supply chain optimization creates a meta game that hardcore players can sink their teeth into for hours upon hours. Regardless of which category you fall in, these are lands well worth exploring – and automating.

Nova Lands is an engrossing supply chain management game that can be tough to put down. As is typical for the genre on consoles, there are some minor quality of life frustrations, but it’s an easy game to recommend despite that. For newcomers to this sort of game, Nova Lands might be the perfect starting point, while genre enthusiasts can expect to spend many hours building and optimizing.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

Nova Lands Nova Lands Nova Lands Nova Lands Nova Lands Nova Lands Nova Lands Nova Lands

About Author

Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @TheDualSensePod, or check out my YouTube channel.

View Profile