Non-violent delight.

Posted by Nate on 24 March 2019 at 1:43PM

There is something very refreshing about a game that in no way revolves around or includes violence. On the island of Eastshade the worst you'll come across are those that lie and sneak (oh, and the hallucinogenics). Saying that, most of the inhabitants of this little island are pleasant, interesting and just a little bit bizarre. Eastshade is a wondrous experience that was especially refreshing.

You are an artist travelling to the island of Eastshade to fulfil your mother's dying wish. She wanted you to have as good an experience there as she did and stated four scenes that we should paint. This is the main objective of the game but the small and focused open world holds many secrets and interesting points.

At the beginning you find yourself on a sinking ship while travelling to the island. Fortunately, this occurs just offshore and you was up in a cave near the second largest settlement on the island, Lyndow. This is a small portion of that island that you are initially confined to by a toll on the only bridge. I guess you could call it the tutorial area, like the style you see in a fair amount of high-budget open world games.

The gameplay feels most reminiscent to me of an older Elder Scrolls game, in terms of exploration and communication. You can talk to the majority of people and will uncover quests. You also have a [pick topic] option which gradually expands as you learn more about the island, people and culture. There are two main types of quest; painting and problem solving. For example; the innkeeper of Lyndlow wants a painting of the eclipse, but a resident of the same town has a pot stuck on his head (he definitely didn't want a painting of that incident!).

The layout of the game is very precise and well thought out. There is no map of the area and no quest markers. The game expects you to take the time to explore, learn and consider your options. This mainly works well though there were two or three times during the game where I just couldn't align my mind to the logic in the game. There is a solution to every puzzle on the island but you can figure it out and then have to spend ages trying to find whoever can supply the item you needed. To craft a raft I required sealant (also, we'll get to crafting!) but I just couldn't find anyone that had it or even mentioned its existence. It turned out that I had missed a conversation cue with one character who gives it to you. Frustrating as I had already discounted that character being able to help in this particular instance.

On the other hand, one mission was to tempt a waterfox out and into a trap so that the park ranger could administrate some medicine. The part to solve is what they like to eat. I already knew this, as I'd found and read a book which stated the answer. The part of this quest that took me so long was actually finding the waterfox's cave. It was described as fewer than one-hundred paces from the quest-giver. I did eventually find it (and it was painstakingly obvious) but it's an example of completely missing something.

Eastshade is a beautiful game and the level of detail is very impressive. I took screenshots aplenty while painting as often as possible. There is a large amount of variety in the scenery in this small space. In the current trend of having open-world games as large as possible, it's very refreshing to have a fairly small world that is highly detailed. I really found some of the landscapes that you encounter to be breathtaking. It is at the standard that I would expect larger-budget RPGs to have going forwards.

Exploration really is key. You can get a map of the island but I imagine it could be very easy to miss that particular mission and spend the entire game without the reference. I still wonder what I've missed from not speaking to every NPC (I missed a couple of crafting items presuming that every square in the grid fills with something you can make). The game can be completed without some of these items, but it's just a little quality of life improvement.

Crafting. I've come to despise crafting in games as it has saturated many genres. I feel that it's somewhat unnecessary here. I appreciate the narrative of washing up on the shore of the island and having no possessions other than my easel. However, there is only one item that you need to keep crafting and this is both the most important and the most restricted – canvases.

Canvases require wooden planks and fabric. Now, fabric is easy to find and collect and you'll find yourself with more than enough. Wooden planks though, it was so limiting that I had an half hour pause from what I was doing (and I knew exactly what needed to be done) to just wander around trying to find these planks just so I could craft a canvas to paint the painting to advance the quest. This is no longer an issue once you reach the main city, Nava, but it feels very restrictive in the first few hours of the game.

Another mechanic tied to paintings is inspiration. You gain inspiration levels when discovering new landmarks, reading books and solving issues. Painting drains it and if you are below level 1 then you cannot paint. It took me a little while in this small initial area to put all the pieces of gameplay together in order to earn the money to pay the bridge toll. All of the above issues end once you get stuck into Nava, then you don't have to worry about the restrictions for the rest of the game.

Eastshade is a bit janky. I found one quest near the beginning in which an NPCs pathway was broken and I couldn't complete the (fairly important) quest. This led me to having to restart the game – there is only one save slot. There's also set dressing that you can walk or crouch into throughout. The production values are so high from start to end though, these are easily overlooked.

There was only one other issue of pacing. Around half of the island is unavailable to you until you find a solution to crossing the river. This area is large and beautiful. However, when I was able to reach it, I had everything in my possession to go on and finish the game. It felt like I spent about a dozen hours on one side of the island and maybe one or two in the other half. I just wish it was a little more balanced.

In all honesty, all of these complaints are minor. Eastshade has been the most refreshing gameplay experience I've had in a good while and it kept pulling me back until I completed it. The visuals and artistic design are outstanding. While there isn't too much to painting (other than just pressing 'A'), it's great when you start seeing you're work hanging up in people's houses and shops.

My time in Eastshade felt like a holiday and one I'll remember for a good while yet.

The good

  • Incredible visual design and detail
  • Soundtrack is fantastic
  • Non-violent and relaxing gameplay
  • Every puzzle has its place
  • Trusts the player's intelligence to solve problems with little to no hand-holding

The bad

  • Minor bugs and rough edges can break immersion a little