Eastward is just not the primary online game to pit mother or father and baby towards the encroaching apocalypse. It isn’t the primary online game to juxtapose vibrant color and important noise with a thematic core that’s a lot darker. It isn’t the primary online game to discover what occurs when demagogues exchange establishments within the wake of cataclysm, changing historical past into historiography as survivors grow to be philistines not simply by necessity, however by design.
And but Eastward is stunningly unique to the purpose of close to overambition. Sure, not all of its concepts are novel. Sure, it should, typically and virtually openly, be akin to its huge wealth of influences – it even has a minigame referred to as Earth Born with an inner fight system that’s remarkably just like one other comparatively standard ‘Earth’ recreation, with all the mandatory ‘mom’ lingo that comes with it. And sure, there shall be events throughout which you’ll really feel as if that is one thing you’ve gotten seen earlier than. By all of it, nonetheless, Eastward stays dedicated to carving out its personal distinct id, and, for essentially the most half, it succeeds spectacularly.
From the bombed-out bombast of Potcrock Isle to the pastoral platitudes of Whitewhale Bay, to the hodgepodge urbanism of New Dam Metropolis and the intelligent liminality of rundown practice stations, Eastward is about in an enormous and various world teeming with magic, the mundane, and magical mundanity. It isn’t so self-serious as different post-apocalyptic adventures – in my preview, I famous that it’s absurd to the purpose of close to nonsense. It’s this very absurdity that enables Eastward to shine, although – what permits it to transcend all of these aforementioned sources so as to set up itself as one thing that’s unique, distinctive, and stunningly, virtually annoyingly sensible.
Eastward places you in two totally different pairs of sneakers – the ripped and rugged boots of John the miner and the ethereal slippers of his surrogate daughter, Sam. The sport’s core loop revolves round integrating the playstyles of those two characters – they’ve totally different approaches to puzzles and their very own distinct fight builds. Whereas John wallops mammoth monsters with a depraved frying pan and lambasts them with the hell-scorched flames of a jerry-rigged flamethrower, Sam’s equipment is extra magical in nature. Nevertheless, you’ll be able to’t simply decide who you like and waltz via the sport and not using a take care of the opposite individual – Eastward, regardless of being a single-player recreation, is closely invested within the concept of cooperation.
For instance, moment-to-moment play largely includes traversing dungeons separated into particular person ranges. Fight features like a twin-stick shooter, whereas the trail ahead is commonly cut up into two impartial streams. Sam, John’s adopted daughter, is powerless past briefly immobilising enemies, whereas John’s puzzle-solving ethos hardly ever extends past blowing shit up. You’re employed collectively by having John thwack spike-backed turtles and sentient fungi along with his trusty frying pan whereas Sam dematerialises overgrown onions and makes use of non-sentient fungi to light up the darkness. There are sorcerer cows, hydra-headed Venus flytraps, and golden slugs who electrocute themselves each 5 seconds. Whereas many of the recreation revolves round a balancing act of fixing puzzles and defeating these wild and wacky creatures, there’s by no means a uninteresting second resulting from simply how various all the pieces is – and simply how a lot of a staff John and Sam actually are.
This is likely one of the major issues that separates it from different tales set in a post-disaster world: its coronary heart lies in household and friendship and forging via adversity as a unit. With out this thematic base, its heat would really feel misplaced, its jokes would by no means land, and it might, inevitably, really feel similar to all these different tales it manages to not simply keep away from, however brilliantly subvert.
That subversion is value increasing on, too. On one hand, the occasions of Eastward transpire in a world the place a Matrix-esque human farm is positioned beneath a practice station with a beached and respiration whale on high of it. On the opposite, it is a world full of mayors sporting walrus moustaches, photograph shoots devoted to the deity of cheese, and rubber duck monsters who spit spherical duckling bombs at you. It’s full of Austenian marital melodrama, Wildean absurdist hyperbole, Dickensian veiled nonsense, and a way of humour that may give Terry Pratchett a good ab exercise. Put plainly, this can be very intelligent however by no means pretentious, regardless of how ostensibly pretentious my earlier sentence might sound. Eastward is effectively learn and higher spoken.
This would possibly appear to be a little bit of an unconventional evaluation: I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty of its comparatively strong fight, or waxed lyrical over dungeon design, puzzle selection, or its beautiful artwork and splendidly bizarre soundtrack. That’s intentional, as a result of enjoying Eastward is acknowledging and appreciating the sum of its components. It’s an impressively cohesive expertise that may solely endure if it have been to be divided into, on this occasion, arbitrary objects on a stale guidelines denoting the highest ten quality-affecting elements of what constitutes a ‘good’ recreation. After I take into consideration Eastward now, as I write this evaluation, the concepts that endure are tied to its environment, its tone, its temper, its feeling. There’s life to its lyricism and vitality to its verbs. To relegate that coherence by stripping it of what makes it coherent could be to do a disservice to what’s fairly frankly one in every of 2021’s greatest and brightest video games up to now.
This brings me to an intriguing a part of my evaluation, the place I really feel obliged to confess that I’ve but to really end Eastward. After I gained entry to my preview construct, I used to be capable of discover your complete recreation, so I performed via fairly a little bit of Eastward and waited for the official evaluation construct to proceed my journey in a more moderen, extra refined model of the sport. Sadly, my progress didn’t switch throughout to this new construct – one thing that got here as fairly a shock contemplating I had deliberate my play classes round the truth that I had, the truth is, already been via the overwhelming majority of the sport. So, this weekend, I began once more and was cracked throughout the cranium with a cinder block. Hastily, the very factor that makes Eastward so particular made sense: I didn’t wish to rush. Eastward is surprisingly – if not deceptively – lengthy. To storm via it at blistering pace to make a evaluation embargo simply felt like I used to be actively compromising my enjoyment of one in every of my favorite video games of the 12 months. And so, I’ve stopped to odor the post-apocalyptic roses.
It will be remiss to speak about Eastward solely by way of what it does effectively, although. Regardless of how a lot I recognize the environment and outlook of its world, I additionally take concern with various its design decisions. Boss battles are sometimes overly persnickety due to the twin-stick shooter fight fashion and intensely exact counter necessities. It’s, at instances, a bit bit bloated – whereas I’ve already talked about how a lot I take pleasure in taking my time on this world, there’s sometimes an overabundance of cutscenes that, whereas energetic and important in their very own proper, can overestimate themselves by way of engagement. Programs like cooking, thought of central not simply to the mechanics of the sport, however the narrative itself, are confusingly underused. The gorgeousness of the sport’s overworld typically comes into rigidity with its reasonably unintuitive UI. Merely put, there are minor however fixed grievances all through your complete expertise that exist as a form of phantom, unscratchable itch. It’s irritating in an identical vein to remembering a light-weight mosquito chunk as soon as each ten minutes the place the opposite 599 seconds are spent having fun with a beer on the seaside.
All of that mentioned, denouncing Eastward’s strengths and successes for any of the above could be disingenuous. It’s a outstanding recreation that, whereas retro in ambition, will paradoxically go on to encourage the drive and uniqueness of future initiatives. It’s intelligent, vibrant, and unapologetically unique, and except some magnificent accident happens over the following three months, it should undoubtedly go down as top-of-the-line video games of the 12 months.
A PC evaluation code for Eastward was supplied by the writer.
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