Adventure Gamers Awards
Your journey begins in the hold of a ship. An itinerant artist, you are fulfilling your mother’s last wish that you should paint four hard-to-reach locales in Eastshade’s eponymous region. While chatting with fellow passengers you are surprised by a strangely ominous thud, and the ship begins filling with water. You try to escape, but everything goes dark…until you wake up in a cave next to a beach. Somehow you have managed to survive, but you’ve lost everything except the easel that floated you ashore. As you continue on, you will find yourself thoroughly enchanted by this world’s beautiful, enticingly expansive environs and distinctive occupants – each with a story to tell or a dilemma to solve or a crisis for you to avert. By the time you explore, craft, and paint your way through all of Eastshade, you will have left an indelible mark, in both large ways and small, on this captivating world, and not just in the artwork you produce but in the changed lives of its most vulnerable souls.
Although your motivation in coming to Eastshade was to paint, you are quickly caught up in additional pursuits. The land’s odd denizens – anthropomorphic deer, bear, bird and ape creatures – sometimes appreciate your creations, yet often they need other types of goodies or assistance. Carrying out these tasks involves gameplay with RPG-like elements, but there’s no violence and only one action sequence (if you count the dream vision with a bit of hopping from pillow to pillow). Instead, the emphasis is on searching out specific landscapes to paint, helping or hindering various individuals, and learning more about the region’s unique history.
The characters are professionally voiced and gently animated when you speak to them (as the unseen protagonist, your own dialog is not voiced). Conversations are brief and full of choices that occasionally have long-term consequences, though you usually won’t realize this until later in the game. You don’t spend extensive time with any particular character, yet each personality is often memorable, such as the affable park ranger, the fickle fortune teller, the grieving ship captain, and the slug-cake-eating raft dude. By the time you are done you will have fallen in love with the terrain and cultures of Eastshade, just as your mother expected you to. You will also have rescued members of an archeological expedition, decided whether to protect or expose a mysterious cult, and wandered uncharted caves in the company of a long-lost tribe. Tantalizing ambiguities emerge as you interact with those you encounter: trustworthiness versus deceit, job disappointments, the influence of religious fervor, handiness of scientific tests, cruel effects of gossip, and the pros and cons of unusually potent tea.
The art style in Eastshade is similar to its prequel, Leaving Lyndow, but it is even more gobsmackingly gorgeous. Hillsides, ravines and meadows are literally carpeted in flowering plants (the soil here must be extra fertile). Leafy forests lead to spectacular waterfalls, vast reedy beaches and towering snow-covered mountains and glaciers. Most of the original town (now referred to as Old Lyndow) that we saw in the prequel has been destroyed by a mudslide several years previously. Still, some of the buildings in the newly built Lyndow, with their stonework interiors, curvy details, and fretted glass windows, will seem familiar.
Elsewhere, the main city of Nava boasts elegant rounded towers, giant arches, a terraced garden, and golden domes. Interiors are rustic with wooden floors and shelves of handmade pots and dishes, though the inns are fancier, sporting intricate tapestries and decorative masonry. Occasionally you will stumble across a book open to a page or two that gives some historical detail, and a bard at The Tarnished Teapot inn dramatizes episodes from the later life of Clara, the protagonist of Leaving Lyndow.
Delicate woodwinds, strings, and choral tones playing in the background give a fresh, new world aura to Eastshade. Sometimes the music is bagpipe-like, at other times it has a syncopated beat or a Mideastern twang. In the countryside you hear river currents rippling while observing the sunlight reflected across them. Trees sway slowly in the breeze and butterflies flutter near the flowers. At the beach you can watch the gurgling, lapping waves and listen to seagulls as they circle and cry. In the town environments, characters stroll about, going about their business, or stand in groups chatting.
The only downside to all this overwhelming beauty is that if you get too close to the foliage, it is sometimes angular and splinched, which seems endemic to first-person 3D games like this one. But that’s a minor issue in such a stunning world that even has a day/night cycle and an eclipse sequence that shows the surroundings in a different light. Then there’s a reaction to some of the teas you imbibe on your journey, which adds bright color and psychedelic haziness to the landscape.
Yes, tea is an important resource in Eastshade, and you will manage and brew it along with many other substances and equipment. You have to watch your inspiration meter (easily accessible with a simple keystroke), which depletes when you paint and refills when you discover a new area. You also have to keep track of money (glowstones). Intensive exploration will be rewarded by the discovery of useful items, which are highlighted once you get close enough to them. The game autosaves, but also allows for a few manual saves.
When you first start out, you are unable to walk about at night because ice forms on the screen and you find yourself plunked back at the nearest inn. There are a couple of ways to overcome this problem by buying and crafting things, and I recommend doing this right away because you will need to explore at night and control the time cycle when you’re far from an inn. You will also complete a quest that provides you with a map of the world; this combined with drinking a certain type of tea allows you to fast-travel. Well, most of the time – for a stretch the fast-travel option stopped working for me, and then after a couple of hours began functioning again (I have no idea why).Continued on the next page...