Adventure Gamers Awards
The inventory system is logical and easy to use. Clicking the “tab” key and then clicking on the backpack symbol brings up the inventory screen, where you can see all items you’ve collected on one screen or click a bookmark that will show you the most important categories: equipment, drinks and books. To the right of the screen is an icon that reveals a drawing of every currently craftable object – camping equipment and floating vehicles, for instance – and lets you know how much of each resource you’ll need to build it. Brewing tea involves a separate simple interface.
Some goods you can’t craft but must buy in the shops and booths in Nava. You can earn glowstones through painting commissions, helping the local gardener or by completing quests or selling stuff you have already acquired. You will also learn to fish and to steer a boat. Steering is easy, but fishing is less than intuitive, though it’s fun once you master it.
Painting a picture is quite simple. You click on a canvas once you’ve crafted it, drag the mouse to frame the scene, and then press a key and the finished work goes into the painting section of your inventory. A specific screen reveals icons for the four scenes your mother has requested. If you’ve managed to paint one of her favorites – or if the painting otherwise fulfills a mission or advances the story – an on-screen message makes note of your accomplishment. If you paint a scene that doesn’t trigger an acknowledgement, you can always reuse the canvas, but painting a scene or two just for your own enjoyment spawns a recompence of sorts as you exit Eastshade.
An in-game journal lists your many quests (there are 37 in all). A fair sampling includes helping a wounded waterfox, gifting an aspiring child artist with a new canvas, discovering the source of drumming noises in the forest, and advocating for hot air balloon rides. When you make partial progress, a star appears next to that quest’s title with a short description of how the mission has just been furthered or updated. This is a handy tool, as you are often pursuing multiple quests at the same time.
Your objectives usually have compelling motivations – I rarely felt as though I was schlepping around for fruitless reasons. And the world is so large that, even going back and forth, you aren’t just retracing your steps. You can take different paths (or ignore the paths altogether) to see something a bit different each time. Some missions are straightforward, but others require a series of actions and not everything is spelled out for you, which adds challenge and sparks reflection, especially later in the game.
Although traditional puzzles are not the emphasis here, you will encounter some from time to time. For instance, you must solve a mystery at an inn that could have come straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. You play detective by interviewing the guests and observing the environs and will eventually be asked to name the suspect. (Exposing the identity of this thief is a trifle ironic, as by that time you have already stolen candles, fabric and wood from everyone else in Eastshade.) You will also analyze riddles, manipulate some awkward-to-handle boxes, and locate specific substances or creatures. One optional puzzle will be almost impossible if you haven’t played Leaving Lyndow already, but is virtually effortless if you have.
About two-thirds of the way through the game, I was nearing the end of my tasks for that part of the gameworld and I was in a bad way. I couldn’t find any new areas to explore without crafting a certain conveyance, was running dangerously low on glowstones, and I was drinking tea like mad to raise my inspiration level out of negative numbers. Even the gardener was refusing to hire me because I looked sick. The only way forward was to scour all the forests for a particular organic item that was increasingly scarce. This particular experience should not apply to others who are playing the game now, however, as the developers have since released an update that made ALL “harvestable” objects regenerate after three in-game days. So the items I diligently had to search for will be significantly easier to acquire from now on.
In any case, after a long stretch of scavenging, frustration finally gave way to the thrill of victory when I located the last well-hidden element, crafted the right device and then made my way into an entirely new locale, just as exquisitely beautiful as the one I’d left behind. My heart racing in anticipation, I dashed through the lovely open meadows and wheeled like a maniac around the giant windmills and stone ruins, subsumed in a sort of rebirth. (And no, I wasn’t just wobbly from too much tea.)
I spent more than 25 hours in Eastshade and found it a fantastically engaging experience. It’s been a while since a game so grabbed me that, in real life, day slipped into night without my awareness. The spectacular vistas compel exploration and will encourage you to capture them on canvas. The multiple quests overlap one another and offer a variety of intriguing ways to affect the world and its residents with their ongoing dreams, setbacks, curiosities and challenges. It was actually bittersweet to complete the game because it meant leaving everything and everyone behind. But happily, there’s an unusual gallery of farewells that lets you see some of what you painted and think back on your experience before you go. There’s no indication yet that a follow-up is in the works, but I’ll raise a glass of Bloomsac Tea to any prospect of a sequel.