Adventure Gamers Awards
Herald – An Interactive Period Drama is exactly what it says on the tin, but don’t let the bland tag line turn you away from this delightfully immersive experience from indie developer Wispfire. It’s set in a slightly alternate 19th century when trade was still predominantly undertaken by sailing ships, and tackles lofty themes like servitude, colonialism and racism. While perhaps more visual novel than traditional adventure, the first two chapters in this four-part tale drew me in with its colourful art and kept me hooked with its intriguing choice-driven story and compelling characters. It’s not perfect – the voice acting is sometimes off and there’s no challenge involved – but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, even if only half of it is finished so far.
The game puts you in control of Devan Rensburg, a young man of mixed British/Indian heritage. When we first meet him, he’s being held captive after being saved from drowning. But this is no ordinary prison. The room he’s in looks out at the sea and is lushly decorated with plump cushions, flowing silks and intricate ornaments. Devan is being questioned by a mysterious woman called The Rani, who now possesses his journal and wants to know why he was found wearing a blue captain’s outfit.
The blue is significant: it represents the British Protectorate, a superpower that has tight control of the West but is facing resistance in the Eastern Indian colonies where The Rani lives. Devan explains that he was born in the East and has sailed in search of his past and adventure. Working in the merchant navy was the only way he could acquire passage across the sea. Luckily, a ship called the Herald was making the trip, and Devan was granted a position aboard by the second officer, Aaron Ludlow.
From here on out, the rest of the tale unfolds in flashback retrospective, sending players back in time to shortly after the Herald set sail. Devan begins as a low-ranking sailor and is tasked with fetching equipment, helping with the cooking and doing other menial tasks. While it might sound dull, these activities act as framing devices for wonderful character interaction with people from all different walks of life. It’s this multiculturalism, in all aspects like age, class and race, that causes division amongst the crew, and tension is constantly bubbling beneath the surface. As Devan, you must decide how to navigate through all this by making dialogue and action choices. For example, when the sneering Protectorate senator, an esteemed guest aboard the Herald, is condescending to you, do you provoke him or respond politely? When the chef assumes that you must like spicy food, do you agree or challenge him?
Everyone you meet forms an opinion about you. Though the main story beats will always be hit, you can change certain things at micro and macro levels. You can not only alter the course of a conversation, but also the outcome of a couple big moments, though you won’t realise how until the time comes. Unlike the type of choice-based gameplay popularised by Telltale, where your attention is overtly drawn to an important decision being made, Herald is subtler in its approach. When these climactic scenes do occur, the consequences of your earlier choices can be dramatic. Each time they took me by surprise and shocked me because I’d been drawn into a false sense of security; try as I might to regain control, I’d already shot myself in the foot with a previous action. And yet despite being unexpected, they still felt fair in context. Plus, depending on how you act in the moment, you might still be able to make a situation go your way, even if your previous actions make it challenging.
Devan himself is an intriguing figure: quiet, considered, a man who claims he has no time for “silly things” like card games. For the most part I chose to play him honestly and humorously, though not without bite. When Aaron was giving me a sincere tour of the ship, complete with history lesson, I lightly ribbed him for it. But when a young boy spoke out about being mistreated, I confronted the accused despite the potential damage to my reputation. Whether you choose to follow suit or to blend into the background and people-please is entirely up to you. There’s even the potential to say some morally questionable things if you desire.
The protagonist ends up getting involved in all sorts of tasks on his voyage, like helping a doctor tend to someone who has fallen drastically ill, investigating a potentially ghoulish presence, and finding a weapon that’s gone missing. You left-click where you want Devan to move and he’ll stroll at a decent speed, or you can click on what you want to interact with and the camera will swing in for a closer look. Clicking a doorway will send you into that room, though sometimes you’ll automatically be taken somewhere else if the story requires a time jump. You can pick things up along the way, but these instances are few and far between and it’s usually because someone has asked you take something somewhere, so you don’t need to engage with or manage an inventory.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Herald: Book I & II
Posted by millenia on Apr 2, 2017
The setting itself is already a very interesting aspect of Herald. An alternative history story about the colonial times, handling issues of race and class. Herald is a casual game mixing point & click play style with a visual novel storytelling,...