This game is not for the faint-of-heart. Although the scope and complexity of the game-world and storyline are truly awe-inspiring, the game is not without its flaws. What makes it needlessly harder is the missing save/restore feature. There is widespread evidence that the quality of the gaming experience is highly variable. And the sheer number of options presented along the way just leave an uneasy feeling of missing out on many interesting side-quests and possibilities.
The structure of this game is very unconventional. So far I have managed to play 3 chapters, and the rules and character of each is very distinct. The first chapter is a drawn-out introductory game that explores the controls and world-mechanics. The second chapter has a complex levelling / up-skilling system that I have only managed to scratch the surface on. And the third chapter seems to consist of a very free-form MMRPG.
It isn’t clear what other chapters there are, but so far the game is incredibly engrossing… and frustrating. On several occasions I have made really stupid choices leaving me reaching for the non-existent restore. Those moments sometimes linger and haunt as I keep playing.
Despite the frustrations though, it is a very compelling and enjoyable game*. Not quite as tough as Battletoads, but perhaps a little too close for comfort.
I would easily give it an 8/10 at this stage.
Chapter 1: Orientation
When I started the game, my character was almost completely auto-generated. At first this was most definitely a boon, because there are many thousands of attributes that affect the character. It didn’t take long before I started wishing I had some control over a few of the attributes, but on the whole I have a well-rounded character, so I cannot complain.
In this part of the game I was given two other players to show me how the game works. This is a feature of the game; there is no manual or FAQ, all the game mechanics and controls must be discovered in-game and handed down from gamer to gamer. It does leave me with the uncomfortable feeling that there are mechanics built into the game that nobody has uncovered yet.
One of the earliest quests I tried was the “build-with-blocks” quest. It sounds easy now, but it was by no means so at the time. Early on in the game, the controls felt a bit like Octodad; wildly out of control and not responding well to my instructions. Luckily it seemed that the more quests I completed, the more control I gained. Now I don’t even think about it any more.
In retrospect, it seems that there weren’t really any concrete goals in the first chapter. None of the quests were of any consequence to the further unfolding of the game.
Chapter 2: Choose Your Skills
I was sent to “School” early in the second chapter. I gather this is generally what happens, although it seems there is a bug in the game that causes some players to lose out on this extensive quest-line.
This chapter is an interesting, but extremely challenging part of the game.
For one thing, the rules do not seem fixed for this part of the game. The overall world-mechanics are fixed, but the structures and rules surrounding player-interaction seemed to change constantly. Additionally, character-development seems to come with quirks.
As part of the growth process the game throws random challenges your way and my rewards and future opportunities were heavily influenced by how I reacted to these. The “bad skin” quest was in particular challenging since I started the game with a high “fidget” attribute; although the high “fidget” score has been a boon at times, it also means this particular quest left me somewhat scarred.
Another mixed blessing at this stage are high “intelligence” and “insight” attributes. Although it makes most of the quests down the “science” branches of the skills tree very easy, it seems to have the side-effect of making the “social skills” quests harder to reach. I seem to have been lucky not to get incorporated into any “bullying” quests.
This is another interesting and annoying feature of the game. A lot of quests seem to incorporate other players in a variety of roles, meaning that players can actually end up at-odds with each other over quest completions. This is an ongoing feature of the game in the next chapter, and it doesn’t get any easier there.
The only other thing I want to touch on is the awe-inspiring depth of the skills tree. When I reached this chapter there were already many branches to explore, but it would seem that as time progresses the skills tree itself continues to evolve.
Although levelling and up-skilling is a much smaller part in the next chapter, it continues to play a minor role so I am still watching developments in the skill-tree and considering options to train my character a little further.
Chapter 3: Into The Wide-Open
Another major quest-line opens this chapter of the game. It’s called “entering the workforce”, although that’s a bit of a misnomer since it is a continuing line to this moment.
So far I have found the rules and mechanics of this chapter consistent throughout, even if my understanding of them is evolving. There seems to almost be a fractal nature to the game itself here. Every time you study a portion of it to decipher its rules, it is shown having an infinite layering of complex self-referential detail underneath. I have gotten somewhat obsessed with the nature of the game itself during this chapter, and although there are official quests galore, I have invented my own side-quest in which I try to understand not so much the structure of the game, but the very nature of the game and how it folds back on itself. I really have no better way of explaining.
Another interesting aspect of this chapter is that many of the quests on offer get presented as “social conventions”, which means that you are heavily pressured into accepting the quests regardless of whether you have an interest in playing them. Other quests that go counter to these “social conventions” are hidden in the game, but take much more effort to discover and unlock.
What I found increasingly frustrating in this chapter is that many of the choices I made seem to affect my ability to take on certain quests. The quest-lines are much stricter, and start unlocking on attributes you may not have. Although there are still options to further develop my character during this part of the game, it takes more effort because the game is not really structured to accommodate personal development well along the major quest-line.
I’ve heard of characters that have decided to forego the major quest-line with mixed results. For some this has opened up a wider range of possibilities (this seems to coincide to a high degree with high “imagination”, “initiative” and “drive” attributes). For most players this is actually a much harder path though because you become reliant on completing many smaller quests to meet the same goals you can reach much more quickly with the main quest-line.
I recently read the excellent Strategy Guide that is now available for this game. It has given me a few new insights into the game, but sadly also has confirmed some suspicions I had about the game.
I found the explanation of how various stats interact very insightful, albeit a bit high-level. I would have loved to see the Strategy Guide explore the skills tree and attributes in more detail.
It also confirmed my suspicions that certain skills are dead ends, while others open up many varied possibilities. I hadn’t realised the value of “Psychology” until reading the guide.
I seem to have accidentally stumbled on a few good early choices without realising it. And from what it explains I have been blessed with character traits and skills that have massively simplified my game-play. On the other hand that makes me wonder if I should have taken a gamble on a few of the higher-risk-higher-reward quests earlier in the game.
And this is where the absence of a save/restore feature is most annoying. There are some alternate paths I’d love to try, but the access quests have now been locked off forever by my attributes unless I find a bug/feature/glitch in the game that allows me to get around the primary access quest. Also, there are a few decisions I’ve made that I would really like to change, even if I had to re-play some portions leading up to them.
Overall this is only a minor gripe though, because the infinite fractal nature of the game leads me to believe that there are probably variants on the quests I have missed out on that I can still reach later in the game if I wished.
And every once in a while, stories circulate that other players have found ways to reverse some of the attribute changes that have locked off quests… as well as a persistent rumour of a chapter they will release later that will allow players to move between chapters and infinitely access earlier quests turning it into a truly open-ended game.
I’m not bored with the game-play yet.
I recommend you give it a try.
* – As I alluded to, there are wide-spread indications that the quality of the game experience is highly variable. This seems tied to certain racial, gender and personality traits that are locked early in the game. More-over, it seems there is no way to freely choose these traits; the Strategy Guide seems to confirm this. As a result, there are large groups of players that are simply grinding through the game waiting for a chapter that is more balanced, or others that simply close the game and un-install. Again, I think some more play-testing and a more balanced rule-set could make this a more universally enjoyable game.