While Leaving Lyndow was an admirable experience, I was not really convinced of how Eastshade would be better. This changed, however, when I checked out their site, as well as their videos on the making of the game on Youtube. There is something about seeing creators being passionate about their title, and going the extra mile to create a personal and unique project. From what I could tell, this could be a magical journey, so I made it my goal to play it continually with my sister and see if this was something worthwhile. After almost completing the game, it was about time to sit down, take out my writing-tools, and tell you about what is the best walking simulator I have ever played and among my favorite experiences in a long time.
A vacation you don’t want to leave
As a painter with whatever name wish to be called, you journey off to Eastshade in order to paint landmarks and significant attractions your mother told you about. This is actually the main goal you are given and Eastshade does not give you any form of linear narrative on how you get to these locations or even if you do them. Instead, Eastshade focuses on you exploring the land and make as much or little of the experience as you want to, while using the main goals as rather hints on areas to might want to explore.
This is a fantastic strength of the game’s driving-force since after the small area you explore first, known as Lyndow, you are free to interact and progress at your leisure and in whatever way you want to. Perhaps you will help a balloonist gain attraction by making a good ad for her, maybe you’d rather uncover the mystery of an elixir, or experiment with herbs to make different and “interesting” teas? Everything has a sense of magic and wonder to it, with every character having intriguing and relatable stories to tell. All stories and events feel important as they are believable, with you having an effect on them with clear consequences. In fact, you will be able to neglect to help some outright, which can make them fall in a worse state than expected.
No story became overly complicated or underwhelming, but all just the perfect amount of magical and down to earth. The characters themselves are also distinct, be they playful, depressed, or just monotone due to accepting their daily routines. I say this as vaguely as possible, as all are discovered by simply exploring, which is the game’s theme, and parts will be about how you proceed and what you discover. In fact, exploring significant locations, people, constructions and more, is what adds to the sense of wonder, and Eastshade makes sure to always spoon-feed you with what else there is to see in this land, and all are exciting.
Then there is the land’s style, and I love what the developers did here. You are interacting with anthropomorphic creatures, such as bears, deer, owls, and monkeys, but all are set in a calm fantasy-world. Instead of taking on battles, you brew tea, ride bicycles, and have everyday activities with magic sprinkled all over the place. It is incredibly refreshing to see a game set in a fantasy world that has no overarching drama or conflicts such as wars or an evil villain for example. It is just societies with down-to-earth problems. However, because of the focus on the normal life of the citizens, it is also easier to focus on who they are, what jobs they have, and even what standards they have in the society.
This combination of mystery, enchanting landscapes, relatable characters, and a calm atmosphere, makes Eastshade’s world easy to be enthralled by. When I was at the shore and ready to go home, I just did not want to. I wanted to see if there where others that I had not yet gotten acquainted with, help the last ones who asked me to, figure out where I could find more information about this “architect”, and see every nook and cranny of this intriguing world. Basically, think Beatrix Potter’s world with a sprinkle of Morrowind, and you know why this is probably the best vacation you will ever have.
Story Score: 10/10
Why being curious is a good thing
Eastshade is an interesting title, as it is an exploration game through and through, but can be best described within the genre of walking-simulator due to this being exactly what you will be doing most of the game. You walk around, have a run button, and can zoom in on the environment, and Eastshade makes it clear from the start that it is a calm game. First of all, you will have to walk around and find materials which you can either use for creating canvas or other helpful creations like a fireplace or a tent. However, these must be learned from other NPCs and in order to do so, you must interact with this world, talk to people, and help them with what issues they have.
This is what Eastshade is clearly all about: the side-quests, which is why I will include the extra-segments into the gameplay-part as well. All quests are about exploring, such as finding specific locations, correct people, or materials for example, in order to help them on the way. You are always hinted on what the solutions might be and where you might find them, so you are never lost, but must look around and explore. Now, these might sound similar to fetch-quests, and it is hard to not say they don’t fall in this category too, but these are actually engaging. This is due to again, how much it focuses on you exploring, as you are never given any form of a quest-marker. The map does not even show where you are on it, only the specific landmarks you have witnessed, forcing you to look thoroughly and use your mind in order to figure out what to do next.
Though this is a heavy part of the quests and the game’s experience in order to find the attractions your mother told you about, all quests require you to think and ponder on how to approach them outside of the exploration too. Some can be riddles, such as how to paint misery, finding the best conversation-options to give the best outcome of a task, or figure out an environmental puzzle. Similar to an amusement park or an exhibition, you will always come across something interesting, and attractions are short enough to be easy to digest, but exciting enough to be memorable.
This is of course strengthened by the characters and their stories, but also due to how they make minor abilities important. You can gain a bicycle for quicker transportation, learn how to make a boat to cross water, create a fireplace in order to make magical tea if you have the required ingredients and a teapot, and much more that I do not dare to spoil. This possibility to gain various items or abilities for progression or convenience is really fantastic as it makes each step feel triumphant. It says something when I was incredibly happy when I got a warm jacket just so I could stay out in the nights, and cried when I realized it also meant I could explore the cold mountains.
Speaking of which, outside of not being able to stay out for late due to the cold, there are no other elements to take into consideration for your own health. There is a day&night cycle, but that only affects some people’s daily routines. Again, this strengthens the walking-simulator genre the game lingers towards, but with focus on exploration. I could also go on about how you can read about lore or learning about people’s lives, which all have a purpose for getting the most out of quests, but I have yet to mention what you start out with: the ability to paint and make canvas. This is incorporated into the game with some asking you for favors on what to paint, with some providing good riddles or sense to explore this land, but is later on rather used only for your goals and for gaining more currency from requests. It is still engaging and fun to paint and witness new parts of this world, but the painting is neglected for progression as other abilities you gain will be more significant, which is a shame.
However, everything you do is connected to the concept of exploration, making this world a joy to discover. No sidequest was uninteresting, every part of this world made me awe in excitement, and no step felt unrewarded. Because of this, Eastshade became immersive with everything I did. Eastshade makes boiling tea and bicycling around more engaging than fighting dragons and saving the world.
Gameplay and Extra score: 9.5/10
A literal piece of art
It is hard to not praise this game for its visuals, as it is made to make every area a driving-force to explore. The world is brimming with varied elements, like the big capital of Nava, the colorful forests in the center, the high cliffs by the sea, the snowy mountains up north, small cabins sprinkled around, and more makes this world brimming with personality, yet still feel naturally connected. There is a lovely transition between each area that makes every new discovery something interesting and subtle. The strong landmarks are also fantastic to witness, as they have distinct setups and can easily be seen from afar, and contain plenty of details up close. All attractions are different from one another, with the enormous tree in the beginning, being just the tip of the iceberg. Even the textures of the walls in the houses are different within, to make them seem believably constructed, which is amazing in its own right.
The characters are also wonderful, as all have a distinct look with turbans, sweaters, and are, of course, animals that have human-abilities. All are a joy to witness due to their attire alone, and it is fun to see them go about their daily lives, be it transferring goods, chatting with locals, or conducting experiments. They all also wear clothes appropriate due to their position or class, making the world have a clear visual culture. Then we have the gorgeous details with waves in the grass, the ocean reacting to your float, the incredible lighting, and reflection in the water, makes this an easy world to get immersed in. There are even smaller creatures like birds and butterflies roaming around, just to add slightly more visual flavor.
There are some minor setbacks, with a couple of graphical clippings and the poor lip syncing, but these are just harsh nitpicks and the clipping is rare, it is hard to let it get in the way when the rest of the game is gorgeous. Most impressively though, is how all areas are interactive without a loading screen. Only when climbing will you encounter one and this happened to me about three times in a 9-hour long game. I do not know how my PC can handle all of this.
Then there is the voice-acting and it is superb. Not just by how many voices they could create, but also how diverse every personality is, be they aggressive, on the edge, excited, or just calm. Every direction and dialogue is superbly delivered, and I can remember every character by a simple line of dialogue. The diegetic sounds of people playing instruments, talking to each other, or the animals roaming the world, enhances the experience. This also includes even your footsteps, which is different depending on the landscape you traverse over.
Phoenix Glendinning is probably one of the best composers in our modern times, and this man has outdone himself with this title. He has created a magical soundtrack filled with diverse scores that are long and fitting for every location, such as the strong guitars and drums within the huge city of Nava, the calm violins by the shores of Lyndow or the strong shamisen in the teahouse, all tracks are a marvel and diverse from one another. I have rarely heard a score this beautiful and fitting for every location, and I am already an unapologetic fan of him after just two titles.
Presentation score: 9.5/10
While Leaving Lyndow could not depict a goodbye strong enough to be memorable, Eastshade is such an imaginative and interesting world, I never wanted to leave it. I wanted to know every story, greet every character, see every nook and cranny, experience everything I could, and just get lost in this world. Eastshade is the first walking simulator I can fully say, is a work of art. Finally!