Genre(s): Adventure, RPG, Puzzle
Platform: PC (Also available on Nintendo Switch)
Age Rating: TEEN
Release Date: 16/Sept/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
I only recently invested in a gaming laptop. I’d always been console only before then. So when the chance to review Eastward came along, I was all too happy to oblige.
I’d heard a little about the game, by that, I had seen some screenshots being shared around on Twitter. It looked like a quirky mix and had that look as if Stardew Valley and Fallout decided to have a game baby.
Being a fan of both games, I set off, unsure of what lay ahead. Did I enjoy myself, or should I have changed course for the warmer south?
Keep reading this Rapid Review to learn more about Eastward!
A Strangely Cheerful Apocalypse
Without giving away too much of the game, you control a character called John. John is a man of few words … very few words. Luckily, his adopted daughter, Sam, more than makes up for John’s stoicism, but more on that later.
The first thing I noticed when I started playing Eastward was its charm. The world you are introduced to is not an overly happy one. It’s a subterranean world where people live together in abject poverty, somehow working and existing together as a society.
Yet, the game doesn’t overplay the melancholy feel. It uses it as a base to create a world that is rich and charming. You’re drawn in immediately to the lives of the various characters.
I did find that some of the NPCs were written a lot better than others. Some I warmed to, others I found stale, despite sharing equal importance in the story, and others, I just found annoying as sin. The thing is, even now, I’m not sure if I was supposed to find them such, or not.
The little community lives happily underground, and aside from school problems, setting video game high scores, and working long grueling hours for supposedly very little, the only problems they face are occasional mutant slug outbreaks and a seriously suspicious Mayor.
A Standard Plot Well Delivered
You might re-read this heading a few paragraphs from now and question it, but it is true. There is nothing special about the plot or story for Eastward. It’s a few things wrapped into one package, but nothing about it is ground-breaking. Yet, it is delivered in such a cute and strangely vibrant way, that you don’t care.
The story is solid, and it keeps moving. However, here comes my first real issue with the game. It’s slow. Coming in at a good 30 hours, you know there is going to be some serious gameplay, however, they could have made it a 10-hour game without cutting any gameplay.
I mean that with almost full sincerity. The game has more cut scenes than I’ve had hot dinners – which says a lot. Not only that, but they are also borderline painful in their speed. You could get a black loading screen, followed by a cut scene showing a character walking from one room into another, through that, and into another. Nothing is said, nothing happens, and then after another black screen, the cut scene ends.
They were so frequent and so slow, that it pulled me out of the game and turned what should have been a fun experience into something painful. I timed it. At one point, I played for 15 minutes and 8 of them were spent watching cut scenes, that added nothing to the story, and could have been removed without any issue whatsoever.
It felt a little as if the devs were so desperate for you to know a character had moved into a different room that they felt the need to show you each step they took.
The game programming equivalent of ‘show don’t tell’ for an author.
Attention to Detail
As you play the game you move through several different worlds and environments, from underground to the wilderness and into post-apocalyptic cities. In each one there is a fantastic level of detail that makes each zone – or however you wish to name them – pop.
I’ve played some games where a different color and a few small tweaks were considered good enough. Not with Eastward. Here, you can feel the love and passion that went into the game.
The retro aesthetic mixed with the dystopian setting and charming graphics all fit together seamlessly. It reminded me in many ways of Retro Machina, another recent title that we reviewed.
There was a lot of walking around in each level, from fetch quests or general travel, and it did get a little tiring. There was a form of fast travel between certain locations, however, and this sort of criticism can be applied to pretty much any game. It’s really just ‘one of those things.’
All the Ingredients of a Classic RPG
As with any good RPG, you can expect plenty of crafting and cooking in Eastward. Cooking is an unexpected charm in the game. You can create any manner of weird and wonderful ingredients. Granted the crafting is not quite what you would normally expect, but there are weapon upgrades available in the game.
Once again, there is a beautiful simplicity about this part of the game. It is all in tune with the setting, and your main weapon – when playing as John – is a frying pan.
Before playing this game I never considered how many different ways there could be to solve a puzzle or kill an enemy with just a piece of Tefal kitchenware.
If you hadn’t guessed, there are plenty of interesting puzzles to enjoy in Eastward. They range from the simple to the strategic. Some see you racing against time, while others offer a reward for your perseverance.
Fairly early on the game introduces the dual character control system which you need to master in order to advance in the game. I really liked the dual control aspect, and the very different nature of the two characters – Sam and John – means each of them is used equally.
The puzzles were enjoyable, especially where you needed to quickly switch between the two, such as when you’re travelling along the rivers on various rafts. I can’t give any more away than that, but when you buy the game and reach those points, you will know exactly what I mean.
Final Thoughts on Eastward
I really enjoyed playing Eastward. I think it’s important to get that stated now. However, my enjoyment of the game as an experience was close to ruined by the irksome and in all honesty, blatant overreliance on cutscenes.
The game plays long at around 20-25 hours for a standard playthrough. It could easily have been cut down to 10-12 without damaging the story and it would have probably enhanced the overall feel of the game.
Obviously, it’s subjective, however, be warned going in that you will spend a lot of time just watching cut scenes. Many of which don’t even move the story along.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3 out of 5
You can get your copy of Eastward from Steam via the link below.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.