Running until Oct. 13, the Steam Game Festival Autumn Edition is a multi-day celebration where players can try out tons of games for free, and when Haven popped up as one of those free demos, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to try it out. I'd been hearing such great things about the game, and to be honest, I was looking for something different from the typical hack-and-slash games on my plate right now. I was essentially looking for my own haven, so to speak, so when I started playing Haven, it was such a relief to find that it's exactly the kind of game I was looking for—and also, in my opinion, the kind of game the world needs right now.
With its vast, open fields of green littered with sparkly coral-esque things that contain Flow, Haven really does live up to its name. The Game Bakers' upcoming title wastes no time in immersing you into this stunning landscape of enchanting creatures and the occasional Appledew tree, and even though it’s a completely alien land, the sense of wonder that the game evokes certainly makes the whole place feel like home.
That in itself is what sets Haven apart from most of the popular games I’ve played recently. Stripped down, muted, but not lacking in the least, Haven foregoes the cluttered menus and complicated mechanics in favor of clean, simple, and minimalist controls. No, the game doesn’t need you to spend an ungodly amount of time figuring out different customization options and crafting mini-games. It doesn’t have a gazillion currencies you need to keep track of, and it definitely doesn’t have any character tiers, refining, upgrading, and all that jazz.
At its most basic, Haven is all about exploration without all the noise, and this fuss-free approach makes it one of the most refreshing games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
A Haven of Love
You play as one of two lovers on a faraway deserted planet, living in isolation but definitely not in loneliness. You’re in search of a new beginning somehow, and while the demo didn’t really give me much in terms of the plot, it’s obvious that the chemistry between Kay and Yu is the backbone of the story. And because I didn’t have to concern myself with all the bells and whistles of controls and currencies, I could fully enjoy the beautiful back-and-forth between the two, which—according to creative director Emeric Thoa—defines the game and makes it unique.
If there’s anything that requires intense decision-making, it’s the dialogue. You can choose your responses as either Kay or Yu, and your choices will lead to different pieces of the story. These choices all supposedly culminate in bigger consequences toward the end (nothing Telltale-like, of course), but we can’t really know that just yet. Right now, what matters is just choosing the responses that feel natural to you, and that, to me, is a breath of fresh air. We already over-think enough in real life—especially with what’s happening in the world today—so it’s refreshing not to have to do the same thing in-game. Again, this is also part of the appeal of Haven in that it doesn’t make your brain hurt with all the second guessing.
Gliding your Worries Away
As for the gameplay itself, you basically spend a huge chunk of your time gliding and drifting through beautiful fields with a funky beat in the background. It’s totally exhilarating, and it really does make you forget about your worries, at least, for the moment (much like Kay and Yu do themselves). You stumble upon majestic creatures that you sometimes have to pacify when they get aggressive, but other than that, there’s no impending sense of danger that hovers over you the whole time.
And breaking away from all the gloom and doom is such a relief. With such a minimalist approach to an adventure RPG, Haven makes you rediscover what makes adventures so darn exciting all over again. As you glide through the fields, you come across good-boi phosphorescent lizards that you can scratch and interesting plant life and may or may not be edible. The occasional banter between Kay and Yu keeps things light and breezy too, and that alone alleviates your own burdens and makes you just enjoy the game without all the baggage.
Two is Better Than One in Haven
The demo is restricted to single-player mode, but Haven is actually a co-op game. You can certainly play on your own as both Kay and Yu, but you can also enjoy the game with a friend or significant other. You fight in sync during battles, but even that is nothing too intense. I particularly like how you can play with someone without the need to either defeat them in a battle royale arena or fight alongside them as you go through hordes of thugs in a side-scrolling brawling extravaganza.
Even the final move for each battle in Haven ends with you “pacifying” the innocent creature seemingly corrupted by purple moss-like thingies—and if only we adopted more of this kind of pacifist approach when we’re dealing with our own problems, then the world would be a much better place.
Overall, Haven is shaping up to be a fine example of escapism in games. The trippy intro animation alone is enough to make you want to forget all of your worries and just dive right into this breathtaking world of the unknown. And if the whole game is anything as refreshing as its first hour, then that’s enough to make it THE game to play to make 2020 easier to bear.