For a genre to evolve, it has to move beyond the usual audience expectations. Eastshade looks like a walking simulator on the surface. While you walk and explore quite a bit, there’s much more to it than that. Right from the outset, it took me back to the time I spent in Morrowind and Oblivion, complete with some silly characters and goofy voice acting. While you won’t get to kill any monsters or scamps, you’ll get that same spirit of adventuring as a stranger in a strange land. Eastshade is more than a walking simulator, even if you don’t think the label is pejorative. It’s a contemplative and charming first-person adventure with RPG elements, full of quirky quests and a couple of original mechanics.
Welcome to Eastshade, an idyllic island set in a rather peculiar fantasy universe. As the sequel to Leaving Lyndow, it's not the first game to be set here. Imagine one of those anthropomorphic animal cartoons from the 80s, except with slightly photorealistic rendering. You’ll meet and interact with ape folk, bear folk, and so on. These characters run the gamut of typical NPCs you’ll find in fantasy RPGs, but the game world has a distinct sense of place. Not just in how beautiful the scenery is, but in how every element in level design and narrative comes together. As a traveling painter, you’ll walk through the glades and paths amidst trees and quaint houses, not just looking for a vista to paint, but soaking in the ambiance of Eastshade.
Your first and most important quest is to fulfill your mother’s wishes by painting certain places and views in Eastshade. A massive tree, a mountaintop, the panorama from a city tower… Some of these require some legwork. As you interact with Eastshade denizens, you begin to accept other quests, some dealing with mundane aspects of life in Eastshade. It’s what makes the game more interesting, as the dealings with the critter folks often turn out funny and heartwarming. You’ll get to prank a big burly bear into eating a pastry he hates; help a couple of lesbian bears hook up; catch a big fish for an ape lady so she can recover the ring it swallowed. It’s as low-key and low-fantasy as fantasy gets. At one point, a blacksmith will tell you how boring it is to make swords.
The writing is sparse and effective with no lore dumps to be found. You can read some short excerpts from books and documents, but the world of Eastshade stands on its own in many ways. One example is when you arrive at the city of Nava and see statues of goddesses. Soon after, you'll hear about the feud between two different cults. The Roots are a secret society of folks who drink hallucinogenic teas to visit netherworlds. The Shez is a cult of goddess worshippers who condemn the consumption of tea for recreational purposes. You can decide for yourself who you wish to support, and accept quests for sabotage or trickery. Though there aren’t major consequences to your choices, the dilemma gives the world a great texture.
Painting is very simple as a game mechanic. All you need is a canvas, which you can craft from planks and cloth. Then, you crop the screen and the painting will emerge on its own, layer by layer. It’s effective, but I kind of wish there was something more interactive to it. Especially when compared with the fishing mechanic, painting just seems a bit simplistic. Fishing actually requires that you set the distance to hurl your bait, then pull the fish in when it bites. It’s a fun little minigame that takes you beyond what’s expected in a walking simulator. There are also a couple of other cool features, such as tea brewing and rafting.
There’s a general feeling of coziness as you explore Eastshade. Whether you’re staying at the inn or camping out in the wilderness, it gives you that warm feeling of carving your own little place in this world. It can be quite immersive to trek in the woods or face the ocean on the shore. It’s this contemplative, cozy atmosphere that I really enjoy. Even it’s not for everyone, that’s what I enjoyed most in games like Morrowind and Oblivion. It was exploring outlandish landscapes and decrepit dungeons that drew me to the genre, much more than slaying my way through monsters.
The performance was quite patchy during my playthrough. I experienced an uneven frame rate and a lot of stuttering. It wasn’t enough to affect my enjoyment, but it became a bit distracting. There were also a few freezes when I reached the Tiffmoor Bluffs area. Since I’m running an i5-4690K and a GTX 1080, I don’t think it was a problem on my end.
I managed a 100% playthrough in about 20 hours, but I could see myself taking another run to get 100% achievements at some point. The dialogues offer some opportunity for role-playing, and it might be nice to see the NPCs’ reactions to other dialogue choices. I also wonder what would happen if I’d sided with the Shez instead of the Roots, though I know the consequences wouldn’t be very impactful.
There are quite a few memorable moments in Eastshade. Unraveling a mystery in an insular lake inn during a thunderstorm was brilliant. Solving some mirror puzzles devised by an owl folk elder was also stimulating. It's probably because the game is so invested in non-violent design solutions that it manages to be so intriguing. If it were a run-of-the-mill fantasy game with swords and sorcery, it wouldn't stand out as much.
Eastshade is a welcome change of scenery if you’re looking for an immersive and contemplative adventure game. It has some performance issues, and the simplistic painting mechanic could be a letdown for some players, but a fleshed-out fantasy world, full of amusing and interesting characters, makes the journey worthwhile. It doesn't offer much more than a few hours of cozy contemplation, but it’s more than enough to charm its intended audience.
TechRaptor reviewed Eastshade on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
Eastshade is an immersive and contemplative adventure set in a quirky fantasy universe. In spite of some performance issues and underdeveloped mechanics, it achieves a memorable gaming experience.
- Gorgeous Scenery
- Quirky, Amusing Quests
- Immersive, Cozy Experience
- Performance Can Get Patchy
- Painting Mechanic Feels Underdeveloped