Haven is the newest release from The Game Bakers about a pair of lovers who have escaped to an isolated planet. The visual style and setting immediately enraptured me and I was keen to explore this game in detail.
Nearly two years ago, I first saw a teaser trailer for Haven. This wordless vignette introduced myself and others to the game's main characters Yu and Kay, established the setting, and introduced many to the fantastic music of Danger — all in under one minute. I recall being absolutely enraptured when I first saw it and was quite excited to play this game when it finally released, especially after trying out last year's demo from The Game Festival.
Haven For Us
Haven is the tale of Yu (girl) and Kay (boy), two lovers who have taken their tiny ship "Nest" to the uninhabited planet of Source. The opening moments have a definite slice-of-life vibe — a wonderful theme that carries on throughout the entire game.
This idyllic setting quickly goes awry as the floating island they've landed on shatters into many small pieces. That alone would be a challenge, but the real downer is that the Nest has been horribly broken by the disaster. Our duo must head out into the world to find a way to repair their ship.
Yu and Kay quickly discover that their peaceful little getaway is being rapidly taken over by Rust. This red substance is covering the land and driving the local wildlife mad, forcing them to serve as wildlife rangers of sorts and heal the animals corrupted by it. It is here where the game truly begins.
Going With the Flow
Moving around the world in Haven is typically done by gliding along "Flow threads." Flow in the Haven universe is a fictional substance that has a variety of uses, allowing easy interstellar travel through interplanetary connections and as a power source. In the context of actual gameplay, however, it mainly serves two purposes.
Primarily, you'll be using Flow threads to get from A to B. Most of the Flow threads in the game just guide you along the ground, but a small portion of these threads — perhaps 10–20% — are the only way to reach certain areas. The second purpose is to clear the Rust on the map. Your main mission will be to remove deposits by flying over them (and by rescuing corrupted wildlife). However, your equipment is Flow-powered and you lose the ability to remove Rust by flying over it when the Flow runs out. (Thankfully, this has no effect on combat.)
The Flow threads in the game represented one of the earliest problems I encountered and one of my most frequent frustrations. Some of the areas I couldn't reach required riding a Flow thread, but I could not find them for the life of me. The thread only reveals its path as you ride it, so you might end up flying in a direction you want to go, only to end up in a completely different place. It would have been much better if you could see where a Flow thread took you before you were actually riding it.
Yu and Kay, Interstellar Park Rangers
You'll also encounter a fair amount of combat as part of your lengthy quest to clear Source of its Rust problem. On its face, the combat system only has a handful of moving parts: Impact (melee attack), Blast (ranged attack), Shield (defend), and Pacify (release a knocked-out enemy). It gets a little more complex later with the addition of "Charge" and "Overload" (more on those two shortly). Yu and Kay act independently of one another in combat, but they can team up and use "Duo" attacks which do more damage than both of them attacking individually.
Combat is done in a sort of real-time, turn-based system that is somewhat similar to the "Active Time Battle" used in Final Fantasy games. There's no UI indication of whose "turn" it is, but you can rely on visual cues from the monsters to tell when they are about to attack. Your earliest fights can be won with very little strategy: beat the heck out of corrupted wildlife, drop their HP to 0, and then "Pacify" them to release them back into the wild. Rinse and repeat until combat is over. There are a fixed number of wildlife encounters in the game — once an animal is freed from Rust, it appears to remain that way forever.
The additions of "Charge" and "Overload" were somewhat confusing to me. Neither is represented clearly on the UI in a way that makes it understandable how they work. "Charge" can be used by pressing the same button used for Flowbursts (F or J), and "Overload" replaces "Pacify" when you're fighting robots. This aspect of the UI needs to be made clearer — and that is one of many ways that the game fails to explain things properly.
Haven, to my mind, has a lot of little forgivable flaws, but one of my biggest bugbears is that it does a really poor job of obviously explaining some key systems — and others felt poorly designed. For example, choosing certain dialogue options can make Yu or Kay "feel more confident." What does "confidence" do? I still have no idea after 14 hours in the game. Another thing that particularly confused me was "Celebrate." Yu figures out how to brew Appledews (a local fruit) into a liquor and you can celebrate when your XP bar is full. It took a while before I tried it and realized that this was how you leveled up in the game.
Certain design choices were mildly annoying — you don't get access to a map or fast travel until you've spent some time in the game. Others, however, were downright frustrating. Fast travel relies on feeding a friendly creature a meal (which takes up space in your limited inventory of 6 items). The creature flies away if you go back into the Nest. This means that fast-traveling, in effect, permanently reduces your inventory space by one — this could have been handled better, perhaps with a special "fast travel food" item that doesn't take up inventory space.
There are all sorts of great little details, but these other annoying issues plagued me throughout my time in the game.
My biggest annoyance by far, however, was the camera. The camera is normally locked behind the characters, but you can turn on a free camera and look around at the beautiful world created by The Game Bakers. Unfortunately, the game uses "relative controls". What this means is that if you are looking at your character from the side, pressing A will make you go forward instead of pressing W. The alternative is "absolute controls," an option in some games where W always makes you go forward regardless of where you're looking. There is no such option in Haven and the game is poorer for it.
The Game Bakers do much more right than they do wrong, however. Yu and Kay communicate during combat, giving the player(s) hints at what they should be doing next. Waking up (whether at the Nest or at a Camp) will start the day with a conversation that essentially reminds you of your next objective. There are all sorts of great little details, but these other annoying issues plagued me throughout my time in the game.
All Good Things...
When I finally did reach the end of the game, I was excited about the potential for a thrilling conclusion. There were some interesting boss fights thus far. There were intriguing villains introduced. I learned more and more about the downsides of The Aviary, the society that Yu and Kay escaped from. I was at the climax of the game, and the payoff could not have been more disappointing.
An epic storyline about how they are fugitives from the government builds up, but it never ends in a satisfying resolution.
Haven is a very narrative-heavy game. (Thankfully, it has great gameplay to go with it.) An epic storyline about how they are fugitives from the government builds up, but it never ends in a satisfying resolution. Instead, you are presented with two choices. Option A is the "bad" ending which results in the two of them being split up and it's woefully depressing. Option B is the "good" ending, and it's only slightly better when you really think about the long-term consequences of their actions. Either way, the villains (and the equally interesting Aviary) are totally wasted.
Is Haven worth playing? Despite its flaws, I'd say yes. I liked it more than not, but I can't help but feel disappointed after waiting nearly two years to get my hands on the game and having the ending fall so flat. I sincerely hope there is a sequel: The Game Bakers have created a fantastic setting, but it doesn't quite feel like it made the best use of it.
TechRaptor reviewed Haven on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X, with PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch versions coming in early 2021.
- Lovable Protagonists and Compelling Villains
- Simple Yet Engaging Combat System
- Phenomenal, World-Class Soundtrack
- Villains Are Ultimately Wasted
- Key Concepts Not Always Explained Well
- No Absolute Camera Controls