Eastshade by Eastshade Studios is a game of innocent fun. On the surface, it’s a simple game about making friends. Looking a bit deeper, it’s a game about meeting people, connecting with them, making friends, having a tangible purpose. There are lessons to learn and wisdoms to gain, albeit subtle and merely presented, not pushed. The game still left me with a lasting impression when I was done and, as I was leaving, I regretted not being allowed to say farewell to everyone. I even got a little sentimental. Then the bonus ending kicked in, which was a nice touch.
The world-weary may find the game a little naïve: Noöne comes off as particularly aggressive; even the most grumpy types are good-hearted (if a bit self-absorbed at times). It’s mostly about helping people and getting along, with no or very few hard choices. On the other hand, this could be seen as refreshing or relaxing. A bit of escapism if you will — perhaps much needed in a world otherwise gone loopy. As I grow older, I find myself drawn more to this kind of escapism.
As a traveling painter, you arrive on the island of Eastshade, a place both familiar and unfamiliar. You are there to paint, but might also run into a mystery or twelve, begging to be solved. In short, the game consists of exploration (great varied vistas, both natural and manufactured), interacting with NPCs (with fully voiced dialogue trees and backstories), painting (including finding good spots and motifs), some crafting and, last but not least, questing.
There are over 30 different quests, so there’s plenty to do. Many are fetch quests, some span over the entirety of the game, and some require exploration, getting new vehicles or tools, crafting, some puzzle solving, messaging and so on. If you do all quests, you will talk to and get to know a lot of different people with different backstories.
There are no quest-markers — which I find to be more immersive — except items and readables being marked, so you will have to figure things out on your own by exploring and talking to NPCs. You can do things in your own order and at your own pace, so the game is quite non-linear. You can also choose which quests to accept, as all but the main ones are optional. The main quest will take you all over the island, so you could do just that and still get to explore a lot. I’d say the optional quests are definitely worth the extra time and effort, though. If you want to mostly relax and explore a bit, you can do that and still finish the game, but if you’d rather get busy, you can do that too.
The painting commissions, mostly taken on from the people you meet, include finding the right spot and motif. Great way to make marvelling at your surroundings part of the gameplay as you explore them — and the vistas are indeed worth marvelling at, reminding me of the old Romantic painters.
Interacting with NPCs meant getting to know them, finding out what they need, and, if you accept their request, you’ll return when you have more to speak to them about. I found it quite satisfying to help everyone out, except in two cases where I declined. Over-all good voice acting with the possible exception of adults trying to sound younger than they are, but failing — to a degree; I still got the gist of it, so it’s a minor complaint.
The crafting was my least favourite part, but also not a huge part, so it never bothered me that much, although I think it could probably have been skipped without the game suffering. It got a little annoying being out of materials when wanting to paint a scene, but never enough to make me want to quit; I always eventually found what I needed and the exploration is so good that it’s worth having to roam around more. While exploring, you might also — and probably will — run into more characters to interact with and hence more story or vistas to unlock, so, yeah, I admit that the crafting might actually work like more than just filler, as it encourages you to explore more — which is something I’m always up for. A suggestion could be to make the crafting optional as a bonus or maybe a shortcut for getting something done in an alternative way. Then it might feel like more of an accomplishment than a chore and those who dislike crafting could skip it. It might also mean losing the incentive for exploration, even if I find the beautiful vistas and the painting mechanic incentive enough.
I made a point of being nice or polite to everyone, which for me was the best way to play, because it allows you to unlock a lot of extra content and simply make more friends before leaving. You might still get on the wrong side with people, because there are a few conflicts that you can get involved in, choosing sides. After I had finished the game the first time, I watched someone else play and they actually got into a bit of a fistfight by consequently and repeatedly escalating a conflict. Otherwise no violence to speak of — except a little at the start (a shipwreck), but only implied and with no personal injury, which is also true for the rest of the game. You are never forced to be mean or escalate a conflict, although you can if you really go for it.
A rare few glitches here and there, but nothing game-stopping. The most glaring one was a flock of birds getting stuck in mid-air. Other than that, it was mostly some of the models (especially the pets) being a little lowres/lowpoly if you get up close. I did get a little seasick when going by boat, because, if you collide with something, your boat might wobble sideways, together with the player camera.
Recently, I described a group of people as a fauna. That fits even better in Eastshade with everyone presenting as a humanoid animal. At first, I found the idea of this a little off-putting — especially remembering the introductory prequel, Leaving Lyndow, based in the same universe — but the NPCs in Eastshade are a definite improvement and I got used to them pretty soon. I even found it charming, imagining their animal heads being like a manifestation of their respective personalities. Gone is the creepy, uncanny valley-like appearance and instead replaced with a much more lively, friendly look. Some of them still get a little starey sometimes, but that’s easy to see past, and I’m glad I did, because I would have missed out on a great game if I hadn’t.
Seeing animals keeping other animals as pets feels weird, as if there is a hierarchy at play, but I realize that’s just me judging them for doing what we humans do all the time: naming ourselves the crown of creation, creating a hierarchy with ourselves at the top. Anthropomorphism is the other side of the coin, trying to do away with the hierarchies, but while also reducing or simplifying animal behaviour. I’m going off on a tangent here,
though… Eastshade has people with animal heads, which is nothing new, and you can most certainly enjoy the game without reading too much into that fact.
Long gone are the days of playing DooM to vent — and we’re talking original series here, so it was indeed a long time ago. Some nostalgia for those days still linger, but the appeal of shooters is mostly gone. Please, though, feel free to hit me up on Twitter and tell me if you have any suggestions (preferably without drawn-out boss fights). I already have my eye on Scorn and Industria, and maybe Atomic Heart, but none of those are out yet (at the time of writing this).
For example Caspar David Friedrich, the main poster boy of German Romanticism, whose landscapes often depicted nature as wild and untamed, both beautiful and dangerous — just like in Eastshade (although with the dangerous part only suggested).
There’s also the idea of mankind as a kingdom of animals, both civilized and untamed, both part of nature and not part of nature — a nature we can never fully conquer, just like our own animalistic nature. People as animals and animals as people.