Is it okay to like (or even love) a game despite all of its problems? That’s the question I pondered religiously throughout my time with Eastshade, an open world walking simulator in which you play as a travelling painter. While Eastshade has plenty of great ideas, the sheer amount of immersion-shattering performance problems and rough edges sully what is clearly an impressive indie title, which at its core is an exceptionally relaxing exploration game.
This game is damn gorgeous
Eastshade is set upon an island of the same name, where the main character has ventured to fulfil their mother’s dying wish. She tasks you not only to visit Eastshade, but to paint her favourite locales on the island as well. In terms of the core narrative, that’s all there really is to Eastshade, with the lightweight tale being the inspiration you need to head out and explore the beauty of the island.
While the main plot is paper thin, there are a bunch of smaller stories interspersed throughout the world. Some are short and succinct, whereas others had a surprising level of complexity and depth that caught me off guard. For example, one mission involves getting a jug off the head of a man named Eshan. In order to do this, you head to a nearby home to ask for soap. The neighbour ultimately gives you the soap, but she loves a chinwag and will also gossip about how Eshan is unfit to be a parent – if you are nosy enough to be sucked in to her dialogue. If you tell Eshan about this conversation he will tell you to leave him alone, but if you further provoke him he will punch you and the Sheriff will get involved. I was stunned that the mission could end up like this, and I can say there are numerous instances where your dialogue can heavily alter the course of a mission (I won’t spoil them though).
The narrative of Eastshade is all it needs to be, it’s light and non-intrusive, granting you the ability to stroll throughout the beautiful world and take in the fresh air, and you only need be invested in smaller plot points if you want to be.
Don’t mess with the authorities
Eastshade is essentially a walking simulator with light crafting elements. You travel the world with the goal of painting the areas your mother told you to in her dying wish, but some of these areas require the completion of sidequests in order to get to them. Some sidequests task you with collecting items in the overworld such as sticks and feathers some ask for certain paintings that fit the given criteria, while others require you to fulfil the needs of a resident of Eastshade. One mission sees you to help a girl craft a canvas so that she can paint, while another mission has you playing the role of a detective in a whodunnit-like scenario.
The reward for completing sidequests most often come in the form of Glowstones, which can be spent on items such as a coat that allows you to stay out at night, a bicycle that grants quicker traversal, or perhaps a fishing rod so that you can catch and sell fish to make a living. Some rewards however come in the form of schematics you can use to craft particular items, some of which are required to reach the areas you need to fulfil your mother’s wish.
Art commissions are also available to you once you complete a mission in the city of Nava, with a book detailing particular paintings people are willing to pay a decent chunk of Glowstones for. While Eastshade does emulate the feeling of walking through a town in a The Elder Scrolls game, there is no combat at all throughout the game. The island of Eastshade is a peaceful world with no real conflict, which allows you to perfectly soak up the atmosphere and feel like a true traveller to a pretty place begging to be explored. It is a shame that items such as the mounts control quite poorly, and fishing is a little underdone, but most aspects of Eastshade feel rather sound. While some gameplay aspects are undercooked, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Eastshade, and I feel like it’s a world that easily relieves you of the stresses of reality.
I take my art very seriously
Arguably the game’s greatest asset is Eastshade itself. It is absolutely gorgeous, offering up one of the most relaxing worlds I have ever had the pleasure exploring. There’s something incredibly therapeutic about meandering through the dense flora of the island, with the sheer beauty of the world paired with an excellent soundtrack that makes it very easy to fully invest yourself. Whether it be the quiet port town of Lyndow or the bustling city of Nava, the environments always succeeded in transporting me to Eastshade, which made it all the more disappointing when crashes and technical mishaps would promptly pull me out.
“Look mum! No hands!”
Eastshade may be pretty to look at and enjoyable to play, but it is without a doubt one of the most technically compromised games I have ever played, let alone on consoles. Throughout your journey in Eastshade, you’ll constantly bear witness to textures popping in and out in a truly bizarre fashion. For example, while walking through a forest that was littered with shrubs, some shrubs would seemingly appear out of nowhere, remaining for a second or so before disappearing. This issue doesn’t harm gameplay, but it does cause the immersion to take a hit. Further immersion breakers appear in the form of occasional frame drops, crashes, load stuttering when walking in to new areas and some characters T-posing from distances before you get close enough for the game to load them in. I mean I can’t even get back to the main menu upon the game ending, as I get stuck in an infinite loading loop.
While these issues are part and parcel in lower budget games, the fact that all of them are present in a single game is just not acceptable. Even more embarrassing is the fact that when playing on a PlayStation 4 and trying to mount items such as your bicycle or raft the button prompts that appear are for that of an Xbox controller. From what I have seen the PC version is not as buggy as this console port, so I feel like this game may have simply been rushed out with numerous problems in tow. In its current state however, Eastshade feels unfinished, akin to some Early Access titles. Then again, I’ve seen Early Access games far more polished than this.
“Tech issues galore but the game is still pretty”
I really don’t know how to feel about Eastshade. It’s pretty and brimming with charm, and in a way it’s one of the most wholesome and peacefully enjoyable games I have played this year, but it’s also one of the most broken games that I have played in my life. Technical hiccups don’t always affect the way Eastshade is meant to be played, but they do hinder the believability of an otherwise excellently crafted world, which to me is the greatest shame of all. If you can look past Eastshade’s myriad of technical shortcomings there’s a brilliant journey that awaits you, however if you can’t handle the frustrations of the occasional crashing and immersion breaking glitches, it may be best to give Eastshade a miss, or hold out hope for future patches (I know I will be).
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher