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Nightingale Early Access Impressions – Fancy Faery Folks

Should you stand under my umbrella, ella, ella?

Innovation is hard, doubly so when whatever you are trying to create will be released into an already saturated market. It should come as no surprise then, that Nightingale has been high on my ‘hotly anticipated’ list ever since it was revealed at The Game Awards a few years ago. The Victorian era ‘Gaslamp’ aesthetic, the rich faery fantasy narrative, the shared world survival crafting gameplay, and the fact that it’s being developed by former BioWare staff all signposted a fresh and unique experience in one of gaming’s most popular genres.

As a self-proclaimed survival crafting aficionado, I’ve already been eating very well this last little while, with some absolute bangers like Sons of the Forest, Pacific Drive, Enshrouded and, of course, the absolute behemoth that is Palworld. None of them promised me the opportunity to live out my moustachioed dandy man fantasy though, so when I was finally able to jump through the Fae Portal into Nightingale’s early access build, I did so with high expectations and even more excitement.

You’ll be seeing a lot of Oberon’s favourite scamp

Given that this is a first impressions article, I’ll be upfront and say that my experience so far with Nightingale has been a bit of a rollercoaster. The initial wonder of stepping into this world gave way to bewilderment after the opening hour due to several complex systems that are not very well explained. I slowly started to unpack all the mechanics and eventually managed to understand what was required of me to survive (and maybe eventually thrive) in the Fae Wilds, and since then I feel like I’ve been displeased and delighted in almost equal measure.

In broad strokes, Nightingale will see you (and friends or strangers) attempting to survive in the hostile Fae Wilds, a series of interconnected fantasy realms. To do so, you’ll need to unlock and create Realm Cards which will allow you to procedurally generate customised realms, tweaking things like the biome and which flavour of enemy or NPC will populate it. Then it’s time to gear up and head through the portal, collect resources and complete quests, then return to your home base and craft new Realm Cards to explore and advance the narrative.

You’ll use these cards to gamble…with your life!

If you’ve ever played an early access title, you would know that this time is usually used to add and polish gameplay mechanics and elements, expand playable spaces, test networking and squash bugs. The story is often one of the last things to be added to the game as it approaches its 1.0 release, providing an incentive for early players to revisit it once all the kinks have been worked out. Nightingale seems to have flipped that formula and presents a whole bunch of worldbuilding and narrative up front alongside mechanics that are definitely deep and varied but could probably have done with a bit more time in the oven. At the very least, I feel like there should have been a bit more effort given to explanations and onboarding players, over the epic faery fantasy of Nightingale’s myriad worlds, characters, and creatures.

I’m a big fan of customisation and deep crafting systems, and Nightingale offers that in spades. The only problem is that it’s implemented in such a way as to be a bit confusing and grindy. Unlike other survival crafting games, you don’t level up by harvesting, hunting, and building. Instead, it seems to borrow from live service-style games and your progression is linked to a gear score, with certain areas needed for advancement blocked off until your number is high enough. Since there are no character levels, the way your crafting recipes are unlocked is by purchasing them from a merchant, using a currency that you collect by doing different activities in the world. Higher tier items need higher tier currencies, and all of the merchants stock different recipes, so you have to unlock and explore different realms to increase your crafting options.

Less dapper, more trapper

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You’ll also need to be gathering the materials needed to make your gear, but even this has a strange quirk in Nightingale. Most materials have different tiers and types, each offering different attributes for the items crafted using them. For example, killing a boar and a wolf will grant you ‘Tier 1 Prey Hide’ and ‘Tier 1 Predator Hide’ respectively. The (initially) frustrating part is that these materials can’t be mixed to refine or craft gear. To make leather you need two hides, but both must come from the same tier and type. To make a new piece of clothing you need two leathers, but both must come from the same tier and type. This isn’t a deal breaker and eventually it does lead to being able to further customise your crafted items, but the game does a poor job of explaining this system and it led to some very frustrating early hours of the game before I understood what I needed to do.

Surviving isn’t just about building and crafting though, you’ll also be managing your hunger levels, your sleep requirements and fighting off the various beasties trying to kill you. Among these mechanics combat is the most important, and although it’s fine in Nightingale, it doesn’t feel particularly fun or balanced yet. Enemies almost always appear in groups and rush towards you with murderous intent, with some ranged varieties spamming you with AOE attacks from afar. Sometimes when I’d get hit a damage indicator would appear showing me the direction of the attacker, sometimes it wouldn’t. Close combat feels necessary but frequently too dangerous because the bad guys hit hard, and the melee weapons (at least early on) feel sluggish or weak. There is definitely an emphasis on ranged weapons, like guns, but the rifle that I spent several high tier resources creating felt only marginally better than the far cheaper pebble-slinging crossbow from my early hours.

I mean, where else would you put a clocktower?

It feels like all of Nightingale is like this, some very cool and new ideas that haven’t been completely balanced, sniff-tested or explained. As with a lot of early access titles, it also suffers from quite a few bugs, ranging from annoying to game breaking. These bugs and underbaked mechanics don’t make the game unplayable, but they can, and likely will reduce your enjoyment and mileage. Although, the developers are quite active and alongside creating more content for the game, they’re working hard to address a lot of the wider complaints like spinning up local servers for different regions and implementing an offline mode, since it is currently (controversially) an always online experience.

Given how polished so many of the trailers made the game look and how strong the introduction is, I was taken aback by just how much work I think still needs to go into Nightingale. After I spent a few more hours with its quirky mechanics, I really did start to enjoy myself a lot more and the aesthetic and world building are superb. If, like me, you are champing at the bit to bust out your top hat and umbrella, I’d recommend you hang on just a little bit longer until a few more things are ironed out.

Nightingale is currently available in Early Access on Steam and Epic Games Store.

Previewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Written By Edward Darling

If they had waterproof controllers in the 80s, Edward would probably have been gaming in the womb. He'll play anything with a pixel and would rather make console love, not console wars. PSN / XBL: CptLovebone

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