Leaving Lyndow Review
Left Me Mouthless
Anyone who grew in a rural area knows that special feeling of exploring the vast open spaces just outside of one’s home. Areas that are so close to where you and everyone you know has lived for many years, but that still have that feeling of being isolated, untouched, intimate. Everything seems arcane and exciting. Everything you do leaves a mark for years, if not decades. The weird plants, the locations of the ant hills, the smells whose source you never find – often for the better – all form this perfect picture in your mind, to the point where each location gets the same sort of personality that developers tried to imbue their video game settings with.
It’s no coincidence, either – Miyamoto is known to have based much of the sense of exploration in the Legend of Zelda on his childhood experiences in Kyoto. I believe that connection is a big part of why I enjoy the Zelda games so much, and also why I had such a blast with my short time with Leaving Lyndow.
Developer: Eastshade Studios LLC
Publisher: Eastshade Studios LLC
Release: February 8, 2017
Intel i5-4440 @ 3.10GHz
Zotac GeForce GTX 980 Ti AMP! Extreme
The fact that I mention these games in the same breath should clue you in to the level of quality Eastshade Studios have achieved with their first game.
Leaving Lyndow, a prequel to Eastshade’s upcoming eponymous game, is what we cool kids usually refer to – not disparagingly, at least in my case – as a “walking simulator”, a first-person adventure game where you, as honors student-cum-maritime explorer Clara, are tasked with preparing for your first journey outside of the small village where you have spent your entire life. Like all games in the genre, gameplay involves no combat or puzzles, instead focusing on creating a world for you to discover and take in.
And what a world it is. From the moment Clara peers out her childhood home’s window to take one last look at the view before embarking on her journey to the view of the shore at the end of the game, Leaving Lyndow‘s locations are stunning, showing an amazing dedication and a genuine love and familiarity with the beauty of nature. This isn’t a shallow beauty based on graphical horsepower alone: there’s a real attention to detail and nuance in the art design here, one that manages to do so much with what is likely a fraction of the budget of a AAA game, even normalized for length.
That’s not to say that there are no limitations to Leaving Lyndow‘s visuals. While beautiful, the game certainly looks better in screenshots than on video, where minor but pesky issues with camera and movement show up. Turning around can be disorienting, and pretty any item will phase through pretty much every wall if brought close enough to it. However, these issues do very little to detract from the enjoyment of the Lyndow’s sights and sounds.
But Clara’s preparations don’t just involve exploration. Much of Leaving Lyndow involves saying goodbye to Clara’s friends and family, who have different reactions to her departure. It’s a real challenge to make such interactions resonate with the player in such a short game, but Eastshade did a stellar job in this regard, and much of it has to do with the game’s excellent pacing. Locations and experiences are established before the people involved with them are introduced, so that be the time that the more dramatic interactions occur, you understand their context and significance. Unlike other exploration games, where often it feels like the developers begrudgingly allow you to look at the pretty world they made, Leaving Lyndow wants you to feel at home. It is a game that wants to be played, and which – even more significantly – knows how to make you want to play it.
As wonderful as these interactions are, they can be a bit jarring, again due to some technical limitations. It is not uncommon for walking simulators to do away with on-screen interaction altogether, with Firewatch – a fine game otherwise – going so far as to include a laughable scene where you interact with what are essentially stick figures. I do appreciate Leaving Lyndow‘s decision to include actual people in the game, but the character models used here leave a lot to be desired. For one, all characters have their mouths covered, which is not explained in any way by in-game lore.
“…Leaving Lyndow wants you to feel at home. It is a game that wants to be played, and which – even more significantly – knows how to make you want to play it.“
It’s a reasonable way of dealing with modeling limitations, but with poor justification and faces otherwise approaching uncanny-valley levels, it’s certainly not an ideal way of presenting your world’s population.
It is hard not to be utterly charmed by Leaving Lyndow. It’s the first game that I feel adequately represents the experience of leaving a small, familiar place of birth, with a parting that heralds a bittersweet return to everything that changed in your absence – and everything that stayed the same.
Despite some noticeable issues, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Leaving Lyndow. It’s a game that does exceptionally well in world-building and immersion. However, a lot of its greatness is due to it being so to-the-point. It remains to be seen if its developers can maintain this high level of quality for the duration of a full-length game. If they can – and Leaving Lyndow gives me every reason to have faith – then Eastshade promises to be a stellar adventure game.