Eastshade is a first-person, open-world exploration game. It’s atmospheric, immersive, relaxing and just the right side of challenging. If you like shooting, fast cars or jump scares then you had better stop reading now – this is not a game for you. But I had a lovely time on the island of Eastshade and, like all good holidays, I’m pretty sad it all had to end. I spent my days exploring the varied landscapes and helping out residents, and found I had some pretty remarkable painting skills, which were put to good use capturing the stunning scenery; I even managed to sell a few to fund the adventure ahead.
In Eastshade you play as a travelling painter who visits the island of Eastshade to fulfil your mother’s last wishes of painting some of her favourite scenes. You arrive at the small village of Lyndow and immediately get caught up in several storylines as you interact with the residents. They are a little unusual, being half human-half animal (chimp, owl, deer or bear) and this is a little unsettling at first. I did spend the entire game wondering what animal hybrid I was, and it’s sad that you never find out. Maybe it’s up to you to decide as you soon learn that each type of animal has its own personality – owls are very enthusiastic and friendly, while bears can be a little stern.
One of the main objectives is to paint scenes for the residents – this will earn you currency called glowstones, which you can use to buy items. But you can only paint if you have canvases, which you soon learn you can craft, along with other items. To craft objects you need the correct materials, some of which can be bought but many can be found by foraging amongst the landscape. As you progress, new areas to explore, missions to complete and items to craft are opened up to you.
Eastshade has its own special culture, which is slowly revealed to you through talking to residents and finding and reading books. One custom you quickly learn about is tea-drinking. You can buy tea in inns and the city market, or brew your own once you buy a kettle. Meadowspice mead will keep you warm – which is vital at the start of the game as it gets cold enough to kill at night, and you can only buy a coat later in the game. Other teas change how you see the world – adding a different coloured haze, lending some nice effects to your paintings.
There are always multiple things to do in Eastshade, as you get involved in plenty of missions. This means that if you are slightly stuck on one you will always have something else to partake in. In saying that, none of the puzzles are very challenging and the game rolls along in a very satisfying way. The island of Eastshade is pretty big and the game is cleverly designed so that new areas are opened gradually. This is achieved by the fact that to get to certain places you need to complete missions. For example to reach the Tiffmoor Bluffs you will need to craft a boat, which you only get later on in the game.
Some of the missions are optional, and play out more like mini-games. One involves collecting clues and piecing together a mystery before choosing the culprit of a crime, another sees you attempting to catch a giant fish. There is an awful lot to discover, boredom will rarely ever creep in, and you’ll always look forward to returning to your journey.
Eastshade is a large island, with several distinct areas. Each area has plenty to explore – from lakes to fish in, hot springs to bathe in and plenty of new characters to meet. There are towns, beaches, forests, caves, windy moors and icy landscapes. Every place that can be visited is stunning in its appearance and I have personally felt the need to stop several times to capture the views on canvas.
Each area also has its own soundtrack which adds to the atmosphere of the surroundings. And whilst the audio is nicely immersive, it is a little too loud. There is of course the option of tuning it down in the options menu but, strangely, moving from one area to another seems to see those settings reset.
A little way into the game you are able to obtain a map of Eastshade which shows you the different areas you can visit. As you come across new places these are also added. Moving around the island on foot is pretty slow. Thankfully, later in the game you have other methods of transport opened up to you, which speeds things up greatly, but there is also the option of drinking Mountainwort tea, which allows you to teleport to any place you have been to already. The only thing that could be improved is that your current location is not shown on the map, which makes it pretty hard for a person like me with no sense of direction to work out which way to go to reach a certain destination.
Your time with Eastshade will be autosaved occasionally, however you are able to save your progress at any point in the game, which is a useful feature. Unfortunately there is a bug in place which is hugely frustrating, and on my first run through I found I couldn’t save, and autosave points are few and far between. After a couple of hours of gameplay, I had to ditch all progress and start off the entire adventure again. Thankfully, a second playthrough is much quicker and conversations can be quickly skipped through – but still this is a little annoying. There are a few other bugs and glitches in place too; for example I got stuck a few times between rocks when in my boat and had to restart the game.
Overall, It’s a good job that the stunning scenery and atmospheric music quickly made me forget the niggles with Eastshade on Xbox One. Overall, the positives of multiple, engrossing storylines far outweigh the negatives – or that might have been the hallucinatory tea talking…