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Eastward Review

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Initially announced in 2018, Eastward was the reason I bought a Nintendo Switch Lite. The incredible art style won me over instantly, presenting a world just begging to be explored. What players got when it released in 2021 was an RPG that acts as a homage to many of the greats, whilst forging a beautiful tale all of its own.

Now, Eastward has dropped onto Xbox and as part of Xbox Game Pass to boot. It remains a beautiful game; one that is perfect to play by the fireside with a nice warm cup of hot chocolate.

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Sometime before the events of the game, John, a miner, is dutifully completing his day job when he happens upon a little girl within the mine. She is called Sam, who doesn’t have any memory of where she came from or how she ended up there. John, being the strong, quiet type, decides to adopt her and their father/daughter relationship blossoms instantly into something special. They are rarely seen without each other, and everyone in John’s hometown of Potcrock Isle have welcomed Sam in as one of their own.

The thing is, Potcrock Isle is a subterranean settlement, and there is a deep fear of what is above the surface. A toxic plague forced humanity underground years before, and the fear remains. Sam doesn’t share these feelings of worry, and wants to educate the other residents of Potcrock Isle that things are much better again above the surface.

The residents might not want to be educated, however.

Eastward follows Sam and John on their adventure. The opening hours allow you to get to know them a bit better, as well as their place in society. Characters in Eastward are all fantastically written. Much like an older generation RPG that Eastward is clearly inspired by, there is no voice work, but the emotions and personalities still come across wonderfully.

You only need to look at one image of Eastward to know that this is a love letter to the RPGs of old. It has a top-down point of view with a pixel art that is near perfection. The detail on every building, environment and character feels so meticulously done, you will find yourself constantly distracted taking in every little detail. Coupled with this is a conscious colour palette that can’t help but make you feel warm inside. It looks slightly sun-drenched and weathered in the first few hours. But then you start exploring the wider world and things really do start to pop out of the screen. New Dam City is a particular highlight to explore, reminiscent of the busy streets of Hong Kong.

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John initially takes on the role of protector for Sam, but as you progress, Sam begins to come into her own. John is armed predominantly with a frying pan that he also uses to cook meals for the duo using food found through exploration. Combat in Eastward differs from the traditional RPG sense, moving away from turn-based into a more action setting. Most enemies can be dispatched by swinging the pan around by smashing the X button; at times it feels a little basic, especially when exploring longer dungeons.

There is some minor puzzle solving to be done to help break up these dungeons, however. John has plenty of other objects at his disposal to help navigate through the environmental puzzles. There may be a bit of head scratching the first time you encounter these, but these will quickly become second nature the more you play.

It is also worth noting that Eastward does not have any specific Xbox Series X|S enhancements. I only mention this because Quick Resume has become something current-gen users will likely take for granted now, but it is unavailable in Eastward. The only way to save the game is by finding the refrigerators around the world, and sometimes, these can be few and far in between. But each one offers some prophetic levels of insight, making them doubly exciting once you find one.

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It would of course be remiss to talk about Eastward without mentioning Earth Born, the RPG within an RPG that all the kids play in Eastward. This harks back even further than Eastward, reminiscent of the early Dragon Quest and EarthBound games. It does add a roguelite spin to these RPG games however; you have seven days to kill the Dragon King. A run ends when you either die or those seven days are up. Items, party members and fast travel spots all carry over to your next run, so don’t expect to complete it in one sitting. It is introduced early on in your adventure and can be played in most locations where you find the set-up, and can even be accessed from the main menu once the main game has been completed. It also incorporates the gacha style collectibles that can be bought for in-game tokens that provide the party with useful items.

Whilst the story does go a little dark at times, there is a warmth oozing through Eastward that will wrap you up tightly. A culmination of well-written characters, a father/daughter relationship and the incredible visuals mean Eastward will leave you thinking about it long after you complete it. The combat and slow pacing may not be to everyone’s taste, but those looking for a change of pace will undoubtedly enjoy Eastward.

Experience Sam and John’s journey in Eastward via the Xbox Store 

Richard Dobson
Richard Dobson
Avid gamer since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Grew up with the PS1 and PS2 but changed allegiances in 2007 with the release of Halo 3.
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