My Time at Sandrock is, quite aptly, a sandbox game where you take on the role of a fledgling builder who has left home in search of new adventures in a new town. After arriving in Sandrock you are quickly set tasks of crafting items for the townsfolk.
Set in the same universe as My Time at Portia, My Time at Sandrock is a sister game, not a sequel. Sandrock is one of the ‘free cities’, just like Portia and the game appears to be set in the same time as well – a future post apocalyptic world which contains abandoned buildings and ‘relics’ – long forgotten items from the old times.
The game also follows the same gameplay as Portia – you start out with basic weapons and machines which limits the kinds of objects you can craft. You gather resources – such as wood, rock, rubber and metal from your surroundings and process them in machines to build objects. As time progresses you unlock new machines and gain access to previously restricted areas, which allow you to gather more materials and create more advanced structures.
There is no requirement to have played My Time at Portia to enjoy My Time at Sandrock but if you have already played it, then you might find the start of My Time at Sandrock a little too familiar and therefore repetitive, as you go through the same motions. However, things do diverge pretty quickly.
The only real difference between Portia and Sandrock is the location. Whereas Portia was verdant and green, Sandrock is set in a desert, which adds extra perils of sandstorms and having to worry about water supply. There is also a marked improvement in the look of the game, with more life-like characters, better animated cutscenes and all of the main characters being voiced.
My Time at Sandrock very subtly reminds you of the environmental issues we’re facing in the real world. The theme of limited resources is evident. Rather than cut down trees to gather wood, you sort through wood piles that appear in the desert landscape. You can also process wood, metal and rubber scrap in your ‘recycler’ machine and break down old structures and machines to reuse their constituent parts. Water supply is a big issue in the game. Your machines will use water to run, and you need it to water your crops, but you will have to resource it yourself, either by collecting dew from plants, installing a ‘dew collector’ in your yard, or buying from the local water tower. We found that playing the game really did make us think about the future we could be facing, but without it being too ‘in your face’.
As well as resourcing, crafting and farming, you’ll have a bit of spare time to meet the residents of Sandrock – both human and animal (you might spot a few familiar faces from Party Animals). Building up relationships takes a lot of time, patience and a whole lot of talking and gift giving. But, as you get to know people you start to find out more about them, such as what gifts they like and are able to go on playdates, which further boosts your relationship. Ultimately this is worth it though, because as relationships progress, more side quests open up. There is also the opportunity for romantic relationships as well, with the option of marriage and children.
There are plenty of places to explore, and as you progress new areas will open up. At first you are more or less confined to the town, which contains several shops where you can buy or sell goods, the Commerce Guild where you pick up commissions and the Blue Moon Saloon where you can grab a bite to eat. You will also soon unlock ruins, where you can mine for resources and uncover relics or useful bits of kit for building. The sheer amount of running around to get from place to place can get a bit tedious at times, even with the option of sprinting. You can rent or buy a horse but you’ll have to build up some cash to do this – expect to spend a fair proportion of the game running at least at first.
You’ll take on commissions from residents to earn money (and increase your relationship with them). You can use your hard-earned cash to buy new clothes, expand the size of your yard or enlarge and decorate your house. In the main storyline you’ll take on bigger commissions, usually to help the town out when trouble comes along.
There is also an element of combat in My Time at Sandrock, using both melee and shooting. You’ll have to kill some of the local wildlife to get resources like fur, and fight the baddies including a race of lizard-like creatures that are intent on causing trouble for the town. At first combat is challenging but as you play you gain experience, which levels up your health, stamina, attack and defence. These can also be modified by the weapons you use, what clothes you wear, and what furniture you put in your house.
Increasing experience also earns you points to spend on four different skill trees. Various different nodes on each tree offer you benefits such as more ways to increase experience and stamina (which is painfully low at the start of the game), quicker routes to building relationships and increasing combat skills.
The game follows a calendar, with each day passing via sped up time (which you can change in the options to make the day shorter or longer). As the seasons change, different yearly events take place, like a dance-off and festivals such as the Day of Memories, which is akin to Halloween, where you get to play a spooky game with your neighbours. This is one area where My Time at Sandrock falls down slightly. You are given a warning about when a festival is going to happen, but often the place you need to sign up for events is not clear and could leave you in danger of missing out. We also were unable to compete in the dance-off because we couldn’t sign up. If you do miss an event there is always next year though.
Playing My Time at Sandrock is currently a solo pursuit but there is the possibility of a multiplayer mode in the future. This feature is currently in the beta testing phase for PC and is completely separate from the single player story, taking place at the birth of the town. We don’t have a date yet for when this feature is coming to Xbox, but we do know it is not available at launch.
Whether you are new to the Alliance of the Free Cities or a frequent visitor, My Time at Sandrock is a highly playable game. The storyline flows at a decent pace, there is always somewhere to explore or a new gadget to build that keeps you wanting to return. Expect the odd frustration – whether that’s a minor bug, having to run backwards and forwards an awful lot or the sheer amount of time spent talking to the residents.
However, you’ll certainly never get bored with your life as a Sandrock builder.