Have you ever played a game like Skyrim and thought, “I want everything this game is… minus the combat”?
Well, probably not. But in case you have – or in case you fancy a first-person RPG where there’s nary a weapon to be found – you probably ought to check out Eastshade.
Launched earlier this month on PC, Eastshade is a first-person adventure about exploring an island, meeting its inhabitants, and painting what you find. Yes, painting. In Eastshade, your only “weapons” are a paintbrush and an easel. And in theory, it’s absolutely brilliant.
Eastshade offers an incredible reprieve from the high-octane, high-pressure all-guns-blazing types of games that generally dominate the market. Sure, games free of combat and violence are nothing new, but it’s rare we see something to the scale of Eastshade in that vein. For one, Eastshade is simply beautiful. An island that somehow manages to be equal parts Earthly and other-worldly, it’s packed full of small townships, ruins, caves, beaches, forests and buildings to explore. Every corner of Eastshade‘s world has something worth gawping at.
It’s that beauty which makes the game’s primary concept – painting your surroundings – so interesting. “Painting” simply involves setting up your easel and framing your subject; the result essentially being a screenshot of whatever you chose to look at. You’ll want to paint pretty much everything you find in the world of Eastshade – but thanks to needing materials to craft canvases, you have to show some restraint.
Canvases don’t come free; you’ll need a couple of bits of wood and a couple of pieces of fabric for each one you make. There are plenty of resources to find across the island, but you’ll never have a massive canvas supply – at least not in the first few hours of Eastshade. You’ll receive quests from various NPCs who’ll ask you to paint a particular landmark or place, so you’ll need to make sure you have canvases available to complete those. There’s also an overarching quest line to find and paint a number of key landmarks. If you want to paint for the sheer hell of it – and you will, because Eastshade is breathtaking – you’re often limited on supplies. Thankfully, you can paint over canvases if you need to, but you’re probably just as wise making use of your computer’s screenshot function.
Eastshade isn’t perfect, though. Interacting with objects can sometimes be tricky and requires absolute precision in the direction you’re facing. Animations are a little janky at times, and you’ll often see NPCs floating a few centimetres in the air, their feet not quite meeting the ground. The game’s performance also isn’t great. Playing on an RTX 2070 – a graphics card that happily runs Metro Exodus at 4K ultra with no major problems – Eastshade constantly hiccuped as I progressed through areas, momentarily freezing while the game caught up with my movements.
They’re minor gripes, in the grand scale of things. None of those issues makes Eastshade unplayable – it’s just something of a shame that a lot of people will have to turn down the graphical options. Eastshade‘s beauty deserves to be enjoyed at max settings.
And when you consider the size of the team behind Eastshade, those complaints seem even less valid. Leading the project was Danny Weinbaum, previously an environment artist at Sucker Punch. Eastshade has been created with just Weinbaum, his partner Jacklyn Ciezadlo – who has worked on the game’s design, art and narrative – and a handful of contractors. Taking that into consideration, Eastshade is an exceptional achievement. Considering its scale, it’s incredibly impressive that something like this could be made with just a handful of people. It’s perhaps because Eastshade looks so damn stunning in the first place, more in line with something we’d expect from a larger studio, that those small imperfections stand out so much.
You’ll need a powerful machine to get the best out of Eastshade, and even then, you may still need to settle for less than perfect graphics options. A lot of love has clearly gone into creating Eastshade‘s world, and it’s one that deserves to be experienced at the highest graphical fidelity possible. It’s truly beautiful. I’d like to see those niggles ironed out, but even as it stands now, Eastshade is a testament to an incredibly talented group of people.