Degrees of Separation is a game that begs to be played in co-op.
You can play it on your own, but do so and you’re likely to quickly get irritated by having to mollycoddle both of its playable characters to where you need them to be. It just takes the fun out of it all.
Ember and Rime are the two that you have to navigate on your journey. One exudes warmth, while the other emanates a chilling effect, and only by making use of both of their elemental properties will you be able to discover and combat what threatens both of their kingdoms. Though there’s no actual fighting involved, just puzzles. And at times it feels like they’re endless.
Collecting scarves is the unusual task at the heart of Degrees of Separation. Happening upon an unusual castle, you discover that its doors are locked until you’ve acquired enough scarves to open them. Cue making your way through what are eventually levels, each with a constellation of scarves for you to discover and collect. Though it’s hardly ever easy to do so.
Degrees of Separation will make you feel dumb. Repeatedly. Its puzzles aren’t the type that make you move around blocks or solve equations; they’re instead very much platform based. Depending on where Ember and Rime are placed on the screen, one portion of it will always be warm and the other cold. It’s not just for visual effect, it actually has ramifications. When lanterns are lit up by warmth, for example, they might rise and carry an attached platform with them. Chill them down and they’ll descend.
To conquer Degrees of Separation‘s challenges, then, you need to fully understand both Ember and Rime’s powers. Another example: Rime can walk on bodies of water, as it freezes when he draws near, while Ember submerges herself in it. That also means that mills driven by water will stop when Rime approaches the source, and similarly, geysers will stop gushing. It’s up to you to discover how this will help you in your pursuit for more scarves.
When playing alone, moving both Ember and Rime to make use of their unique properties can get very tiresome. Solving puzzles often requires you to position them in rather exact places, which can be troublesome when trying to do it alone. Especially when they both often move of their own accord when moving near to each other. And when moving between Degrees of Separation‘s puzzles you can attempt to control both of them at once by making them shout to each other, but the result is pretty hit and miss.
Gather the assistance of a friend, however, and Degrees of Separation is transformed. Puzzles become something that you strive to overcome together, and as a team you’re able to tackle them much more efficiently. You can talk to each other, bounce ideas off each other, and coordinate with other. Degrees of Separation‘s puzzles will still be challenging, but they be more fun and rewarding to solve. And ergo, the game simply becomes more enjoyable.
There are caveats though. Firstly, only local co-op play is currently supported, so you can’t play in co-op unless you know someone close by who want to play with you. Online co-op is promised in a future patch. Also, on more on one occasion I’ve had to cut my time with Degrees of Separation short after glitching through scenery. Thankfully the game has a fairly decent autosave system, so after restarting the game I didn’t have to travel too far to continue where I left off.
Degrees of Separation isn’t recommended for those who like to play games alone, then – at least if they don’t have a lot of patience. It’s a game designed for two players through and through, and with two players on the same page it really shines. It’s perhaps not as polished or enjoyable as Unravel Two, a game that my mind couldn’t help but throw up as I played Degrees of Separation, but it has enough of its own charm to make it stand out. Degrees of Separation is also more difficult, and will provide a longer lasting challenge to boot.
It looks beautiful, has a wonderfully relaxing soundtrack, and spins an interesting fairytale yarn, but Degrees of Separation only really shines when you’ve got someone to play it with. From its simple beginning, right to its very challenging end.