On the outset of your adventure in Eastshade, you are shipwrecked and awaken safe and sound in a seaside cavern. Within, you find the first of countless dioramas set up by Eastshade’s visual designers, all for your artist’s eye to find, and feast upon. This small space introduces you to what you should expect in your wandering through Eastshade’s environs; carefully curated visions of everyday life and nature presented like rewarding treasure in and of themselves.
The collectibles you find are but a means to an end, and those ends are often time right before your eyes as you step behind the easel of a traveling artist, seeking to paint Eastshade’s sights. It is the main character’s goal of appeasing their mother’s wishes for them to paint this land that drives your character out into the world. In this first tiny cave – looking out to a calming sea that invites you to wander the coast, cutting the horizon in such a way to train your eye toward distant temptations – there’s a sense of what this game is all about. It has a story, but it can’t be told without your own contribution. The world is your art gallery, and you’re invited to frame each piece from your own point of view.
Said point of view takes center stage through Eastshade’s peaceful missions, in which you are tasked by locals to capture still life paintings from all throughout the land. The actual act of painting boils down to a screen-capture system, through which the player draws out the general shape of their easel, on which a snapshot of the player’s point of view is saved. You then keep these paintings or deliver them to the patron who requested whatever viewpoint was captured. It’s extremely simple but ingenious. This almost entirely drives Eastshade’s gameplay, and as simple as it is, the painting system opens up countless opportunities to literally look at the game through new perspectives.
Wandering around and finding exactly where your task has sent you sounds simple, but once you see the depth of detail in Eastshade’s simplest spectacles, you’ll see just how easily distracted one’s artistic eye might get. If you’re the type that is easily enraptured by pretty images – and in the case of even the most hum-drum sights through Eastshade’s landscape, we’re talking very pretty – then you’re going to have difficulty staying on task. That happens in the very best way, though. If you let yourself get lost, then it’s easy to start chasing down the perfect angle for pretty scenes, with the only limitation being the number of canvases you’ve collected on your quest.
By having players subsist off of supplies found throughout Eastshade’s locales – with which they craft easels, rafts, and other objects vital to exploration – the amount of actual painting that gets done is limited. While this sounds (and is) a little frustrating at first, it soon becomes a clearly brilliant scheme that encourages players to bask in whatever sights they find. That little voice telling you that you’ve only got so many canvases left sometimes forces a decision that keeps you wandering, and sometimes that wandering pays off. The entire journey is an exercise in spatial contemplation. There’s value in every mission you receive (both to the patron, and your pocketbook), but there’s a certain pricelessness to the kind of special-enough image that makes you stop and say, “I’m painting that, now.”.
That sense of endless wandering and finding truly stand-out places does come with a tangible reward, as your ability to actually paint is based on an “inspiration” system. The more special places you feast your eyes on, the more points you bank toward artistic vision. These points are spent with every painting you create, but unless you’re dropping your easel down willy-nilly, it’s easy to not run out. This even further (and more directly) compounds the idea that true inspiration is something that deserves a little reflection; it comes from unexpected places, and can’t be wasted on just anything.
There are some barriers that prevent the player from totally drifting off Eastshade’s general plotline, but none that are so egregiously stalling that the game’s flow is broken. Playing Eastshade feels like becoming a lump in a lava lamp; you’re slowly going from place to place, always changing up your perspective… and, generally, the peace of it all gives you that warm, melty feeling inside. Many games market themselves as relaxing experiences, but Eastshade accomplishes a calming vibe without ever coming off as fully tranquilizing. You can turn down just about any mission. You can take all the time you need… that is, during the day. At night, things get a little more troubling.
Nighttime in Eastshade is the only real danger you’ll encounter, when the elements bare down on your poor little painter, leaving them left shivering in their boots. Blacking out in the cold is easily avoided by finding shelter, which is never too far off. The resting points are spread out enough to where getting out of the cold is on your mind, but never a real threat. There is a sleeping system a la The Elder Scrolls that helps you speed through time, and the day-to-day transition rarely interrupts whatever plans you were making; these cycles are satisfyingly long compared to other games that utilize similar systems.
The fun in Eastshade are those little plans you find yourself making. You’ll balance the work you’re given, and your own exploration, with gathering the right materials for whatever task is at hand. There are a number of tools and objects you’ll make in your crafting window, and even the world’s own currency you can earn through tasks. If you’re really stopping to smell the roses, it’s easy to feel like you actually live in this world. There’s just enough embellishment in all the right places where the game comes to life with its own engrossing character. You can’t discount the actual graphics in regards to just how lively Eastshade is. A game as visually-driven as this should be just as visually stimulating; everything from the simplest footpath to the most complicated city scene can truly be viewed as a special piece. Once you begin to see exactly how many purposefully-composed places there are, it’s easy to get intimidated by the breadth of detail in Eastshade.
Something about every composable frame is consistently interesting, which is to say, literally, every frame of this game is satisfying – at least if you allow yourself the indulgence of looking everywhere, at everything. You could breeze through Eastshade’s main adventure in roughly ten hours, and honestly, there’s only so much “indulging” you can do before wanting more than just new subjects to paint. But still, those ten hours will never feel wasted. Not every game has such high-quality 3D-environments; if they did, then we’d have a much harder time drawing ourselves out of these digital spaces.
It’s less about the actual graphics, and more about how the game’s assets are carefully composed into beautiful set-pieces, often pretty regardless of which angle you view them. Almost every square inch of explorable world is a piece of art, with the potential of catching your own eye in hopes of finding immortality through your painting-screenshot. Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… but even if you didn’t like how the game looks (and really, what’s not to like?) then you’d have to admit the level of care put into even the tiniest composition is impressive. Every asset leads it’s very best life, from multiple angles. I’ve never played a game where the world itself was so lovingly put together. It isn’t the largest map, nor is it the most explosively exciting, but it certainly is the most compositionally consistent environment I’ve ever explored in gaming.
The downside is, there’s really only so much with the gameplay itself, and there were occasional glitches throughout even the most simple functions. My game crashed at least twice, but I was playing on fairly taxing settings – it’s hard not to, given the complexity of your surroundings constantly begging for the best. The characters you meet stand out as a little bit of a strange creative choice in regards to design, but its one that I feel gives the game a little more character and certainly adds to its dreamlike appeal.
The humanoid, animal-headed residents of Eastshade’s world add a certain weird charm. Importantly, these halflings help the player move one step further away from concepts of humanity, and one step closer to nature; in a game that relies so heavily on delving into nature, it’s a pretty savvy move to keep human faces out of the mix. That said, the models themselves are far from as pretty as their surroundings, and the voice acting can sound downright off, but even that’s hard to judge when it just adds to a character’s memorability. It’s easy to forgive anything that pulls you out of your element with a game that just as easily pulls you back in with every frame.
Eastshade is complex in ways I’ve yet to see in other games, and despite its limited appeal, I think every game developer in the world could take a cue from how Eastshade Studio’s composes their environments. When the core concept relies on capturing this world, it makes it as important an element as any, and without such a strong setting I don’t feel Eastshade would be nearly as successful in its vision. The thing is, it’s beyond good enough to ride it’s own visuals to success and drives home something very satisfying through a story that is just interesting enough to make things truly memorable. I get the sense that this was someone’s passion project, and if that’s the case, I hope they know their passion shows with every single step and every single painted canvas.