Let me be up front with some of my biases: I am awful tired of games that focus on combat only. I like moral choices. I’m a guy that likes to learn something about his game or the world around him while, admittedly, sometimes doing immoral or amoral things in a virtual world. I love when a game can play with language. If a game’s sci-fi and makes me think of Star Wars, it get bonus points. Lastly, if it laughs at writers, reporters, or bloggers, I might give it a banana sticker. I have to say these things because, well, Daedalic Entertainment’s upcoming single player space exploration RPG The Long Journey Home has all this, plus a few other things that I guess are kind of cool.
A Different Kind of Survival
Daedalic’s Founder and Creative Director Andreas Suika was a Senior Game Designer at Ubisoft for about 7 years before he just got sick of making combat focused games. He wanted to make something new, about culture and communication, about finding your way home, both literally and symbolically. As Suika’s wife is a linguist, he’s heard plenty of stories of cross-culture communication issues, but admits that, even in the same culture, with the same language, it can be hard to communicate with other people. The Long Journey Home sprung forth from that, well before it was a science fiction game, but clearly, it’s a genre ripe for a cross-culture tale.
From those initial thoughts, TLJH grew into a single player space exploration RPG, but not just any linear based story game. TLJH has procedurally generated objectives and branching stories. The alien civilizations present in one play through may not be present in another. The very galaxy and planet surface layouts you play in are random as well, but interestingly enough, you can get a code to start with a certain layout and change it from there. If your friend’s playthrough has all the best aliens and some sweet looking planets, she can just give you her code and you can start your adventure from there. However, there are some dice rolls involved that can change up your gameplay even if you start with the same galaxy, each modified by other factors (like if your researcher is sick or healthy), so even if you and your friend choose all the same options and actions at the start, you’ll probably have different outcomes.
While character interaction has some nice art, most of the game in space and planetside is rather flat, though fairly colorful. Your objectives are weighty. Much like in real life, you need to learn a language to communicate with other cultures, though this has been gamified a bit. By learning a new word, you can then access some options you may have missed out before. If you find something interesting, you need an expert to help you figure out how it’s useful. While you can technically just try to fight your way through the game, Suikas advises against it. You’re the only humans, have one of the smallest ships in the galaxy, and it’s already been damaged and is breaking down. Combat should be your last option.
This is where your crew comes in. You’ll be able to take four people out of a possible pool of ten players, ranging from a scientific researcher to a blogger (we all know who’s the first we’re letting die of space dysentery!). Depending on their skills and health, they can interact with each other and objects you find to potentially help you. This is important because Suika describes TLJH as a kind of reverse RPG: you start out strong but get weaker and weaker the longer you play. The story is that your ship suffered a malfunction during what was supposed to be a short test run, and now you have to find your way back to Earth. You have some less-than-professional people because, well, NASA’s done it themselves to help raise funds or gain PR. In fact, one of the characters you may have is directly responsible for the bit of hardware that malfunctioned, so obviously other people on the ship don’t like him at the start.
This is just the start of your moral quandaries. Slavery is a big one. You can find princesses and diplomats and sell them into slavery to help raise funds to get you home. There’s also an alien race of slavers who will aggressively attack you unless you sell them one of your crew (good-bye Ms. Blogger!).
These aren’t flat characters though. Even with rough and rushed dialogue (text only), I could see how each character had their own personality. For example, the savant can do almost everything, but he’ll mention that, constantly, so he’s kind of annoying. There’s also a linguist that shares the same name as Suika’s wife, and knowing that now makes me wonder if I could not only put a fellow linguist in harm’s way but also the game designer’s wife.
Again, combat won’t be your main way to move through the game. You need to use gates to move through the galaxy, and these are inhabited by aliens who have love/hate relationships with each other. Be prepared to act as some kind of go-between to fix situations and learn more about the culture of the game characters.
A Future Home
Your journey home isn’t just dialogue based, which might be kind of a disappointment. I saw a little ground and space exploration/combat but it was nothing really to write home about. Without voice acting, the game did feel slightly dated and flat. That being said, the last space exploration game I played was oozing personality and had interesting enough combat, but I quit it because it lacked moral issues that were viscerally present in my adventure but the game really didn’t give me a chance to interact with them in a meaningful way. As selling someone into slavery could come back and bite you in the butt, I’m cautiously hoping that some hands-on time with the game, rather than a dev-lead demo, could reveal some fun play.
This isn’t just wishing for success in general though. Suika’s team experimented with making bridge scenes available in VR. As the game isn’t meant for walking around, there was a lot of “white space” that could no longer be hidden. Suika says that, if the game were to do well enough, they could build a sort of spin-off that would focus on the bridge scenes, which really sounds exciting. VR at E3 this year was mostly combat based, so having something a bit different from a developer that is also interested in experimenting could prove interesting. That’s far in the future though, so we’ll have to wait until the end of 2016 to see if The Long Journey Home has enough going on to warrant a spin-off.Related: daedalic, daedalic entertainment, long journey home, space exploration game, the long journey home, tljh