Set down your teacup and pull up a chair. I’ve a tale to tell you of my recent trip to the island of Eastshade. I played as an artist set out to paint their mother’s favorite views of the island, but who finds so much more. The inspiration meter is the only thing you’ll need to keep an eye on as you raise inspiration by visiting new places, listening to stories or music, reading books, sitting in hot springs, and drinking tea. Tea and music are the only ones that work repeatedly, unfortunately. Otherwise, you can mostly do as you like in Eastshade’s towns and hills.
As an RPG, most of what you will do on the island is quest-y. Eventually, you learn fast travel (that tea tho) but I only resorted to it so I could finish in time to get this written. This is the only game I’ve ever played that I found myself constantly turning down mouse sensitivity so I could better take in my surroundings. To miss the smallest glen in this game seemed like sewing a quilt and leaving off a whole section of patches. Whether or not the glen held anything of interest to your quest journal is not important. It’s a piece of the game meticulously crafted to be experienced.Every hill I crested made me inhale sharply at the sight of the next valley.
There is no throwaway scenery in this game. Even imposing rock faces impervious to climbing (not for my lack of trying) are carved to be visually interesting. Everything in the game is made to be inspiring to the player. You will weep for more canvas and wood so you can paint every waterfall and valley and building and daily eclipses and the gorgeous, very Earth-like moon and every set of people conversing or working or worshipping or just hanging out under the Great Tree.
Which is where I feel like this game undersells itself. Every hill I crested made me inhale sharply at the sight of the next valley. But my character was only inspired by new map areas. A sunrise over the ocean didn’t cut it for them. The eclipse low-lighting glaciers didn’t inspire them. Two children playing with their boats in a canal, an older brother teaching a younger one how to play chess, reuniting a family, or saving someone from untimely vomiting (that last one may not inspire any of you, but it’s a big deal to a nurse) didn’t make them want to paint, either. An hour working in a tea field for ten glowstones (Eashshade’s currency) uses as much inspiration as making a painting. Rather than finding inspiration in the furrowed ground and ordered rows and fellow laborers, they just feel the drain of work.
As a player, every encounter, every conversation, every path and body of water inspired me. At one point, I met two deerfolk hikers in the woods. The older one told me the worst storm Nava had ever seen was coming; he could “feel it in his bones.” Shrugging, the younger apologized for his dramatic grandfather. Then it began to thunderstorm. As a player, this is the best pun I have ever encountered in a game, but my character just got wet.
In an effort to sustain the inspiration meter, I started experimenting with tea. Drinking tea changes the color of your vision, essentially putting a filter on any paintings you might create while under the influence. The really strong stuff they kept locked away in a tea den or sacrificed to the goddess Tiem. But anyone with a kettle and fire and water could throw some flowers, herbs, and mushrooms together to brew up something that could change your outlook. I even met a priestess of Tiem who, knowing I was the “person for the job,” asked me to go poison the tea plants of the opposing tea faction since the tea was not fit for mortals, only for Tiem. While I was high on tea.
I found the tea aspect of the game interesting, but I never felt like I as a player needed it to be inspired. The color palette of the natural world is breathtaking. An outcropping is just as interesting from the opposite side, and even more interesting when you stand atop it to get a better view of your surroundings. Every character—even the ones you can’t interact with—is busy about their own lives and tasks, and happy to be, whether you intersect with them or not.
When I had completed everything I wanted to, I sailed away from the port town of Lyndow, and I cried. I’d had all the adventures there were to be had on the island of Eastshade. It will never be new for me again, but it will always be there with its people and beauty and inspiration—no tea necessary.
So, how is it?
With breathtaking vistas and fleshed out characters, Eastshade is a game I want to visit anew over and over again.