Overall - 85%
Eastward will be on many shortlists for indie GOTY, and possibly on some main lists as well. If you like what you see, don't hesitate to pick this one up.
After being announced in 2018, Eastward has finally arrived on the PC and Nintendo Switch. Was the wait worth it, or should you look elsewhere for your indie RPG fix? Check out our review and find out.
Eastward begins underground, serving as an introduction for the characters John and Sam. John is a digger; while digging, he finds Sam and seems to have adopted her as his own. John is respected for how good of a digger he is and has some clout. However, some consider Sam to be a pest. After an incident in the mine where John saves someone, Sam is invited to join the school in town. On day one, Sam protects a fellow student and then talks about the outside world in class. No one believes her, but an apparition of Sam appears and brings her to where proof is.
While this is going on, John has to find her beneath the school. While down here, Sam finds the route outside, but John triggers a giant robot and fights it. After earning the victory, John collapses, and the Mayor hears of what happens. Eventually, you are kicked out with another character named Jasper, and you make it to the surface via train. Overall you’ll get about 20-25 hours out of the game.
Combat in Eastward is top-down, similar to something like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or, to a lesser extent, Hades (it is not nearly as fast-paced). You start with a frying pan and find more equipment and weapons as you adventure to the surface. What starts off simple quickly grows in challenge to become something very satisfying. You don’t just control John during combat; Sam joins in too. Sam gets powers as the game goes on and can lock enemies in stasis for a time. It sounds annoying, but trust me it is not. Somehow they make it work to the point I didn’t mind switching between characters.
I’ll give an example of a pretty early puzzle/action sequence that more clearly illustrates the point. During a run through some tunnels, Sam and John end up getting split up. Snake vines littered the path forward for both characters, but a wall separated the two. Using Sam’s power to freeze the snake vines, I could then use John to smack them without worrying about damage. Then, later on, when there was a big box that needed to be pushed; it was John’s turn to lead. John moved the box to block the steam so Sam could get through without issues. Switching was instant and smooth during this whole affair, and it stayed like that for most of the game. Something I usually despise in games ended up being one of its greatest strengths.
Exploration is another massive part of this game. Going off the beaten path will result in more fights and more loot, side quests, and other goodies. Side quests in this game are primarily optional, and can range from basic fetch quests to actual story-based character missions. Oh, and cooking missions; looks of people want you to cook for them. Cooking is enormous in this game, because it is the best way to heal during a fight. You combine ingredients to make something or find a recipe in the world and try it out. It is a bit longer the first time you cook since you watch it, but you can thankfully speed it up later.
Outside of all those side activities and puzzles, there is a mini-RPG all the kids play called Earth Born. It honestly reminds me of the old Dragon Warrior games on the Game Boy. When you are first introduced to the game, you get blown out and told you need to power up. To do this, you have to grind in-game, gain EXP, and find tokens while exploring with Sam and John. The tokens are used at capsule machines to get extra creatures and buffs that you can use in the game. It is mostly optional, but I think the older Game Boy or Super Nintendo JRPG fans will want to check it out.
Now for the bad. I did sadly have a couple of crashes at key points. The game does autosave, but replaying content is never fun, even if it is only five minutes. The start is also prolonged. I’m talking like there were legit times I wondered IF I was actually going to the surface or not. When you get up there, it is excellent, but the journey is long-winded.
Eastward will be on many shortlists for indie GOTY, and possibly on some main lists as well. If you like what you see, don’t hesitate to pick this one up.
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