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Palworld has its Pokémon (of the legally distinct variety); Ark has its dinosaurs; Enshrouded is like a third-person action-adventure in a survival game skin; Conan is Conan; Valheim immediately taps into the Viking fantasy; but even after eight or so hours with Inflexion Games’ upcoming survival and crafting adventure Nightingale, it’s not so easy to define its thing.
But let’s start with the fae; in Nightingale, Inflexion – a studio founded by former BioWare bigwig Aaryn Flynn – has conjured up an alternative history of magic and Victoriana that’s at least partially indebted to Susanna Clarke’s sprawling novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Magic in Nightingale’s version of Victorian-era Earth is, thanks to humanity’s early brush with the fae, both real and commonplace, and Nightingale – the pioneering city of magical research and portal travel that gives the game its name – was the pride of mankind until calamity struck and the world was engulfed in a deadly miasma. Some attempted to escape through Nightingale’s portals, but when the network collapsed, they were catapulted into distant fae realms – and you as a player count yourself in this unlucky group known as Realmwalkers – forced to fend for themselves in hostile climes as they seek a way home.
It’s an enticing premise, the kind of gentler gaslight fantasy that video games often overlook in favour of its dirtier, grungier steampunk twin. It’s also a premise that Nightingale, in its opening hours at least, struggles to capitalise on; beyond a slightly off-putting version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Puck, here a little too fond of turgid purple prose, and some striking vistas festooned with fantasy bric-a-brac – an upended galleon here, a gravity defying obelisk there – there’s little that clearly defines Nightingale’s vision early on, and little about its survival and crafting that immediately sets it apart from countless other similarly styled games. Not that there’s anything wrong with its survival fundamentals; Nightingale’s familiar early rhythms of tree punching and shack building, if not especially boundary pushing, are fine – there are even glimmers of some interesting twists, including a slightly strategic building system where placement of items determines their efficiency – and I spent its first few hours merrily picking berries, terrorising deer for their pelts and meat, and having a perfectly pleasant time.13 February 2024 at 5:05 PM #31086
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