Wednesday, January 2, 2019

First thoughts: My Time at Portia (game)

I started My Time at Portia a bit too late to consider it for my "2018 Game Recommendations" post, but I somehow managed to rack up 15 hours of playtime in the past few days, so I figured I'd write up a quick post about it.

This is another one I bought in an effort to find something that hits the same spot for me as Stardew Valley, and I think it's come close (with a few caveats), closer even than Cattails. It's still an early access game, but from what I've seen, it's pretty stable and most of the content appears to be there. The voice acting is the only area where things are noticeably still missing - many characters are missing at least a few voiced lines, and some have no voiced lines, just subtitles. (Edit on 1/24/19 - This article may explain why, even after the game's official full release, it's still missing a lot of its voice acting. Oof. Here's hoping all the voice actors are paid what they're owed ASAP.)

Based on what I've played so far, you can do many of the same activities in My Time at Portia that you can do in Stardew Valley, and then some, although the balance of activities is very different. There are lots of villagers to befriend and potentially marry, and you can complete missions for fellow villagers in order to earn money and stronger relationships. You can grow crops (in tiny little planter boxes - this is not a farming game), build items, raise farm animals, go mining, go fishing, chop down trees, etc. There's world lore for you to gradually learn about - this is actually a post-apocalyptic world where technology almost led to the destruction of everything. Just as Stardew Valley asks you to choose between working towards rebuilding the community center or teaming up with Joja Mart, in My Time at Portia it seems you have a choice between turning some of your mining efforts over to the church or to the scientists at the Research Center (or maybe you can mix it up a bit - I honestly haven't tried that yet).

There are two glaring issues so far, and they're the main reason I'm not entirely sure whether I enjoy this game or not: the Assembly Station mechanics, and the fact that you can't progress without finding half a dozen things you need to track down, build, or do.

As many activities as My Time at Portia has, what the game boils down to is basically crafting and item collecting. You collect items so that you can use them to make things, which you can in turn use to make more things. For example, in order to build a Dee-dee Transport (a little three-wheeled vehicle), you need six different items. In order to make those items (I was only able to find one of them while mining/foraging), you need a Level 2 Worktable, a Furnace, and a Skiver. All of these things must be built (and, in the case of the Worktable, paid for), and all of them require a lot of item collection. You may not always know what items are about to become necessary until they suddenly are. Too bad you have a limited inventory, increasing your inventory costs money that's difficult for your newbie self to earn quickly, and building boxes to store things at home takes space that could be devoted to the machinery you need in order to build things.

On the plus side, very few of the tasks I've been given in the game have been timed ones. Most of the story-related missions are "complete at your own pace," and the daily missions you can either accept or reject have reasonable time limits as long as you're careful about what you accept. Unfortunately, it can make the game's pacing feel achingly slow.

Crafting and item collection is such a core part of the game that I don't really see that being changed much before the game's completion. One thing I do hope gets tweaked, though, is the Assembly Station mechanics. I like how the Worktable and various machines function - from what I can tell, any time you use them, they have immediate access to all your items, whether they're in boxes scattered across your property or in your personal inventory. The Assembly Station, on the other hand, requires that you not only have the necessary items in your personal inventory, but also that your avatar is actively holding them. It's unnecessarily clunky.

Let's see, what else....

Random things I like:
  • Each friendable/romanceable character has an info screen that keeps track of what sorts of items you've given them and whether they loved them, liked them, or hated them.
  • At least in the area immediately around Portia, enemies don't attack you unless you attack them first. You can literally walk among them, collecting herbs, and none of them will bother you. I suspect things will be different once I finally make it into the Collapsed Wasteland.
  • I don't know if the world actually is huge or just feels huge. But it does feel huge. It's nice seeing new areas become accessible.
  • Mining is repetitive, true, but I kind of like it. You use a scanner to focus on spots of light that indicate you can find loot a certain number of meters into the rock. Then you whack at the stone with your pick until you make it to the loot and keep repeating those steps until it gets late or your character runs out of energy.  
Random things I'm not fond of:
  • The enemies in the area directly around Portia are adorable. And you whack them with your weapons like they're piñatas. I've killed so many adorable lamas.
  • It's weird that one of the ways you can get to know people is by fighting them. And also by playing "Rock Paper Scissors" against them, but somehow that doesn't bother me as much as the sparring.
  • I have no idea what I'm doing when I fight things. I just click them left mouse button until I win, with occasional running around when the animal or person I'm fighting manages to fight back. This is probably why it's taking me forever to get approved to go into the Collapsed Wasteland.
Things I just want to mention:
  • If you pick up a baby animal, the adult animals will try to kill you. They'll do it slowly enough that you can fix your mistake, put the baby down, and make a run for it, but it's still a shock. 
  • Several of the friendable characters are animals. One of them is a bear in a blue bathrobe.

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