I've died to countless creatures in many, many games, but this is the first time I've been bested by a huge raven chucking exploding ice balls.
I barely have time to admire its feathery beauty before I go down to its frigid arsenal.
I've crafted the best gear I can, but still feel like easy prey to this, Smoke and Sacrifice's second mini-boss.
The first, an oversized wild boar which either charges at you, or fires a deadly spray of quills, fell fairly easily once I'd worked out the strategy. But the raven? It is the early bird and I am the worm.
In Smoke and Sacrifice you play as Sachi, a mother who is forced by her tribe to sacrifice her first-born so that the Sun Tree keeps shining. Things quickly turn south, and Sachi finds herself in the underworld with nought but a few mysterious tips from the realm's esoteric and often creepy inhabitants.
A survival game, it twists together elements of Don't Starve and Dark Souls, adds a touch of Dark Crystal and a whole lot of its own inspiration. There are hundreds of items to craft, from weapons and armour through to bombs, food, buffs and traps. Many items including weapons and armour degrade over time, so you'll need to keep an eye on their health, not just your own, and repair them before they break and are gone forever.
Initially this gives rise to mild panic: 'Argh my snow shoes are about to expire and I'm in the middle of the tundra!' But there comes a moment when everything clicks into place, and you know where to go to farm the materials you need, to complete quests, and to defeat the various creatures which stomp, ooze and trundle across the landscape.
For me, that moment came when I defeated the bomb-chucking raven. If you treat Smoke and Sacrifice like Diablo, you'll quickly be something's lunch, and that brings us back to the Dark Souls reference. You need to learn enemies' attack patterns and understand their weaknesses. The Raven was my Capra Demon; once I'd defeated it I felt I could take on anything.
The game does a great job of giving the player some guidance and direction, but leaves just enough unsaid to both preserve a pervasive sense of mystery, and give the player room to enjoy the game however they like.
At times it feels a bit like a single-player MMO (in a good way). There are quests and NPCs to speak to, but if you like you can just shoot off to a particular zone to grind the materials you need for that sweet new helm (our friend the Raven drops his skull once killed, which together with some other materials makes a particular natty headpiece), or just plain go exploring.
Exploring is especially satisfying because the game, it has to be said, is mesmerisingly beautiful. Everything is hand-painted, and it's obviously a labour of love. It's hard to believe such an expansive, deep and polished game is the first release of a tiny indie studio, Solar Sail Games. It comes across as the work of a far larger team.
Ask the developers what they're most proud of though, and it's the ecosystem. Each creature in the game has its own life, and eats, wanders, fights and even breeds whether the player's there to see it or not. I once helped myself to all the lovely loot that drops from the (respawning) boar boss because it strayed too close to a hive of poisonous wasps.
Co-founder and coder Neil Millstone described how the player can interact with these systems, and experiment to find new results.
"The ecosystem gameplay is (we think) an original concept, and we hope players will have great fun discovering all the different interactions we've hidden in there. Each species of creature in the world interacts with several others and in many cases the player can interfere with that, feeding food to some creatures, breeding others, taming them, and a lot more besides. The feeling we're trying to evoke is of a world which has creepy, sometimes icky things to see if you're in the right place at the right time, and most of the time there will be a way to exploit what you've seen to your advantage, if you can just figure out how."
Most importantly of all, the game is fun, a lot of fun. Whether you're exploring, questing, taming creatures or crafting, everything feels rewarding and worthwhile. The story too needs mentioning, again because you don't often associate this sort of game with a strong narrative. Without going into spoiler territory, there are twists and turns, and it's one hell of a ride.
Overall then, a brilliant game; original, fun and deeply compelling.
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