Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim is a crafting and exploration action/adventure that follows the young Viking, Tyrim, on his journey to find his village’s missing warriors, among them, his father.
The player begins on Tyrim’s home island, where the tutorial is presented much like how the rest of the game unfolds: nonlinear. There are villagers spread around the island, and though hints are given, the player is expected to explore all of the small quests at their leisure, rather than follow a strict storyline pattern. Even the backstory is semi-optional, and can be uncovered only if the player finds and reads the stone relics that are placed around the island. By giving this open-ended narrative, the developers are able to immediately throw the player into an exploration-based experience. The art has a cel-shaded, cartoony look, and adds a good amount of whimsy to the adventure. Other than the explorative feel, the other big element is gathering blueprints and raw materials to create necessary items. The player is not given an inventory, but is required to craft items as the need arises. Once the blueprint for a raft (and eventually, a ship) is found, you can leave the island and explore the map in any order you please. The map is littered with small and large islands, and the ones with the larger plot points are marked on the map as question marks until they are discovered.
It would be amiss to not draw the parallels to Wind Waker, which has a similar environment, element of travel, and an almost identical art style. In the Kickstarter campaign, the developers deemed the game “Wind Waker meets Dark Souls,” though the connection to Dark Souls is much more limited. However, one of the signatures of any Zelda game is a massive inventory and puzzles that require the player to utilize the myriad of found items in order to be solved. While one could argue that Cornerstone has an inventory of sorts, with a menu of all the blueprints that Tyrim has collected, Tyrim can only hold a few things at a time on his character, so most of the time when these items are needed, they must be built from scratch, which takes time and resources. This becomes a challenge, for instance, when the player is holding a torch, and an enemy comes around the corner. Instead of popping an axe or sword out of your inventory, you have to make sure that you have enough wood and stone to build a weapon, and then wait while Tyrim crafts it. While this crafting process only takes five to ten seconds, that time that the player is vulnerable can be precious in combat. When the player defeats the enemy, they then have to decide whether they want to continue with a torch, or switch instead to a sword, as the one not chosen must be left behind due to Tyrim’s holding capacity. This, coupled with the fact if Tyrim is hit for any substantial amount of damage, he falls down, ragdoll-style, for a few seconds and drops the items he was holding. The crafting element and the lack of inventory space presents the unique challenge of finding the crafting resources (wood, fuel, wool, and stone) and anticipating what items would be necessary for the various goals. The player can also avoid being taken by surprise by enemies by implementing the “sneak” function, which not only puts Tyrim in a crouching, less-detectable position, but also allows you to see enemies through walls.
The dialogue in Cornerstone is one of its most delightful elements.
Every character is filled with a snarky wit, especially Tyrim. Though the setting is based on the Vikings and their culture, a lot of modern-day colloquial vernacular is used, such as when an older character accuses Tyrim of being a “young hipster,” or when one of the quests leads to finding a book that is completely comprised of fish taco recipes (including gems like “fish taco soup” or “fishless beef and fish tacos.”) Cornerstone also pokes fun at itself and other video game quirks, which almost breaks the fourth wall on a few occasions and gives a playful feel.
An issue arises with the animation and physical gameplay. Cornerstone has so much potential, and could be a genuinely fun exploration game, but the glitches are so prevalent that it becomes increasingly frustrating to play, and takes the joy out of discovering the new and fun elements of the story. In a typical exploration game, a player is supposed to be figuring out puzzles and finding new areas, and if what the player is trying isn’t working, then they may move on to another method of getting past that spot. When it’s a glitchy exploration game, you don’t know whether, for instance, you’re supposed to be able to reach a particular ledge, or if the platforming physics just weren’t developed enough. More time ends up being devoted to working your way around a glitch or an invisible wall than actually discovering the world. The animation leaves something to be desired, with very limited facial expression and animation, and little to no idle animations for Tyrim or the NPCs. Though there're some strong ideas behind things, the technology just doesn’t back it up, and the fun, quirky game ends up falling flat because of it.
As a big fan of discovery and exploration in video games, I was excited to see what the developers had in store for Cornerstone: Song of Tyrim. Though the framework and the “soul” is there, it seems that they needed to work a little more on clearing up the mechanics. It appears that the technology just couldn’t carry the weight of the scope and vision that the developers had. Perhaps a few more months of development could have avoided this disappointing turnout, but maybe it will feature some post-development updates that can bring this element up to par.
Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim has some really good bones and potential, and would be an interesting take on an open world adventure game with a fun crafting element, but until the graphics and bugs are taken care of, it’ll be hard for the player to fully appreciate this whimsical, hilarious Viking's tale.