The leap home
You have one destination, but there are many paths to follow. Every stop risks death for yourself and your crew, yet if you don’t collect resources, death is a certainty. Past choices haunt you. Did you choose the right ship, the best crew? Should you have helped that alien when you had the chance? Whatever the consequences of your decisions, you can’t go back now. There’s only forward, and the hope that the next leap will be the leap home.
Something Old, Something New
The Long Journey Home (TLJH) Home is a roguelike space-exploration title with elements of resource management, space combat, and diplomacy. If you’ve played many space exploration games, TLJH might feel familiar to you. It upcycles core components of other titles in the genre, repackaging them into a single unit. For example, the premise, story arc, and resource management are similar to Mi-Clos Studio’s Out There. In Out There, the universe is static, though, and there’s only one crewman. TLJH picks up elements from Subset Game’s FTL: Faster Than Light in this respect, incorporating crew selection and management, along with randomly-generated universes and combat. Gamers who remember Atari’s Lunar Lander will experience pangs of nostalgia, along with a familiar burning frustration, when trying to navigate TLJH’s landing pod.
Despite similarities to other titles, TLJH isn’t a slavish remake. Unique, well-written characters and a diverse narrative entices the player to emotionally invest in the storyline. Far from tropish cardboard cutouts, the crew choices are balanced and offer options that stand outside convention without being in-your-face about it. The hardcore engineer and mission planner are women, and another character is both married and gay. These inclusions don’t feel like a forced attempt at political correctness. Rather, it enhances their humanity because they are more than Standard Hero or Standard Hot Badass Female; they’re people with whom you can see yourself sharing a pint, if you lived in their universe.
Adding layers of replayability and believability, the personalities and skills of the crew impact the storyline and outcome of events. You have to know your team, to utilize their abilities effectively. Some teams are stronger than others, and the only way to figure out the best combination is through experimentation.
Grab a Notebook
It is useful to have a notebook handy when playing TLJH: it does not operate in easy mode, even in the beginning. Since you don’t gain power with each run, your only weapon is knowledge; keeping thorough notes improves the odds of success.
Several alien races populate the universe, and most will not waste their day idly chatting with lost explorers. Although there are extensive dialogue trees for each encounter, you can’t access all of them before the creature with whom you’re speaking tires of you. As a gamer that will read everything a character has to say, I found this disappointing. It does, however, encourage replay.
Needed: Great Pilots
It is doubtful that anyone will accuse TLJH of being too easy. Like many roguelike games, it is more of a wandering death labyrinth than an environment that invites exploration. But, it isn’t just the many fatal scenarios that give TLJH it’s challenge — it’s the minigames.
Landing, or assuming an orbit around a new planet requires skill, timing, and patience. Factors, like gravity and wind, play a role in the difficulty of each procedure, and you must learn to make fast-paced adjustments to avoid crashing or burning too much fuel. An in-game tooltip hints that using a controller may be easier than mouse and keyboard for flying. Perhaps this should be a requirement rather than a suggestion, because the difference between the two is absurd.
When using the mouse and keyboard for flying, it took twenty irritating, disheartening minutes to obtain orbit around Mars in the tutorial area. After wasting half my fuel, I was ready to rage-quit. I switched to a controller and grabbed orbit on the first try. This is unfortunate for those who are limited to (or prefer) keyboard only. Resources are dear, and wasting them on fumbles only adds to the overall difficulty.
TLJH’s skill challenges don’t enhance the overall enjoyability of the title. If anything, they’re a detriment. A good run can be wiped out with a single bad landing or battle, and though the game saves, it only saves progress. Death means starting over from the beginning. You aren’t eased into the skills necessary to master the challenges, either. This sets a higher entry point for players to achieve any level of success, which may drive some to give up in frustration.
Explore, But Not Too Much
Players excited by procedurally-generated universes and planetary exploration might not find everything they want in TLJH. Although the galaxies are breathtakingly beautiful and wild vistas on strange planets excitingly alien, there isn’t much to see or do once you’re on a planet. You land, collect your resources from a limited area on a 2D plane, and then return to your ship. Hopefuls for a piece that delivered on the promise of No Man’s Sky won’t find it in TLJH. It’s lovely, but planetary visits are only a tiny, limited portion of the gameplay.
What The Long Journey Home lacks in originality in its gameplay, it makes up for with realism in its characters and extensive narrative. It draws the player into a harsh, unforgiving universe that is as strange as it is beautiful. Wit, skill, and determination are needed to survive, but even with these, success is not guaranteed. Gamers who enjoy a challenge and the thrill of the unknown will get the most out of The Long Journey Home.