Saturday, 22 April 2017 00:00

The Wild Eternal Review

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Another existence full of loss

Thick fog blankets the landscape like an ethereal shroud, obfuscating the forest, with only the highest peaks of mountains to serve as landmarks. The grass sways, rustling underfoot, and streams bubble and churn as though they are veins of magic fueling the haunting, otherworldly atmosphere of The Wild Eternal.  Players travel back in time to the early 1600s and fill the shoes of an old woman named Ananta, a troubled soul who longs to escape the sorrows of her traumatic life and prevent the cycle of reincarnation from plunging her into another existence full of loss. The beautiful, surreal world of a cartoonish Himalayan Mountain landscape waits, for those who are brave enough to willingly lose themselves in the fog.

"Not all those who wander are lost." – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

That quote, an excerpt from the poem All that is gold does not glitter, has borne countless inspirational memes over the last decade, in various alternate versions, but with clear, unifying message: "lost" is a subjectively defined — many people know the restless lure of wanderlust. The Wild Eternal capitalizes upon that instinct, as do most walking-simulator titles, but this debut effort from developer Ilsanjo goes one step further to also call into question not only the definitions of "lost," but also the notion of heartache, loneliness, and even the cycle of rebirth. "What does it mean to be lost in a game world," posed co-creator Casey Goodrow in an interview with Zack Zweizen. [1] "How can we allow the player to be lost but still have an engaging moment to moment experience?" Our main character begins her journey in a state that is definitely "extremely lost," in many ways – lost between lives, between worlds, somewhere between the pain of mourning and the joy of a new beginning.

The Wild Eternal steps forward prepared to challenge players to think about these topics while packaging the experience in a stunning, immersive environment that sells itself on the quest in the spectacular views alone. Challenges involve puzzles, some dangerous wildlife, and a frustrating tendency towards losing yourself in the fog, but this title manages to never stray into the realm of fruitless exploration simply because the travel is so enjoyable. Instead, this first-person narrative about Ananta and her desire to sleep for eternity is one full of unusual characters, mysticism, and engaging conversations. I was surprised that The Wild Eternal features full voice acting, and even though the characters aren't speaking in English – or any true language, from what I can tell – their conversations come to life in vibrant ways thanks to the skill of the cast. The open world encourages players to go at their pace, to forge ahead into the unknown in whatever pattern they see fit. There are objectives, such as finding tributes for sacred shrines, or tears to unlock doorways to new locations, but the underlying point of the gameplay is to make your path in the in-between.

A demigod serves as a spirit guide and confidante for Ananta, and he is full of both wisdom and vague trickery. Over 50,000 years old, this being tells our protagonist that he is the Avatar of Dreams. In practical terms, he provides the simple, brief tutorial at the beginning of the game, and outlines methods for expanding Ananta's abilities. In an amusing twist, Ananta is regaining attributes of her youth, escaping the crippling, debilitating nature of her advanced years by unlocking blessings at shrines scattered around the world [EN: Howl’s Moving Castle]. Players can choose which attributes they want to prioritize – I rushed the abilities to sprint and safely descend cliffs, for example – but as the journey continues, more options become available. Whether it's the ability the decipher the strange language carved into monuments and doors, or to feed animals the delicious-looking fruit that Ananta collects along the way, there's a lot of variety in the choices.

The Mechanics of Eternity

In The Wild Eternal, the interface and mechanics are simple and intuitive: a keyboard and mouse are all that you need to get started, but there is full controller support for those who prefer that route. The dialog conversations are fully captioned, which is crucial, given the non-existent language used by the characters. As Ananta unlocks abilities, she slowly loses her limited mobility and can sprint, jump, climb, and carry items above and beyond what she could likely do in her youth as a human woman.

I did struggle with the in-game navigation, though this was a little less frustrating once I discovered a compass discarded on the ground. The compass can be attuned to waypoints within the world and consists of little orbs that roll around as the character turns. The inventory is limited, and though it can be increased through the purchase of a blessing, I didn't find this constraint to be problematic, even once I started to use my fruit not only to regain my stamina but also to feed local wildlife and temporarily gain their friendship.

The Wild Eternal takes roughly six-to-nine hours to defeat, depending on how free your exploration style is – and on your ability to avoid getting lost, like I often did – which makes it a decent length as a walking sim. There were a few instances where some lag hindered my progression, but these were mild, and not frequent enough to diminish my enjoyment. There is an automatic save feature that activates whenever Ananta is "safe," which is the vast majority of the time, though startled wildlife in the area can be an indicator of danger lurking in the bushes nearby, ready to pounce in a flurry of stripes and claws.

It is a spellbinding world, one that feels like a painting come to life, spread out before the player in an array of earthy splendor. I was immediately captivated by the graphics of The Wild Eternal, which blends cartoonish styles similar to World of Warcraft with nature imagery that transcends gaming genres. The accompanying soundtrack summons visions of yoga studios and meditation retreats, creating an ambiance that is tranquil and thought-provoking – at least for players who have dabbled in such ‘mindful’ pursuits, I would venture. As someone who feels entirely at home in a New-Age shop full of statues of Hindu deities, Chakra crystals, and potent incense, I may have had the advantage of feeling right at home in the spiritual world that The Wild Eternal creates. However, rest assured that fans of walking simulators, relaxing exploration titles, and captivating scenery have all the experience required to appreciate The Wild Eternal for the gem that it is.

Sources: [1] Zweizen, Zack.


The Verdict

The Wild Eternal relies on the beauty of the landscape and its immersive environment to tempt players back into its world, as the experience won't differ much during a second play-through. However, it is a touching, meaningful tale the first time through, and the Himalayan wild has much to teach players about the splendor of nature, the value of life experiences, and the wisdom that can be gained from quiet reflection. The challenges are mild, and there is little to fear in the various landscapes within this adventure, but those who embark on the journey can expect to be greeted with beauty, mysticism, and a healthy dose of customizable abilities. The Wild Eternal might be an acquired taste for some players, given its spiritual undertones and mystical themes, but the witty dialog and gripping plot combine with the scenic milieus to make The Wild Eternal a solid recommendation for fans of the genre.

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Lori May

Lori is an avid video game enthusiast who enjoys blending her love of gaming with her work as a writer. She first cut her teeth back on the NES and Sega Genesis systems, and continues to be a Retro-gaming advocate with a soft spot for Point-&-Click Adventures. She's also a Survival Horror and Psychological Horror game collector, when she isn't coercing friends into any number of Co-Op multiplayer titles. If she isn't gaming you can find her working as a journalist and social media consultant, or perhaps dabbling in video game design among other hobby-with-big-dreams endeavors. Born in the heart of the Midwest, she's currently living in Colorado, where she prefers to avoid skiing, snowboarding, and other Mile High City attractions.