Eastward is an indie title coming from Chinese developer Pixpil, distributed by Chucklefish. This action role-playing game features a rich, detailed pixel art style as the background for its whimsical story.
The game introduces us to the world of the near future, decimated by a plague known as ‘the MIASMA’. Human population is rapidly declining, with society thrown into chaos and on the brink of collapse. The pockets of survivors have mostly relocated underground, forming a sprawling subterranean society.
You play as a miner called John and a young girl called Sam, who are banished from the town of Potcrock Isle relatively early into the game for attempting to explore the outside world. The duo set off via train to various other submerged cities and towns, encountering a cast of colorful characters across the roughly 20-hour campaign. The plot is winding, full of twists and turns that we would not want to spoil here! While it did keep us engaged throughout, it did leave a little to be desired in the writing department, with some sections dragging on for far too long.
The environments are beautiful and vary between quaint towns, extensive cities and mysterious dungeons. The art style absolutely shines with lighting being a key factor in achieving the desired ambience for each location. The most impressive aspect of the world is the sheer level of details that has been implemented, with each community feeling full lived-in as a result! There is the ability to interact with NPCs and hearing their stories helps to flesh out the universe that Eastward does a good job in building.
In terms of gameplay, Eastward keeps it simple but effective. You’ll encounter a variety of enemies such as mutated insects, mechanical horrors and undead adversaries. To overcome these foes, John mostly does the fighting with an array of creative weaponry, like his iconic and trusty frying pan. Also wielding flamethrowers, bombs and guns, John handles the bulk of the combat while Sam provides a supportive assist. These supportive options include protecting John with an energy bubble or healing him in difficult fights. There are bosses here too, which will require careful, tactical switches between the two characters to beat.
Outside of combat, you’ll encounter relatively simple puzzles which do serve to break up the game but we couldn’t help wishing there was more depth and difficulty to them at times. You can also cook meals with ingredients you’ll gather while on your quest. It reminded us a lot of the cooking in Breath of the Wild, since you add your own custom ingredients to grant you various bonuses in fights.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect to Eastward is that there is actually a game within a game! Titled ‘Earth Born’, after John purchases an old school game cartridge in the early part of the story, you will be able to fire it up on televisions found scattered throughout the world.
Earth Born is a full blown dungeon crawler inspired by classic titles like The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest and Earthbound. You are tasked with guiding a hero to defeat a demon king who occupies a castle in the center of the map, recruiting other party members and leveling up your team along the way. The graphics reminded us of the first Pokémon games, from the camera perspective to the layout of towns and buildings. John and Sam can find something called ‘pixballs’ throughout the world of Eastward, which can be utilized within Earth Born to give your party of heroes additional useful items (in real game, of course, not in game game).
The sound design deserves some praise here too, as each locale features a distinct soundtrack that sets the mood incredibly well every time. This is no surprise, since the audio was composed by Joel Corelitz, the man behind games like Death Stranding!
Spending time with John and Sam was a joy, even though the game often loses momentum through the many slow narrative sections you’ll encounter. The puzzles break up the combat sections in a satisfying way but do become slightly repetitive and easy to solve. When you buy Eastward, you’re actually getting two games because Earth Born is a fully-fledged experience in its own right. Despite taking us around 20 hours to complete, there should easily be enough content here to push your hours over 30, offering incredible value for money. Even with some of the pacing issues and simplistic puzzles, Eastward is a massively enjoyable adventure and we loved helping the dynamic duo on their quest to see the sunlight!
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