Untitled Goose Game, Disco Elysium, and Outer Wilds are among the games to bubble up out of the indie sector this year and capture widespread attention. Each is wonderful in its own way, but none is enchanting or entrancing as Eastshade.
Imagine Skyrim without all that tiresome fighting and faffing about—a Skyrim that centres on the beautiful things in its high fantasy world and asks you only to help people rather than hurting them. Eastshade comes pretty close to realising that dream. You are a painter—not a warrior—coming to the island of Eastshade to commemorate your mother by painting some of her favourite locations.
The premise is melancholic and human, and the simple beauty it evokes pervades the entire adventure. Aside from a few gruff souls, the people of Eastshade are polite and friendly to a fault. The mood is jovial. The island is a genuinely pleasurable place to visit because life there seems so simple and slow.
That inviting atmosphere is just one component of the stunning beauty of this game. Danny Weinbaum and the team at Eastshade Studios have created an environment of jaw-dropping wonderment. The beaches are gorgeous, the town and cities marvellous, and the forests transportive. The framing of viewpoints to create a constant sense of amazement is rare in open-world games, but it is not even necessary in Eastshade. Every scene—every frame—has a quaint, ethereal beauty that you simply bask in.
The soundscape has to be mentioned too. The score is delightfully rustic, but the ambience is what really matters. Close your eyes while the character stands on the shore and you hear waterbirds and the gentle breaking of waves. Do the same in a forest and the soundscape is entirely different. Of course, games excel at recreating environments in this way, but few actively invite you slow down, stop, and actually enjoy the experience of being.
And unlike Skyrim, unlike RUNE II, unlike Minecraft, and unlike so many other games, you are not asked to destroy. You may pick a mushroom here or a root there, but the natural environment remains untrammelled. You never need to knock down a forest to build a house or kill a bunch of wolves at the behest of an NPC. Your actions centre on preservation and recreation. You find places of beauty and paint them. The entire process is simple and elegant, a complete rejection of the violence and grit that makes so many RPGs feel like nothing more than a chore.
Eastshade is about exploring a beautiful place and creating beautiful things. That kind of celebration of humanity’s innate desire to create is heart-wrenching. The emotions that the game calls upon are positive. No competition. No struggle. Just an artist and a paintbrush helping people and bringing them joy. Eastshade is relaxing, transportive, and—yes, that word again—beautiful, and the fact that it has been so widely overlooked this year is an absolute disgrace.