Shores Unknown is an Early Access title for Steam, a love letter for classic RPGs, JRPGs and storytelling in a fantasy world. You play Morten’s role, who leads a band of mercs, with his sister Ren, in a land plagued by the Murk – an ominous fog that never dissipates.
From a third-person perspective, you take on side quests with a decent main plot of corruption and fighting the powers that be, all the while doing classic levelling up and duking it out with a bunch of rogues.
Despite an early hiccup with difficulty, the combat element is user friendly but occasionally bordering on over challenging. There aren’t consumables between battles to worry about, and characters will be revived as long as you win.
Shores Unknown Early Access Review
Is it an art style that’s trending again? I don’t know. However, I love the low-poly artwork in this game. The colours are brilliant, and everything blends in almost effortlessly, like the way the rocks melt into the grass, and then you tramp all over it.
There’s a Zelda B.O.T.W feel to it, and I like it. It doesn’t feel as expansive as the aforementioned; however, when you make a little progress in the area, there will be a shortcut with ‘go to…’ and a left mouse click. It’s fine, you just can’t explore a seamless world in Shores Unknown Early Access. But to make it clear, if Early Access isn’t a giveaway, it’s being developed.
This isn’t the type of game where you will be picking up items willy-nilly. After a skirmish or two, you will automatically loot the items, but you can scavenge about a few things too. There aren’t plants to pick up or secrets as such (well, if they are secrets, I didn’t know about them, hence the definition…).
But there’s plenty to gawp at as you travel from one place to the next with your band of merry men/women. The game starts with the brother and sister; then after the first, horrid battle, you rescue Sigvard – the cavalier mage who had a hand in you venturing out in the first place.
Automatic For The People
Reading about the combat while the game was downloading, I thought it would have a more arcade feel to it as it breaks the rules a bit with the action. It’s still very much turn-based, though a bit more dynamic with characters breaking engagements (fights, not proposals) and taking the brunt of attacks from all angles.
I regret that my experience of combat was the first thing putting me off the game. More on that in a bit. Shores Unknown Early Access is undoubtedly more accessible than most turn-based games, and though it’s not a casual game, it has a broader appeal.
There’s no lore you need to swot on or fill out scrap pieces of paper to work out stats. Everything is automated to a degree. Characters naturally level up and even use their initiative in a battle. It doesn’t mean that Shores Unknown Early Access is easy, you just have less to focus on, and in that regard, it works.
You still get to choose load-outs, armour, accessories and skillsets. Weapons will change, but not the appearance of your party. You also learn special moves that cost more action points with levelling up but do greater damage/have a more powerful effect. For the first time in a while, I embraced the mage – Sigvard’s moves are wicked.
There are two combat approaches: attacking and support (healing, buffs, et al.), and the controls are intuitive. Click on an enemy or scroll using the keyboard; if you select an ally, you can offer support such as healing or if an enemy, attack them and apply debuffs.
You don’t need to move the characters, as it’s turn-based, but they will shuffle all over the place and make things more alive. However, I had a beef with the AI. I’d target an enemy, and before they were dead, my character would shift to another enemy as they saw an ‘opportunity’.
This didn’t work for me at all, and would be the deciding factor of a win. If all party members are downed, it’s game over, but you can immediately repeat the battle. I’d encourage saving when you can, but there’s not the possibility to go a different path to level up before a fight. You can’t grind it.
Combat is frequent, and for the most part, enjoyable, but I nearly bailed at the start. Morten would constantly switch targets, the NPC would do their own thing, and there was an overpowered baldie taking out my players in two moves. This was the second battle. Not long after was a battle where you have to defeat all enemies in five turns, then have five party members fight one enemy in a pub, who killed all five on my first attempt.
A Little More (Welcome) Conversation
In repeat areas, you can speed up the dialogue by holding the right mouse. What’s so good here is speeding up the gaps between talking but not the actual conversation. This is helpful when you replay a section because you didn’t save, again or want to try something different with the dialogue. The essential thing here is it doesn’t skip dialogue, which is excellent.
In many scenarios, the gift of the gab might be able to save you from a fight or give an alternative perspective – perhaps siding with a party member? It doesn’t feel like you’re being dragged through the story as you’re very much part of it. As for the story, it soon materialises that there’s a war between the Northern Inquisition and Southern raiders, and you and your party are stuck in the middle.
There will be numerous NPCs that you won’t get much out of, while others will issue side quests that aren’t timewasting. Dialogue isn’t fully voice acted, so you’ll get short quips and grunts like “What?” and “Right”, especially from sassy Ren, who I want to marry. It was like listening to an episode of The End Of The F****ing World, which is a good thing.
One part, Zelda, another part Fable, Shores Unknown Early Access, borrows from many quality titles but feels to be its own adventure without living in their shadows. In some ways, the visual style is a little like For The King, which I recently reviewed. Though a similar genre, Shores Unknown Early Access is a bit more forgiving except for a few overpowered baddies.
Not Such A Foggy Future
Other than the player AI, my issue was the lack of difficulty settings or alternative paths you can take beforehand to level up or obtain better gear. For a game that is so welcoming in its controls and accessibility, it would have been good to have a bit more leeway with overpowered enemies/under levelled characters, as it spoils the enchantment of the game.
That said, Shores Unknown Early Access is an accomplishment already, and if it weren’t for the fact that there are so many games to cover and that this is still opening up to be a bit of an epic, I’d happily stay longer in this gaming world.
Developers, Vallynne have set out a road map for the game, with the rest of the second chapter coming soon, new quests and side quests and the class system opening up too, as the game scratches the surface with those.
Despite my reservations over the occasional (unfair?) difficulty, Shores Unknown Early Access is undoubtedly one to watch and has a very promising future ahead of it. Go check it out. In the meantime, here’s some gameplay from my first attempt, of about seven, in the second fight of the game.