As we go through the final stretch of 2020, I can’t help but look back and reflect on what an incredibly tumultuous year it’s been. For so many of us, life has been turned upside-down, with very few signs of returning to normal anytime soon. Fear and anger permeate much of the news and our social circles, so much so that it can often be very difficult to avoid it. As a result of being bogged down by the negativity around us, many feel tired. We desperately need a respite from the darkness in the world, and to find hope in a period of uncertainty, which leads some of us to turn to video games to find that respite. One game in particular has been of immense help for me during this unpredictable year.
I found Eastshade while browsing the Steam store last year, and was attracted by the bright colors and natural landscape in which it is set. The game’s description had me even more intrigued: “You are a traveling painter, exploring the island of Eastshade. Capture the world on canvas using your artist’s easel. Talk to the inhabitants to learn about their lives. Make friends to help those in need. Visit cities, scale summits, unearth mysteries, and discover forgotten places!”
Reading the reviews and watching the trailers finally sealed the deal for me, and cemented the idea that Eastshade was something that I had been longing to find for quite some time: a game set in nature that encouraged the player to slow down and enjoy themselves, rather than racing to its climax with a horde of enemies they had to defeat. Eastshade is peaceful, and although there is a main plot and side quests to complete, there is no race against the clock or pressure to complete the game in its entirety. You are free to wander and explore the eponymous island at your own leisure, a fine contrast to the attitudes and demands of the real world.
In the story, you play an artist who has travelled to the island of Eastshade to fulfill the last request from your dying mother. She asks you to visit and paint several landmarks that she visited when she was younger, in the hopes that the journey will change your life for the better, just as it did for her. Your journey to reach Eastshade falls awry when the boat you are travelling on capsizes near the coast, and you awaken later after being saved from drowning. From there, the island gradually opens up to you as you come across the small village of Lyndow and nearby landmarks. A variety of anthropomorphic animals—such as chimpanzees, owls, deer, and bears—populate this fantastical world, and the characters you interact with are as diverse and fascinating as its environment, each with their own individual quirks and stories to share.
Aside from exploring Eastshade from one side to the other, you can gather materials and use them to craft essential tools for your journey, such as canvases to paint on, which you can then keep or sell to others, or rafts and other essential items that can be used to make traveling easier than it is at the beginning of the game. These same materials can also be sold to other characters in exchange for currency, which you can use to buy teas to keep your body warm during the cold night, or even a coat to prevent frostbite should you decide to travel after the sun sets. There are evident risks to travelling on Eastshade to those who do so unprepared, but they are worth the potential beauty and mystery waiting to be uncovered by you.
Playing through Eastshade for the first time felt like I was visiting a locale that had been on my bucket list for a long time. The bright colors give you a sense of warmth and nostalgia, and the denizens prove friendly, if not eccentric. Documents and rumors wait for you to uncover them should you dig deeper into the game’s lore, but you are by no means obligated to seek them out and unveil their secrets. If all you want to do is find the landmarks mentioned by your late mother and not invest any more into your gameplay beyond that, then Eastshade offers you that. If you want to uncover each landmark from one end of the map to the other, or paint anything that catches your eye, or sell your commissions, then Eastshade offers that as well.
What seemed like a small indie game when I first purchased it on impulse ended up becoming much bigger than I had ever anticipated, and it’s certainly something I don’t regret getting. I’ve played Eastshade on and off since then, and I find that there’s still so much to this game that I haven’t uncovered yet. I’m excited to see since I first played Eastshade that it has since been released on both the PS4 and Xbox One online stores, increasing the availability for players to give this unique game a chance.
I find that Eastshade gave me the space I needed to not only relax when recovering from a stressful day, but to actually experience true rest. As someone who appreciates nature as one of God’s most precious gifts for mankind, I can’t help but see Eastshade as a haven for those who are weary from the world’s troubles and need a place to slow down, smell the roses, and just take it easy for a while. The future ahead is still dark and uncertain, and no doubt we’ll continue to feel weary as those days continue to loom. What a blessing, however, to play this game, or any game, that gives you the chance to experience true rest and rejuvenation when you need it the most. It truly is a wonderful gift to be able to rest in creation—whether in the real world made by God’s hands, or in a fictional one conceived from someone’s craft and imagination.