Leaving home for the first time is never an easy experience. It tends to coincide with a dramatic new life endeavor, such as entering college or venturing to a strange city. That first departure comes with no shortage of emotions: excitement, anxiety, worry, doubt. Loved ones express concern, breaking your confidence in the path you are embarking on.
Leaving Lyndow, a first-person exploration adventure game, captures the final day before such a journey. You play as Clara, who has graduated with honors and achieved her dream of becoming a member of the Guild of Maritime Exploration, as she goes through her last day at her childhood home and prepares to set sail on a life-threatening expedition.
Game? Not Quite.
Leaving Lyndow was borne from the development of the first full game from Eastshade Studios, titled Eastshade. As they began to get deeper into their work on Eastshade, the team started to feel the pressure of its upcoming release.
Being a newly-formed independent studio meant they had no experience shipping something so sizable. Not wanting to ruin their one chance at shipping the game successfully, they began work on Leaving Lyndow. Developing and publishing the bite-sized experience offered them the opportunity to undertake the process without putting the entire Eastshade project on the line. Additionally, it gave them a platform through which to market their work, granting a chance at more financial backing.
The game’s background is vital in providing the proper lens through which to examine Leaving Lyndow. It is not meant to be an expansive experience. Even when taking the time to thoroughly explore the minutiae of the world’s environments, the game takes no more than an hour to complete. There are only a handful of conversations to complete as Clara says her goodbyes. A few small puzzles are present to show a sample of what is to come in Eastshade, placed in a limited number of explorable environments, including Clara’s house and the local tea house.
If Leaving Lyndow is to be judged, it should be as a demo and nothing more.
Environmental Storytelling to Set Sail to
Although there are only a few of them, the environments are certainly the highlight of the entire experience. While I did find the character models to be unsettling and a bit ugly, the world itself was beautiful and begged to be explored. Densely populated with details about the village itself and Clara’s past, much of the storytelling is done through notes scattered throughout the world. These tend to offer some background before entering into complicated conversations with the people of the village.
For instance, the emotion present in your exchange with Clara’s uncle would be confusing if you hadn’t found an angry letter he’d written to Clara’s mother, disparaging her choice to let Clara join the Guild following her father’s death on a similar expedition. Similarly, an encounter with an old childhood friend has the undertones of a romantic interest, but a letter in Clara’s bedroom provides greater insight into his feelings for her and the differences between them that destroyed any chance of a long-term relationship.
The puzzles within the game, all side missions compared to the main task of saying your goodbyes, are also based in different environmental features. One seemingly simple stone structure in a wooded area turns out to play musical notes when hit, reminding Clara of an old tune her father had taught her. These were enjoyable enough detours, but would have been throwaway features without the added narrative elements.
Even so, the puzzles were by far the weakest part of the Eastshade Studio’s showcase. Although I understand they had to prioritize some features over others, if puzzles are going to be a more integral part of Eastshade, they’ve missed an opportunity to show off their take on first-person exploration puzzles. Depending on what Eastshade becomes, this could have been a serious misstep.
Departure Dialogue: Depth Over Duration
While there are interactions with other characters within the world, these dialogues are not remarkably lengthy. Again, the game doesn’t really have the time to give in-depth biographies of the characters and their pasts. To its credit, Leaving Lyndow doesn’t try to, and leaves past events to the environmental clues. However, what the conversations lack in duration, they make up for in depth.
Having lived on the same island her entire life, Clara’s connections to her fellow islanders are rich and intense, giving each of her goodbyes a sense of gravity. Though you may only spend two minutes speaking to your friend Jakab in the tea house, the affection and admiration he feels towards Clara is readily perceivable. Leaving Lyndow also features dialogue options, giving you two possible ways to react to Jakab’s warmth.
Of course, length restrictions mean that your choice has no significant effect on your gameplay experience: there isn’t enough time to explore the effects of such decisions. However, choosing your final interactions with those closest to you is so emotionally engaging that you forget how little time you’ve spent walking in Clara’s shoes. I felt guilty for leaving my mother behind, ashamed under the hateful eyes of my uncle.
Perhaps the greatest part of Leaving Lyndow came not just from the connections I felt with the other members of my village, but with Clara herself. As you reassure your family members on the certainty of her return, you are also comforting yourself, knowing that your chosen path is filled with more than a few risks. There are no guarantees you’ll return home, and the weight of your decision can be felt from the minute you enter Clara’s body. It’s Leaving Lyndow‘s ability to deliver those feelings of loss and adventure in the an incredibly short time frame that makes it a worthwhile playthrough.
Is Leaving Lyndow going to be a life-changing indie darling we’ll all be buzzing about in the months to come? No. Will I go back and play it again in the future? Probably not.
However, after the 45 minutes I spent in the Eastshade universe, I became genuinely excited for the work to come from Eastshade Studios. Although I found problems with the character models, the environments themselves were stunning, and I can’t wait to see how they could be a part of the greater universe within Eastshade. The amount of storytelling they were able to pack in to such a short experience without overwhelming the player was remarkable and the narrative they crafted was honest and relatable.
I was brought back to my first time leaving home, the thrills and sorrows that come with new adventures. To be transported to another moment in my life because of this narrative in what is essentially a demo was surprising and refreshing. If Eastshade is able to successfully build upon the strong foundation of Leaving Lyndow, Eastshade Studios will certainly make quite the splash on the exploration scene.