By Angela Hinck / December 31st, 2014
|Title||Elegy for a Dead World
|Developer||Dejobaan Games and Popcannibal|
|Release Date||December 10, 2014|
Elegy for a Dead World is one of those games that plays with the idea of what a “game” really is. With more experimental and outside-the-box concepts being utilized by small game studios, debate over what elements a video game must incorporate in order to be a “true” game have become more commonplace. Most of you readers can probably think of a game or two that has been central to such a debate you’ve seen at least once on a news website or forum. Without getting too far into that debate, I will say that I enjoy games that take extremely nontraditional approaches to gameplay, which is why I was looking forward to trying out this one. The goal of this game isn’t to fight, or reach checkpoints, or even to explore an open world. The goal is simple and relies completely on the player’s own imagination: write a story.
You aren’t just thrown in front of a word processor and told to write something down. Elegy for a Dead World does provide some framework. You are an explorer who has come across three desolated worlds: Byron, Keats and Shelley. Sound familiar? They should, because each world is named for a famous writer. You can pick the world you want to explore, and, from there, you choose a set of writing prompts to help you record the history of your avatar’s adventures, as well as the history of each lost planet.
It’s a simple premise, but, right off the bat, it’s clear that this is no cheaply-made game of ad-libs. You start off in a really beautiful “main menu” that you can zoom around in by using the arrow keys (or alternatively, the WASD keys). Floating in front of a world’s portal will open up a list of options. You can create a story, read the stories of others, read your previous writings and see if anyone has left your story a commendation (the game’s equivalent of a thumbs-up.)
There are several prompts from which to choose for each world, some more structured than others. Some will have you writing a story from a particular perspective; another will have you filling in the blanks of a poem; others still are grammar exercises for young writers; and, if you prefer to go your own way, there’s the option to go in without a framework to guide you. After choosing your prompt, your character (a non-customizable space explorer) is dropped on the planet’s surface. You can walk forward and back and fly to the top of the screen, but you’re more or less left on a strictly straightforward path. As you progress, you will see small feather pens or arrows. The pens are places where you can access parts of the prompt that correspond with your current position, while the arrows allow you to move to a new part of the setting.
Sound boring? It could have been. After all, I’m not usually one for games that limit your ability to explore to just a handful of predetermined, linear choices. Having said that, though, this setup works really well for this particular game. Stories tend to be linear things, after all, so you have to progress in a straightforward way to fulfill your goal of creating a story. Plus, the environments are absolutely beautiful to look at. They’re incredibly atmospheric and, sometimes, even creepy. The sound effects are wonderful in this regard, too. There’s no music in this game, but there is lots of ambient noise in each environment, and you can also often hear the playable character breathing in their spacesuit. In the main menu, you can hear a bunch of murmuring voices in the background all telling their own stories. It all sets the mood really well.
After you’ve filled in all your prompts as much or as little as you want, you have the option to go back and edit, preview your story in its written form or publish it via Steam Workshop for other players to read. When you read a story (yours or someone else’s), it’s presented in a book-like form with small cut-out images of the setting you were in when you wrote that particular part. Sometimes the small image that is chosen does not really represent the thing you were talking about or the overall mood of the setting itself, which was somewhat disappointing. I wish there were more options for customizing the presentation of your story. There’s also no option to easily export your story to share with friends that don’t also own the game, which is something I would have really liked to have.
That doesn’t take away from reading other players’ work, though. The best part of this game is seeing how other people have interpreted the same material you worked with, and the results range from comedic to serious to frightening. You can’t comment on these stories, but, like I mentioned above, you can leave commendations to let the author know you liked their work. You’re also free to write as many stories for each planet as you like, so you have the freedom to use many prompts to create many different kinds of stories. Over time, though, I could see the existing environments and prompts getting boring for avid players. Could the game benefit from even more areas to explore and more prompts? I think so. Did I feel like it was lacking my first couple of plays? Not really. How quickly you tire of the game’s existing framework will really depend on your personal preferences.
And that’s the game. You explore, you write, you publish your stuff and you read the works of others. You can do the bare minimum to explore the game like I did, which took just a couple of hours; or you can spend your time crafting your story and easily put a lot more time in. There is no standard amount of gameplay time for this title, so the length of your playthrough is all up to you. I’m already sure there are people out there who wouldn’t consider this to be a true “video game” in the traditional sense, but I think many others will embrace the type of gameplay Elegy of a Dead World brings to the table. There’s also a lot of appeal here for many different kinds of players. I graduated from college with a creative writing degree, and I was incredibly inspired by the environments and prompts in the game; and, beyond being a fun creative writing exercise, there is a lot of potential for this game to be used in the classroom to inspire students and walk them through how to craft a story. This game really makes it easy and fun for anyone at all to put together a narrative.
Did I enjoy the game? Absolutely. Is it for everyone? Absolutely not. But, if you’re looking for something different that will get your creative juices flowing, Elegy for a Dead World is something I would urge you to try out. It’s currently available for $15.99 on Steam.
Review Copy Supplied by Publisher.
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