By Drew D. / May 29th, 2020
|Title||Areia: Pathway to Dawn|
Jan 17, 2020
|Genre||Platformer, Adventure, Calming|
I’m always ready to encourage innovation in game development, to experience ambitions or visions that vastly stray from the expected. And I love when terms like creativity and imagination best describe these efforts. Needless to say, it’s tough; it’s an uphill battle to translate a unique vision into an impactful, enjoyable gaming experience. The developers at Gilp Studio attempt this very feat with Areia: Pathway to Dawn. A spiritual experience that attempts to stray from convention to deliver a calming, yet enlightening journey.
At its core, Areia: Pathway to Dawn is an experience more than a game. There is no story to speak of, nor is there any verbal direction offered. Rather, you arrive in a desolate desert, a world consisting only of earth and water. And with that, you begin your journey. Without the use of overt context, Areia draws from Sanskrit concepts as its foundation. Themes such as inner peace, non-materialism, minimalism, and other facets of Sanskrit linked teachings will guide you through this journey, one that perhaps will lead you to a deeper understanding of what is truly of value, in life and to oneself. The purpose of the overall experience is to provide a relaxing, meditative, zero-stress affair, one that offers a peaceful exploration for its own sake, as well as a means for self-exploration as well.
As for this implementation of themes meant to guide us and define the tones of the overall journey, I found Areia’s attempt to be mixed in its execution. The game’s base, this reliance on those beliefs and practices stemming from Sanskrit origins, is mostly implied. Although symbols and text will appear when entering areas for the first time and although philosophical words are imparted at the many meditation points scattered throughout the game, the core concepts of what the developers are trying to achieve here are never explicitly made. You can argue that this was intentional, leaving the derivation of purposes and meanings completely up to its players, however, I found it leaving me with a sense of vagueness instead. I don’t mind the implicit style, but too heavy a dependence on it feels like a deterrent. I’m not asking for the more traditional storytelling elements of a prologue, monologue, or dialogue. However, I do think a preface, something beyond the descriptions found on their Steam store page or their website, about what this game attempts to impart to its players, could have helped introduce them to the journey they are about to dive into and the philosophical depths they may encounter.
Having said all of this, once I understood, then I could appreciate what Areia offers. I am pleased with the simplicity of purpose; to journey for its own sake because that simplicity leaves players open to enjoy without any stress. Explore if you wish, find all of the mediation points only if you want to, and make the trek at your own pace. I also appreciate how well the moods of calmness, quiet, and peace came about once I, myself, became receptive to them. And although the Sanskrit rooted religious references, symbology, and practices might be a source of question for those unfamiliar, its full understanding is not required to enjoy the game throughout. Overall, the calm that results from this simplicity may not be for all, but I found the resulting tones to be a pleasant departure from those more commonly implemented in traditional games.
Matching with the purity of themes and tones is the modesty of gameplay. Gameplay is an easily mastered affair, allowing players to immerse themselves entirely in the journey. Alongside the basics of moving and jumping, you meditate at the appropriate spots and you interact with the environment by forming bridges made of the elements around you. On-screen prompts and areas meant for practice are offered to help you familiarize yourself with these gameplay mechanics.
As for the actuality of playing the game, Areia boils down to a tranquil platformer disguised as an open world concept. Besides jumping, your character gains the ability to form bridges and towers to rise or cross platforms and continue on your way. And as for the way, it’s a fairly linear trek. Many a times, there will only be a single option or path for progression, despite the game’s touting your ability to forge your own paths forward. There is an exploration element, which I appreciate, as it breaks the monotony of simply traveling down an implicit path. Exploring the world to find its hidden secrets adds to play and also allowed me to enjoy the vast emptiness the developers were intending. It’s also not mandatory to find any secrets, so again, this appeals to the ability to play as you like.
There is also a bit of creativity in forming paths at times. This is mainly in regards to the many small puzzles scattered throughout. These puzzles come in the forms of floating from one colored space to another, bridging the two points with strings of light. The challenge here is that the paths you take from one point to another cannot have their light intersect with any other path. And so this becomes more complex, yet also allows for more ambition on the players’ parts, as the number of colored points to connect increases per puzzle. Lastly, nothing is ever too difficult that it prevents progression. There may be times in which finding the implied, mandatory path forwards is difficult to spot, or the puzzles seem daunting, yet all can be cleared with observation and some trial and error. Overall, gameplay is a simple, if somewhat repetitive, endeavor.
Unfortunately, gameplay suffers from issues outside of its controls or perceived mechanics, most of which regard build quality. My biggest quality gripe is with the camera. I found myself fighting it throughout the entirety of my play, so much so that platforming at times became an annoyance because of it. Too often I found the camera wanting to spin or zoom in, even when my path was straight. Using the camera to look around was a non-issue, but as soon as I would start walking, I knew to keep a finger on the stick (I played using an Xbox controller), lest it prevent me from seeing forward. Another issue I have is with the optimization. The game utilizes Unreal Engine and regardless of your PCs capabilities or the adjusting or lowering in-game graphics settings, stutters and lags will occur. It almost seems like a joke, given the minimalistic stylings of the aesthetics and emptiness of the world, so having to tolerate stutters and lag in such a design makes for a regrettable lasting impression. Finally, and again concerning optimization, the game will lean heavily on memory. This I found was less of an issue than the expected stuttering, but again, for such a game to draw such resources to render what’s depicted fails to add up. Most will see this as a minor inconvenience if at all, but I still find it worth noting.
The idea of simplicity, having permeated purpose and gameplay, also defines the aesthetic styles of the game. Visually, the game is presented in a minimalistic style, and for a world composed solely of earth and water, it looks fairly impressive. The major landmarks that guide our journey, as well as their surrounding environments, look fantastic. The implication of an untouched or unspoiled world comes through in their designs. I also appreciate the water and sandstorm details, as these are perhaps the most realistic looking visual elements in the game. Finally, I am thoroughly impressed with the lighting effects. The lighting on the main character when interacting with bridge-building elements, the particle effects, and the strings of light when solving puzzles stand out for me. Even the daylight and its changes over time and as you progress are impressive.
The visuals aren’t perfect, however, as the minimalism and lack of detail also, at times, give the visuals a dated and uninspired feel. Sometimes the visuals are so bland, it makes me think the designers were being lazy. Other times, it looks like a game from several generations ago. These inconsistencies in quality clash harshly and can break immersion, as they did for me. I also would have liked a bit more variation in design overall. Only towards the end do we see more creativity in the landscapes, utilizing the environment to build paths that I would consider more on the imaginative side while remaining consistent with the simplistic, earthy style. I would also have liked more moments when we leave the desert world. Those few times when entering a meditative realm or cosmic backdrop stand out, as they break the monotony that is the sea of sand we’re usually bound to.
As for its audio, the soundtrack is profound, adding to the overall tones of calmness and simplicity. From pure instrumentals to fully voiced songs, the soundtrack matches the mood the game itself strives to invoke, only serving to support it, never detracting. It creates an ambiance that fits the rest of the game perfectly. A final note, I only wish there was more, as I enjoyed it so.
When it comes to projects like Areia, I will always encourage a developer’s willingness to depart from the norm when it comes to providing a new, unique experience. This is especially true when their efforts may resonate with a different set of emotions or thoughts not typically correlated or drawn upon by more traditional games. In some measures, Areia succeeds in this, delivering an experience unlike most. The sense of calm it brings paired with a stress-free style of play manage to invoke a palpable, soothing mood. However, its execution is flawed and missteps in its overall presentation and build quality tend to stand out. Also, gameplay is markedly short, only lasting about three to four hours with only an additional hour or two if you do wish to find all of the game’s secrets. Nevertheless, if you are patient with its imperfections and are seeking an adventure of tranquility and inner peace, Areia: Pathway to Dawn may be the experience you’re looking for.
areiaAreia: Pathway to DawncalmgilpGilp StudioIndiepathway to dawnplatformerrelaxing