Saturday, February 3, 2024

Seventy-Five Not So Stressful Minutes With Nightingale

The most stressful part had nothing to do with the game. It was waiting for Beryl to bounce in, barking and begging to play, too. With her with her ball on a string, that is. She's bright for a dog and dexterous with her paws but she's not quite up to playing video games just yet.

The stress test began at six PM, local time. It was scheduled to end at nine, landing squarely in the slot normally reserved for canine recreation. I had to ask Mrs. Bhagpuss to keep Beryl entertained so I could get into the game at least long enough to take a few screenshots and see enough to write a post about it, obviously the most important part of the whole excercise, if not the whole point of being there at all.

In the event, I managed more than twice as long as I expected, a fifty minute session followed by another twenty-five minutes a little later. Neither was stressful at all, although I did get off to kind of a rough start, dead on a rock a couple of minutes after I began.

I'd climbed onto the rock to get away from a pack of wild pigs that chased me out of the forest onto the shoreline before I'd even had a chance to work out how to fight back. I had a torch in my hand, which turned out to be a ranged weapon. I threw it at them again and again but they didn't seem bothered. I didn't have "killed by a boar" on my Nightingale bingo card but that's what I got, anyway. Might as well have been playing WoW.

Backing up a bit, the notification, download and login processes all went swimmingly. The client, which comes in somewhere in the low sixty gigabyte range, took about half an hour or so to download and install. Developers Inflexion Games changed their minds at the last minute and let everyone in all at once instead of staggering access so the moment the Play button lit up, I was in.

They also extended the playtest from three hours to eight because it was going so well. Is going so well, I ought to say. It still has four hours to run as I type this.

Before the test began, Inflexion sent out a good deal of information about what to expect. Characters would start at the equivalent of ten hours old. No, you wouldn't begin as a newborn babe. That would be too weird, even for this game. You'd be given a character set up as if they'd already played for around ten hours.

That meant skipping the entire tutorial, which sounds fine in theory, especially when you consider the test was only supposed to last three hours. In practice, it meant I had absolutely no clue how to do anything once I got past character creation and even there I was flummoxed at times. I used to despise tutorials but of late I've started to see the merit in them. In media res is one thing but being dropped into the deep end to see if you can swim doesn't sem to have the same thrill it once did.

Speaking of character creation, I liked it. What I saw of it. Again, time pressure meant I rushed through the options faster than I would have liked. There seemed to be plenty of choice, lots of sliders, some bits that weren't finished yet and a few parts I plain could not understand. Also a lot of backstory that meant reading lengthy paragraphs of descriptive prose, something I'd normally welcome but in this instance, under pressure of time, reluctantly had to skim or skip.

Some parts I just didn't get at all. There's a whole section where you get to pick your ancestors, going back three generations on each side of the family tree. Then you get to decide which of them had the most influence on you. It might have come with an explanation but it was taking far too long so I picked a bunch of people at random, jiggled the pointer and left it at that.

There were some other options I don't remember seeing in other games. There's a surprising focus on teeth. You can have them metal or decaying or crooked. Why you'd want to is another question.

I left my teeth as they came, along with my eyebrows and my hairstyle. I added a tuch of blusher and a little glitter to my cheekbones, declined the offer of lipstick and off we went to the Fae Realm.

Or possibly the Abeyance Forest Realm. They may or may not be the same thing. It's a forest, whatever they call it, and the first person you meet there is Puck. Of course it is. I studied Shakespeare both at school and at University; no-one ever suggested I read A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not once. And yet here we are...

From the way they talked, I got the feeling Puck and my character had met before. In the missing Tutorial, probably. He gave me a bunch of advice or his voice actor did, none of which I really took on board. He also turned out to be the only NPC I met who could speak out loud. I ended up meeting several more characters with dialog but none of them were voiced.

There was a heap of stuff piled up behind Puck, including several chests stuffed with crafting materials. I was fully geared, kitted out in adventuring kit with gathering tools and more food than I could eat in a week. None of it helped much. If anything, the opposite. At times I felt I'd have been less confused with a rusty sword and a cloth tunic.

The only hint of what to do next was a single instruction - build a cairn and claim my estate. I died three times before I figured out how to place the cairn. After a lot of trial, error, luck and random button pressing I got it figured out, at which point I realised I was looking at two of them. The devs had handily put one down for me already. I just didn't recognize it for what it was.

Even after I had my cairn in ghost-form, I couldn't find the rocks to make it real. I ran around, died another time or two, found some rocks, put them in the cairn and completed my only task. Up popped Puck again to give me something else to do but I'd had enough of him so I went exploring. 

I died a couple more times before I learned you can just fight with the same tools you use to chop wood or mine ore. That does make sense. I mean, a pickaxe to the head is a pickaxe to the head, whatever it says on the handle.

Once I had that down, fights were surprisingly easy. I clubbed many wolves to death and had my revenge on the pesky pigs. I guessed I could skin and butcher them as you can in New World and I was right. The knife magically appeared in my hand at need and there I was with a bunch more stuff I didn't know what to do with.

I also battered a few zombie-like creatures that swarmed out of a strange, serpentine structure I went to investigate. Pro tip: anything that looks remotely interesting in Nightingale probably has something hiding inside that wants to rip your head off. It happened literally every time I went to look at anything.

It seems remarkably easy to get killed in Nightingale, even on the Easy setting, which is what I chose. It's not just the wildlife. It's the weather. This is, I'm pretty sure, the first game I've ever played where hail is a weather condition, not a greeting. What's more, it's the old "hailstones the size of golf-balls" as beloved by lazy sub-editors everywhere and they fricken' hurt!

There's falling damage, naturally, which kicks in when you jump off anything much higher than a footstool and I'm sure you can drown if you're dumb enough to go for a swim, which for once, quite surprisingly, I was not. By survival game standards it felt quite harsh but then I had no idea what I was doing. I bet if I'd been through a tutorial I would have had a much better time of it.

In the end, though, this was a stress test, not a play test and on that level, from my end at least, it performed admirably. I had no lag of any kind, no disconnections, no trouble getting in and out of the game. Everything felt very smooth. There are clearly parts of the game as yet unfinished but it seems fine for the first step into Early Access.

I could go further into what I liked and disliked about my brief introduction to the world of Nightingale but it hardly seems appropriate - or necessary. In a matter of weeks I'll be able to play for as long as I like. There'll be plenty of time to write about it in detail then.

And I will because I will most definitely be buying the game. I already intended to and what I saw in my hour and a quarter there more than met my expectations. I look forward to starting from the beginning and finding out what I was doing wrong.

For once, I'm even looking forward to the Tutorial.


  1. Those faces are oddly terrifying to me. They have that Clockwork Orange feel to them.

    1. I see what you mean. I think it's mostly the bowler hat but the whole vibe is not far off. They need to do a lot of work on both appearance animation, I'd say.

  2. Ya those teeth are way scary. The other options you list seem oddly worse. Fortunately, for the most part you're seeing your characters back. Is it supposed to be steampunk? The costuming and tool tips give off that vibe. The constant deaths are a bit of a bummer. Have gotten gun shy about dying characters since my time in HC. All that said, it sounds fun, and I'll watch for release, whenever that may be. Atheren

    1. It's kind of Steampunk but there are so many versions of something-punk now I imagine it has a sub-genre all of its own. I don't think there'd be anything like as many deaths if I'd actually been able to start at the beginning, as you will in the game when it arrives. Being set loose in the open world at the equivalent of ten hours in, with no idea what any of the buttons do, is pretty much throwing a rabbit into a den of wolves. Or pigs, in my case. Once I'd worked ou how to hit things with a pickaxe, the fights were all really easy.

  3. I too am waiting for the tutorial...

    The game started me off in medias res AND in first-person viewmode.


    Fudge me. hahaha.

    1. It was going to be first person only I think but they added "over-the-shoulder third person" at some point and that's what I played in. It seemed fine. Thinking about it, I imagine that could explain the lack of character animations. I guess if it was designed to be first-person only, they wouldn't have needed a lot of idling animations. They're going to have to add some now, though, because it looks weird with your character just standing there, motionless and expressionless like a store-room dummy.


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