Walden, a Game Review

Based on naturist Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden, Walden, a game lets players follow in his footsteps as we attempt to explore nature and survive the wilderness in order to come away more inspired with life. It’s an interesting concept for a game, and one that pays off for the most part, even if the glacier pace can sometimes drag things down.

While nowhere near as extreme as something like Green Hell or Rust, there’s an element of survival gameplay in Walden. Hunger, shelter, wood burning piles, clothing, and stamina must be maintained in order to get the most out of the experience, much as Thoreau would have had to do in real life, though unlike real life if he tires or goes hungry a quick fade to black sees us back on our feet pretty quickly. Keeping these meters up is easy enough; foraging the bushes or fishing for food for example is as easy as pressing A over and over or occasionally flicking a stick and waiting to see if we’ve caught anything. They do drain fast mind, so there is a lot of doing this, which can become a little tedious as time goes on, but again it’s simple enough to do that it isn’t too much of a burden.

When not building resources, we’re free to roam the forests surrounding Lake Walden to our hearts content. In addition to the other meters, we also seek to build inspiration for Thoreau by investigating the world around him. Focusing on trees, bushes, animals and more etches a note in his diary, and also fills the screen with vibrant colour. It’s not the most technically advanced title out there, but when the colour pops it can be genuinely nice to look at, especially when the area is full of colourful flowers or when down by the water’s edge. Let his inspiration drop and the whole aesthetic becomes muted, effectively sapping the scenes of their vibrancy and life. It’s a neat way to showcase that feeling people get when they suddenly get a burst of inspiration, and it works well here to reward exploration.

It’s not just nature watching that gets him going though. There are a handful of NPC’s to accept jobs from, as well as arrowheads to pick up that let Thoreau build the world’s lore for us piece by piece. Abandoned shelters provide resources for our own home, and various other points of interest reward further exploration. Nearby town Concord offers a glimpse at Thoreau’s family home, as well as a post office to send off written works or receive letters, and a general store to buy items to help out in the colder months. It’s a small slice of civility, but a welcome break from the trees and bushes of Lake Walden.

Other than fainting from exhaustion there’s very little in the way of peril in Walden. This is a title that just wants us to explore, and have a good time doing it. The ambient soundtrack is excellent, and brings to mind vibes of Oblivion – though this is not anywhere near the scale and depth of that title. In fact, those looking for something meaty to get into might end up feeling underwhelmed here, as the pace is dictated by the player largely. A few time sensitive jobs are present, but for the most part this is the equivalent of taking a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll and just seeing where you end up; eventually you’ll be back home but let’s just see where the day takes us. This is the only hurdle here, as even though I was enjoying it, at certain points I would have appreciated a little more speed or convenience to get around. Slowly walking or rowing to get to the other side of the lake, especially when I’d already explored the in between areas, did get tiresome after a while. Even when the winter season introduces ice skating to the fore, this still took too long, and too much energy, to freshen things up enough.  

Conclusion

However, the slow pace is kind of the point, and Walden, a Game uses it to force us to soak in some lovely sights and sounds. Thoreau’s writings are often insightful, helping build the world out nicely, and that we’re free to explore and complete tasks pretty much at our leisure means this is a perfect title to unwind with over the course of a few evenings.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • Lovely visuals
  • Truly chilled atmosphere
  • Player dictated pace
Bad
  • Moving around can be too slow at times
7.8
Good
Gameplay - 7
Graphics - 8.5
Audio - 8.8
Longevity - 7
Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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