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Nightingale Early Access Review in Progress

Nightingale is a game of fascinating contradictions. While I’m still early on in the Early Access version of this co-op survival crafting game, it’s already jumping wildly between intriguing and confusing, aesthetically pleasing and outright ugly, intuitive and obtuse. It does a lot right, and I can see the potential of building a life from the ground up in this mysterious land – but it also does a lot wrong, particularly with how much time and effort it takes to make meaningful progress. I have a lot more to play before I put a score on this review, but so far I can’t quite tell if Nightingale's rough spots will eventually become part of its charm or hold its otherwise interesting ideas back.

Nightingale takes place in a gaslamp fantasy world, a Victorian almost-steampunk-but-with-magic setting that feels fresh and unique in this genre – sure, games like Dishonored or The Order 1886 have tried out similar styles, but it’s still a seldom used enough framework that really stood out to me here. Earth as we know it is being swallowed up by a strange fog, and people are scattered across realms of the Fae, mythical beings pulled from European Folklore. As a "Realmwalker," you have the ability to travel from one realm to another, which puts you on the search to find the magical city of Nightingale, the last refuge of humanity.

The mysterious Fae Puck acts as your guide on that quest, first helping you to activate a portal and escape to a far off forest realm. Puck stands out as a fascinating character, and his flowery olde tyme language is an early highlight, particularly thanks to how well it is performed.

After a whirlwind tour of short, tutorial-driven visits to a desert and swamp realm, I was dropped in the woods at the base of a large stone structure where some NPCs had set up their own camp. Curious, I made my way there and struck up a conversation with the three of them: a shopkeep, laborer, and an exposition dumping traveler. It was disappointing when I discovered that, unlike Puck, they were voiceless. That left me reading paragraphs of text any time I took on a quest or just wanted a conversation from that point on.

Quality is inconsistent across the parts I’ve seen so far.

That disparity is a good example of the inconsistent quality prevalent across the parts of Nightingale I’ve seen so far. The character creator, for example, has surprising depth, allowing for impressive customization of minute details like tooth decay, or extensive family trees whose genetic lineage can be applied to your appearance… but the end results of those interesting options always seem to look like they are models formed from clay, rather than believable faces.

Crafting is similarly promising, but with a big caveat. Gathering materials to begin the typical climb from a destitute castaway to a thriving survivor is compelling, and if you’ve played pretty much any games like this before, it is very intuitive. For example, an early objective was to raise my Gear Score, an aggregate of the quality spread across your clothes and tools. As attached as I was to my shoddy bottom-tier clothes, upgrading to the “simple” garments above them would require leather, which naturally meant hunting animals and tanning their hides.

Unfortunately, this proved tiresome. I found the starting area strangely sparse when it comes to wildlife, so it took what seemed like forever to gather the materials needed. And once I did, converting them all one at a time on the tanner meant waiting real-world minutes for every single piece. It was a tedious process right out of the gate, when all I wanted to do was explore and see what this realm was all about.

Once I finished upgrading my equipment enough, my objective thankfully switched to exploring a nearby Site of Power, which in this case really just meant a dungeon. Inside were The Bound, hostile goblin-like creatures that wanted me very dead. I switched back and forth between a dagger and ax I had crafted to fight them off, swinging both wildly while sidestepping their counter attacks. I haven’t encountered a ton of fights yet, but they have at least provided some simple hack-and-slash fun. That said, there’s also an unsatisfying lack of weight to melee attacks, as you just sort of flail while you have the stamina to do so and watch the damage numbers fly. I’m hopeful that changes as the quality of my weapons improve.

Despite being so rough around the edges, and despite being uneven to look at at times, I am still enjoying Nightingale so far. I like spending time in the Fae realms, and I’m enjoying the rags to… well, nicer rags adventure I’ve seen up to this point. I don’t know yet if what’s here at its Early Access launch is enough to keep me coming back, but it has left a positive first impression on me overall. I’m keen to dig into the actual survival aspects like building a more robust camp or small house for myself more, and eager to see what else my mysterious friend Puck has in store for me, before finalizing my review in the next week or two.

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