Developer Twirlbound has finally released Pine, an open-world action-adventure game set in the world of Albamare. Players take on the role of young Hue, a young man who explores, trades, and fights his way through a world inhabited by tribes of creatures unlike anything he has seen before. While the open-world concept feels fantastic, the linear storytelling can be somewhat contradictory to the core vision of the game, and its core mechanics can feel repetitive after a while.
A World Where Humans Are Not The Top Of The Food Chain
In this fictional world, humans, or at least the tribe that Hue belongs too, live peacefully high up on the cliffs and far away from the creatures on the ground. There are tribes of humanoid-type creatures that each work to expand their influence through trade, raids, and diplomacy, whereas humans are solitary in their settlements.
Shortly after beginning the game, Hue descends and meets these groups, and here, the open-world portion of the game takes root. Players are free to explore virtually everywhere and grow through their relationships with a faction. As tribes fight for dominance, the player decides who they can help by delivering supplies to help develop a certain area. Eventually, players can form raids to push another tribe back, effectively removing them from a territory.
Combat Is Simple And Repetitive
Pine claims that its AI will learn and adapt to your playstyle, but like all games that make this grand claim, it is only superficially implemented. Players will have a hard time spamming attacks to clear an opponent, but the alternatives are bland and repetitive.
The problem here lies more in the lack of character progression than purely a critique of the combat. As an action-adventure game, one should not expect heavy RPG elements, but this is the opposite in terms of character growth. Hue can only be personalized through gear and weapon crafting, but always plays in a similar, bland way. The lack of a class direction, or talent system, or anything that would have made combat feel tailored, would be a big help to make combat an engaging affair rather than something else to slog through.
The Story Line And Open World Contradiction
Although the open world feels genuinely like a well-made sandbox in design, and exploring is quite interesting at the start of the game, the linear story implemented into the game is highly problematic. Each of the main tribes has an associated quest line that all serve the same in the purpose, which is to help expand and control greater portions of territory.
The first time one does this with a tribe, it feels like an interesting journey. However eventually when one is forced to do the same for the tribe they were recently working against, directly or indirectly, it breaks from immersion completely. Unfortunately, there does not seem a way to avoid this apart from ignoring a quest line entirely.
It would have made far more sense for one or two tribes to be helped by Hue as the primary purpose of a quest line. Then, for subsequent quest lines to be something completely different, both for the quests to not feel repetitive in theme, and not to contradict the actions committed before by helping the first groups.
This again becomes a bit of an issue when it comes to trade. There is no complexity to bartering in Pine. Instead, the system in place resembles World of Warcraft’s reputation system whereby you need to engage in grinding through donations of specific items to build a rapport with a group. Every faction hates you at the start, and the majority of your actions are to buy their love through many, many donations. After far too much of this, they will eventually consider you an ally and allow you to trade. This method of gating content does nothing for the enjoyment of the game and quickly becomes old.
Busywork, But Why?
There is quite a lot to do in the game, but it all comes back to feeling like it seeks to till content with busywork. What the game lacks is a driving purpose for Hue to act in the way he does. The main quest boils down to harvesting resources, crafting, and gifting something to one of the tribes, but with only the reward of advancing to the next quest.
Busywork is also the best way to describe the mechanic that relates to eating. From the beginning of the game, players are shown how they passively consume energy for all their actions and need to eat to counter certain ill effects. At best, the requirement is a constant inconvenience to have to deal with, especially when backtracking across a map, since there is no fast travel option available.
An Initial Beauty, But Only Skin Deep
The premise is attractive, and the cartoonish, playful designs are certainly enjoyable throughout the game, but overall, the content is lacking in the most important elements that make up engaging gameplay. The main quest feels contradictory in its design, and the method of improving relations with a tribe boils down to grinding to buy their love, but with no real motivation or explanation as to why the thing is done.
With a rework to the quest lines that overlap in theme, to how one advances through these quests to reduce grinding, and to the core combat system, Pine could be a far more enjoyable experience. As it stands, however, Pine feels like an early proof of concept that misses the mark in all the key components that should otherwise keep players engaged.