More than maybe any game I've ever played, Shape of the World is incredibly difficult to write about. Everything, EVERYTHING, about it is based on your personal experiences. How are you feeling at the time? How's your sound system? How's your TV? Did you have a good day today? Do you have synesthesia? How was your dinner?
I've played walking simulators before but even for some of the more abstract and surreal games like Dear Esther, I knew how to talk about them and which people I'd offer them as a recommendation. They're an established genre by now, an evolution of the adventure game that's got a great focus on story and experience above anything else. I don't need to talk about it like it's something you've never heard of.
But have you ever played a game like this that's so focused on just.... going forward without a goal? That's a bit disingenuous because there is a goal, of course, and that goal is to get to the next triangle gate, but you have to think about what it is that propels you. It's not story. It's barely a goal, it's really just.... the feeling of going through the world. The way it evolves. The way life sprouts around you and the colors evolve. The joy you get from planting a seed.
Shape of the World is a game that 's all about experience. It can be beaten in a couple of hours, but the driving soundtrack, the feeling of exploration, the fact you feel like you don't know what might be around the next corner, it all adds to something that I found incredibly engaging and propulsive. Each new gate was something I wanted to reach, each new shift in the environment created something I was happy to experience. I started playing it one day and just kept telling my girlfriend "one more gate...." And she was engaged along with me as we explored the world – there was just something about it all that kept the both of us watching along the way.
It's only worth it if you can let yourself wrapped up in the experience of a game, less about finding a story or a hidden lore, and more about the beauty of the music and visuals coming together. As you walk, the world seems to spring up around you. Trees come up around you, or you can plant your own, reshaping the world as you see fit. It creates this odd dynamic where you are affected by the world you inhabit, but also have the power to reshape it. Even the things you can plant change as you go between zones, and it feels seamless – you're not planting trees in the cave, you're planting stalagmites. Millions of years of change normally, and you can just create your own in a second.
A lot of the game is also designed to just feel right, too, from the sound effects that play as you interact with the environment, to the speed and feel of running along the massive staircases. Despite how narrow they are and how quickly you move when you're on them, I never felt at risk of falling off - in fact I don't even know if that's possible - so that even as I'm zooming over the world and looking around at the beautiful surroundings, I can feel assured I'm going the right way and can enjoy the sights as I do. And it truly is a beautiful game - the screenshots do it some justice, but to see it in motion as it changes and evolves is a gorgeous experience.
The part that feels most at odds with the game is the inclusion of trophies and what they are – while some of them encourage replays, others encourage far more granular exploration than I feel is right for the game. "Go through a specific grotto in the caves." "Find all the seeds." The game is best experienced as just something that happens to you – and loading back into it just so you can spend time going off the beaten path really feels like a way to kill the magic. It's like going back into Journey and constantly restarting it so you can collect all the scarves. It's a good game, but turning a completionist eye towards a game about exploring and getting deeper into the moment seems like the wrong way to go. It's optional of course, but it's a way that's still encouraged through the mechanics. I'm definitely not gonna go back and do it though – it's hard to really feel a need to restart the game. The experience felt complete in the moment, I don't need to do it again.
So I'll definitely recommend this if you're looking for a very laid-back and experience focused game. Take a couple of hours, get yourself a drink or something, and just go. You won't find yourself challenged, but at best you'll find yourself enthralled and enjoying the world as it brings itself out to you. But a game doesn't have to be a challenge. It doesn't have to have a time limit, a game over, an antagonist of any kind. It can just be a sensory experience you allow yourself to get wrapped up in. And Shape of the World is exactly that. Let yourself get swallowed by it and you'll find yourself having a great time.