Eastshade is a beautiful game about a enchanting fantasy realm populated by anthropomorphic animals, with a painter in the starring role and nearly a dozen or more hours of gameplay entirely devoid of violence. Not a sword or board in sight, not a fireball-throwing mage or stealthy rogue hiding in the shadows. Eastshade replaces the more action-focused tropes of RPGs with interesting characters, engaging relationships and relaxing exploration.
Although there is no explicit violence, that doesn’t mean that Eastshade is bereft of melancholy or a few dark clouds, nor is it a “walking simulator” without a narrative. You play as painter — quick, name at least another game that casts its player character as any kind of artist— who is shipwrecked off of Lyndow, a quaint coastal village. You recall that your late mother spoke of it and wished you to capture its landscapes on canvas. So, you begin to speak to the townsfolk, gather materials to paint with, and soon you are fulfilling quests and exploring the countryside and nearby towns, running errands and generally sticking your nose in everyone’s business, usually by invitation.
Like an iconic children’s book or classic fantasy world, the talking deer, bears, owls and mice are simply animal versions of familiar character types, playful, lonely, grumpy, mysterious and emotionally interesting as they go about their lives. You can help, or not, and just spend hours wandering the enchanting and bucolic world and marveling at its detail.
Of course, as an artist, quite a number of tasks involve painting pictures of specific locations or particular objects or characters. It’s curious, then, that the actual act of painting in Eastshade bears no resemblance to the real thing, instead being a basic one-click, capture-a-screenshot mechanic. It’s a minor disappointment, though, because the quests themselves are quite varied, and even the task of finding canvas and wood is interesting for the exploration it requires.
There isn’t much of a sense of urgency or apocalyptic drama in Eastshade, and not all the quests and tasks are substantial but the game’s deliberately slow and mellow pace never feels dull, just relaxed. I suppose those who expect an Elder Scrolls-type RPG wil be disappointed by Eastshades’s lack of momentum but it is genuinely refreshing to play an interesting game where violence and armed conflict do not occupy the central role.
Mechanically, just about everything from movement to facial animations are just a little behind the curve and although the world is beautiful, it’s not a state-of-the-arts graphical showcase. Instead, like a beloved fairy tale come to life, Eastshade’s visuals are just exactly what they need to be, as is the tuneful and tasteful music and voice acting. Despite not being bleeding-edge, there is an artistic beauty to every frame.
RPGs so rarely explore gameplay approaches that don’t feature two-handed greatswords, grinding for better armor, and violence-filled encounters. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but happily there are games like Eastshade that provide satisfying and intriguing hours of exploration and story where the conclusion is not a battlefield littered with the dead. At the same time, Eastshade is not a one-note, feel-good game and there is emotional range in its story and characters. Some visual glitches and minor bugs aside, Eastshade is a worthy follow-up to the brief, proof-of-concept Leaving Lyndow.