Herald: An Interactive Period Drama is a story-rich, Point & Click style Adventure title that transports players into a colorful, colonial world, whose “alternative version” of history provides a dark look at tyranny and servitude on the high seas. But this title also boldly raises questions about racial and cultural sensitivity. As Jess Joho for Kill Screen put it: “In our increasingly globalized society, the question ‘where are you from’ has gotten mighty complicated for people.” This made-up, elaborate take on the 19th century is a version of history where the West has united as “The Protectorate,” a single empire that governs colonies and foreign governs with a set of Protectorate laws and customs. Their policies keep them in positions of power over most foreign governments, but there are rumbles of discord and the hint of rebellion on the wind.
As a native to the East, main character Devan Renseburg faces a conflict of loyalty given that he was adopted and raised in the West. The tale is one of Devan’s long journey home, and along the way, he faces a host of characters that are not subtle about their positions of control and the prejudices they use to justify their behavior. Herald carries a very specific “Content Warning” on the Steam store page: “Emotional and physical violence, suggestive themes and infrequent use of strong language. Suitable for ages 12 and up.” And while the ESRB doesn’t have a rating listed for Herald in the website database, I would certainly suspect that it would have many cautionary listings.
The HLV Herald is a merchant ship, and it serves as a microcosm of society in the 1800s. The crew and passengers make up the extensive cast of characters, and each of them has very vivid personalities, fascinating secrets, and other individual traits. It’s a diverse roster, and the voice acting is superb; the dialog is witty and intriguing, though at times cringe-worthy given the hostility and brutality that characters can harbor towards one another.
There’s no denying that Herald is worthy of its Story-Rich descriptor, and the narrative is one of the strongest selling points. Beyond that, the world is beautiful – the intricate, bold color choices all around create a splendor that is worthy of a grand, epic tale. The music is charming and subtle; the dialog shines thanks to the talents of the voice cast. It truly is a memorable, immersive trip into a historical time, making it an ideal period piece for fans of that sub-genre.
Where Herald sputters is in the reliability and mechanics departments. Numerous times I had troubles with my client crashing, to the point of forcing a hard restart, though I exceed all of the technical requirements for the title. I’d also have periods of brief lag when moving around, but only rarely – I was more frustrated that the interface doesn’t have an intuitive map or journal entry access style. Another source of frustration was the obscure “Save Points.” When exiting the game I received the usual warning that all of my progress would be lost up to the previous save point, yet I never noticed an indicator that told me exactly when my progress had been recorded. This led to me repeating the same content numerous times, rather than my knowing when it was safe to close the program. The lack of menu options for things like control configuration, manual saves, toggling closed captioning on/off, all would have been very nice additional features.
There can be no denying that modern storytellers of any medium, whether movies, books, or even video games, have an obligation not to erase the injustices and prejudices that have plagued our society throughout history. You can choose to include racial tension and bias as a means of illustrating the error of those choices; lessons can be learned or reinforced in doing so. However, when your version of an “alternative history” decides to leave out the tedious facts for more adventurous journeys while leaving in blatant racism and derogatory remarks, I can’t help but wonder what lessons you’re actually peddling. Herald touches on multicultural identities, the moral dilemma of fighting for the oppressed and challenging power when it is abused by authority figures.
The choices-matter dynamic continuously asks players to choose – do they stand up for someone else, carry on silently, or even benefit from those systems? It is an important dialog to be having, and Devan has to define his loyalties numerous times throughout his journey. There is an underlining tension that reflects the historical clash of the rich and the poor, the privilege and exploited, and the search to understand where you stand if your heritage lands you straddling the line between two different cultures and/or races.
Herald: An Interactive Period Drama achieves what it set out to do: It weaves an elaborate story full of entertaining characters, without being squeamish in terms of pointing out racism and cultural bias. The atmosphere is a vivid landscape of bold, striking hues, and the dialog is ripe with interesting conversation choices. I felt genuinely interested in Devan’s experience and personally invested in my decisions along the way. Each choice felt like it carried true weight, given the context and underlining exploration of very serious themes. The voice acting is top-notch, and the soundtrack is a lovely element that compliments without overshadowing. I’m a huge fan of the Point & Click genre, so titles that challenge the norm and think outside the box always capture my attention. Fans of historical themes, story-rich adventures, and compelling characters need to look no further than Herald for a great new experience.