Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Stoneshard Early Access Review: a game with a lot of potential

I’ve been thinking about how to start this Stoneshard early access review for over ten minutes now. What can I say to you all to let you know what you’re getting into when picking up Stoneshard?

How about this: have you ever had a day where everything just wants to go wrong? You stubbed your toe on a chair leg, or you tripped over in public and scraped your knee. No matter what you do, life just wants to kick your ass. That’s exactly how it felt stepping into the world of Stoneshard.

I’ve talked about Stoneshard previously on Gayming, and how excited I was for it. Why wouldn’t I be? Despite trying my best to actually not be an edgelord for the majority of my life, something about the nitty, gritty world of Stoneshard appealed to me. It’s almost as though I was looking for a game that wanted to kick me around.

And Stoneshard is good at doing just that, and not just in the physical sense either. From the moment you wake up in jail as Varren, a disgruntled treasure-hunter, you’re thrown into a world that’s completely unforgiving. You’ve only just woken up, and you’re in so much pain that it’s depleting your health. As you’d expect, that was more than enough for me to panic.

Thankfully the game walks you through these first few instances of hunger, dehydration, and pain. Hunger is simple enough, you’re going to have to eat and hope that it’s not toxic enough that it’ll screw you over. Water is provided by your waterskin and as for pain? Well, that’s where it gets complicated.

You’re given splints to help ‘repair’ parts of your body, whether that be your leg, arm or even your head. After that, you’ve got healing salves and other potions that’ll stop the pain from overcoming you and leaving you a wreck. The downside? The toxicity of these potions can actually be just the thing that kills you in the first place.

Speaking of being killed, the combat system in this game feels more luck-based. Sometimes you’ll fumble and miss a shot, other times you’ll do nothing but hit your enemies. I’m not complaining by any means, but it doesn’t feel as intuitive as I first thought it would be. That doesn’t make the combat bad. It does make it feel like I’m on tenterhooks at all times though.

Despite all this, Stoneshard isn’t so grueling that you’ll become frustrated. The challenging nature of the game is what makes your downtime, talking to people and doing something simple like hunting, so rewarding. Sometimes all you want to do is sit in the tavern and get drunk out of your mind. Why not? There’s nothing that’s really saying that you can’t.

Toxicity can affect you in a number of ways. You’ll either react like your eyes are tripping, which makes stumbling into enemy traps that much more easy to do, or you’ll end up going insane. That’s where Stoneshard’s mental health component comes into play.

Mental health in video games is extremely tricky to portray at times, especially when it becomes a game mechanic. Stoneshard sadly falls into making mental health connected to enemies you face, pain and toxicity, which are fine to a certain extent. However, it doesn’t feel as in-depth as it could be in a world as cruel as Stoneshard’s. Why are food, water, and alcohol the only things that can make my character happy?

This brings me to my biggest problem with Stoneshard. There’s not much to do outside of getting completely wasted and fighting people. Yeah I can talk to people and find more about the places I’m in, but what’s the point when there’s nothing to do in said place?

I get that this is early access, so the game is sure to change in the future. But as it is right now, Stoneshard feels empty of everything but enemies and bland NPCs that only want to spit information at you. It’s tiring, especially when there’s nothing much to do in this open-world game.

Still, it isn’t all bad. As I write this Stoneshard early access review, it’s already clear to me that the game has the potential to be big. It just needs time to grow to said potential. I’m willing to wait to see how the game will progress, and if you’re sitting here, reading this review, I’d advise you to do the same before pitching your lot in for Stoneshard.

This review is a work-in-progress and will be updated as time goes on. If you’re interested in trying out Stoneshard for yourself, head on over to Steam.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Gayming Magazine. She specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.