Words About Video Games

41 Games: Shardlight

There's an interesting world here, but I didn't get to learn nearly as much about it as I would have liked.

On the one hand, that's a testament to the strong start it makes, introducing its main character, her world, and its conflicts very effectively so as to stir curiosity and conjure up emotional investment. Even the most minor supporting character is charmingly written, with hints of depth in their story.

On the other hand it's a critique of how the plot mechanisms take over in the latter half of the game, trading in careful characterization for over-reliance on off-screen stakes, and sidelining larger mysteries about the world (and in one case, rendering one of the more intriguing ones outright mundane in a way that stretches credibility.)

What sets it most apart from other similar adventures is its willingness to play with player choice.

But the end game choice is, perhaps the biggest victim of the plot taking over the game at the expense of characterization. It's a choice that ultimately feels beyond the scope of what the player knows and feels about the world. It ends up boiling down to "shoot the person who is clearly evil, but has a tragic backstory" or "shoot the person who is kind of mean to you the whole time and opposes the evil guy, but who hasn't really articulated a plan for the future at all." There is a third option, but it didn't feel rewarding so much as gratuitous. A naive bit of violence that feels unearned on the part of both player and protagonist, that mostly seems to exist to address the flaw in the basic choice: that neither individual seems compelling.

It also gets very bloody. Having begun with a difficult bit of violence that was portrayed with a well-timed cut-to-title, it was surprising how much carnage it puts directly in front of your face by the end.