Shardlight sets up a compelling green-hued wasteland.
Although we see a lot of them, I think pulling off a really good nuclear wasteland setting can be hard to do. The genre of the apocalypse is one in which it is dangerously easy to be derivative, as we see in a lot of such media. In love as I was with a lot of Wadjet Eye’s previous games, I got a little nervous when I heard that their new project would take place in one such setting. If the first third of Shardlight is any indication, though, it would seem that those fears were unfounded.
Shardlight follows Amy Wellard, a mechanic living in a post-war city. Amy is forced to take on lottery jobs, all for a chance at winning a dose of the vaccine needed to combat the deadly Green Lung virus that plagues humanity. Amy’s first lottery job has some unintended complications, and sends her into a series of deals and conspiracies that will lead her on a search for a true cure for Green Lung.
The Shardlight beta offers puzzles and area designs that are undeniable Wadjet Eye fare, but not so much as to feel predictable for those already familiar with their games. I began my adventure in a sewer, where I had been sent to repair a nuclear reactor, in a puzzle that required me to find tools in the area and find the numerical code the machine needed.Wadjet Eye puzzle designs have always been in large part about utilization of resources, and never does this credo feel more at home than in a nuclear wasteland with few tools to offer. At one point I was given two tasks, each of which opened up a new area of the city to me. However, the completion of my tasks were not so simple that they were confined to those two areas. Either one of the missions might require assets from both new areas, or from previously-visited places around the city. Multiple other missions required me to go back to the same character for information on completely different topics. Shardlight‘s city appears to be planned out with backtracking in mind; you never know what seemingly-useless item may suddenly become vital. Such is life in the wasteland.
Shardlight‘s wasteland has a unique setting, but not an unfamiliar one. Within the first hour of the game, I found myself thinking that the way Shardlight‘s city operates is almost like a slice of the world of something like Skyrim or The Witcher, with a stark divide between the peasant and aristocratic classes. Authority in the city is held by an Oligarchical group of ministries that all have a sort of French renaissance motif going on. Every encounter with one of their members is eerie and unsettling, and every area of the game associated with them feels like almost part of a different world, highlighting just how stark the class contrast in Shardlight‘s world truly is.
In my time in this world, I met a few of the more unusual and high-class characters of Shardlight, but I also met marketplace vendors, local children, and friends of my main character. In those hours, I found myself learning a lot about not just Amy, but the kind of social universe she lives in. Shardlight has a nice handful of characters who waste no time in being endearing, and I found myself wanting to know more about each. The world feels lived in. Its not just a place where life used to be, but where it still persists.
The one worrying part of the first third of Shardlight comes in its final set of missions. I was given a task that would take several steps, and involved contact with multiple characters across multiple locations. The laundry list of details for this task was somewhat complicated, and so after I had gotten a little bit of the way in, I found myself stuck for a while, only to find that there was no way to have the information of what to do repeated to me. This comes right at the point where Amy’s involvement in the story begins to really pick up, so it was disappointing that I was put at a standstill for a while.
Overall, Shardlight is constructing a pleasant emerald city. It’s world is an authentic dystopia without feeling hopeless, avoiding the traps of the genre by making Amy herself endearing and relatable. The puzzle design is competent, and the scale of some puzzles is showing ambition. Whether that ambition becomes too much for the game to carry through its full length remains to be seen, but so far, Shardlight is looking just as promising as most of Wadjet Eye’s other recent works.