Haven is Where the Heart Is
It can be difficult to accurately portray a relationship in a video game. The sheer number of variables—backstory, character development, dialogue, significant events, narrative arcs, day-to-day events—makes it a monumental task. This situation becomes even more complicated when the relationship is simply one part of the narrative. There are so many things that have to go right to successfully pull it off that it’s no wonder why developers generally don’t try it.
The developers of Haven have fully embraced that challenge. Kay and Yu’s relationship is the game’s focal point. It plays a substantial role in Haven’s narrative and gameplay. Almost everything you do in the game, and everything that happens to them, is both about and a result of their relationship.
Given Haven’s focus on love and relationships, it only made sense for me to review it with my husband. My paragraphs begin with “SM,” and his begin with “DT.” Unsurprisingly, we both don’t totally agree about every aspect of Haven, but the important thing to remember is that I’m right and he’s wrong, and yes, it is lonely up on this pedestal. Thanks for asking.
DT: It is very lonely up there on that pedestal, and yes, I will leave him up there. If you follow my weekly Friday Night Bytes articles, you’ll know that SM is basically incapable of fending for himself, and he’ll get hungry and come down from there eventually. Anywho. For the record, I am actually the one that is right about this game, while SM is only partially right (and mostly wrong).
Relationships Require Work
SM: Kay and Yu are escapees from the Apiary, a dystopian society in which citizens are forcibly matched up by the Matchmaker. To avoid the lives that were chosen for them, they took to the stars in Yu’s spaceship, the Nest, and headed for a seemingly abandoned planet named Source. After a brief tutorial, certain events transpire that result in a severely damaged Nest, which requires Kay and Yu to scour the fractured planet in search of replacement parts.
Haven is superbly written. Kay and Yu feel like real people. They act like a couple: they cook and fix up the ship together. They travel together. They argue, bicker, and flirt. There are jokes, sarcasm, and snide remarks. There’s a great deal of support and love. Each has its own unique personality and quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. I especially enjoyed that Kay and Yu don’t fall into typical gender stereotypes. Kay is the cook and a scientist. He’s methodical but sensitive. Yu is the mechanic and a realist. She’s confident but a bit brash. I’m hesitant to dive too deeply here because watching them interact with each other is such a delight. With the exception of a late-game argument that felt out of character, both Kay and Yu are well developed on their own and as a couple.
DT: The story is really where this game shines. The characters are deep, complex beings, and watching their relationship grow as they explore Source is honestly a treat. I think you rarely get this level of character development in most games, and you get glimpses into some of their most intimate moments. While these glimpses do at times veer into, shall we say, erotic territory, it never actually feels lewd. It feels like a loving couple being spontaneous and sexy. For the most part, though, you get to watch them have sweet moments, learning moments, moments where they disagree, moments where they reminisce about the past, and much more. They feel extraordinarily fleshed out, with layers of complexity to their relationship.
SM: I do wish we could have experienced more of Kay and Yu’s story before they reached Source. They talk about those days, but I never got a good feel for how the Apiary’s society functions. It’s a topic that is kept at arms-length from the player. It makes sense. They lived those events, so they don’t need to fully rehash them, but I wanted to at least experience the moment in which they decided they had to flee. It would have made all their other choices during the story feel that much more poignant.
DT: I do agree with SM that I wish we got some more story of their lives before they fled to Source, but honestly, that’s more of a curiosity point for me.
Gliding to Freedom
SM: Haven can be played solo, but it’s a different experience when played with a partner. Both players have to pick the same dialogue choice, which results in real-world conversation. I didn’t get the impression that any of the dialogue choices dramatically impacted the game, but that didn’t stop us from debating about which choice was more appropriate. It’s especially fun when Kay and Yu are flirting because we both often answered correctly before the choices were even available. We apparently have a similar sense of humor.
DT: While we largely agreed on our dialogue choices, part of the fun was how real the conversations were. It honestly felt like we were talking with one another, not just our in-game selves. Kay and Yu were absurdly relatable, and more often than not, we’d laugh and point out how one of them was just like our real-life relationship counterpart.
SM: Kay and Yu explore Source by gliding. If you’re going to travel, you might as well travel in style, right? There are Flow threads (essentially energy) scattered across the planet, and following a thread charges up their batteries. Threads often reach areas that are inaccessible on foot. A charged-up Flow burst is useful for knocking down enemies and opening doors. Flow’s most important attribute, however, is its ability to neutralize Rust, a thick, purple-red goop that coats most sections of Source. Rust blocks Flow threads, and it also makes Source’s wildlife aggressive.
It’s necessary to clean up Source to reach new areas. Clearing out areas of Rust also nets you Rust fragments that can be used to repair the Nest. These fragments can also be synthesized to create items to assist in battle. You can also forage for a variety of nuts, fruits, and other plants that can be used to create food and healing items.
Gliding is enjoyable in open areas, but it doesn’t take long for it to wear out its welcome. The camera becomes finicky in tight areas, and it’s easy to get stuck on rocks and ledges. You also can’t tell where a Flow thread goes until you’re riding it. The late-game areas are full of mountains, crevasses, and buildings, and it can be a pain to remember which specific thread you need to take to reach your destination.
DT: Here’s where SM and I definitely differed on our opinions. I thought exploration was enjoyable. Sure, it was frustrating at times (some of the sharp turns you have to make, combined with the not-always-great camera angles gave me a headache once or twice), but I thought it was mostly fun. So, as a result, I ended up taking charge of gliding more often than not, while SM took control of the weird blobby thing that picked up food and rust. It honestly worked out well for us.
Hunter and Gatherer
SM: Haven quickly falls into a predictable pattern. You’ll fill up on Flow, clear out Rust until you run out, and then fill up on Flow again…and then continue clearing out Rust. Repetition sets in early, and unfortunately, there’s just not much to see on Source. The game’s aesthetic itself is beautiful. I spent an inordinate amount of time just looking at the world, but most of the game’s areas look almost identical.
There’s an advantage to playing co-op while exploring, too. Both players can glide around, but the camera tends to stick to one player, so really, only one player can guide the team. That’s fine because the passive player gets to use a Flow blob to pick up items while you’re gliding. It has to stay on screen, but it’s extremely useful in streamlining Haven’s foraging components. In single-player, you have to stop and manually pick up items, which becomes a disruptive chore.
DT: Haven is definitely meant to be played co-op. It actually mirrors a real-life relationship: you have to agree on in-game choices together in order to make the dialogue advance, you have to coordinate your battles (more on that below from SM), and you to work together when you’re gliding in order to maximize how much rust you’re clearing, as well as picking up foodstuffs to cook or make into medicine later on. While I’m certain this game is still very enjoyable as a single-player adventure, I really do think it was meant to be played with two players, especially if those two players are in a relationship all their own. It adds a really interesting depth to the game that I honestly don’t think I’ve experienced in any other game.
Choose Your Battles Wisely
SM: Haven also includes an RPG-style battle system that activates when aggressive creatures or robots get too close. There are four options: pacify, impact, blast, and shield. Impact is a physical attack, and blast is long-ranged. One character can use shield to protect both characters. Pacify is used after an enemy is defeated. If you don’t pacify quickly enough, a downed enemy will regenerate a small amount of health.
It’s not too dissimilar from an old Final Fantasy. Battles are active, and enemies attack at specific intervals while you issue your commands. There’s no ATB bar, but you can tell by their behavior when they’re about to strike. You can change commands on the fly, too. Enemies are generally either weak to impact or blast but not both.
Charge attacks for both moves are also available, but their actual utility is debatable. It takes a fairly long time to charge them, and because it takes both players, no one can shield. You’re just a sitting duck. Some enemies, especially larger bosses, can also knock you off the screen, which disrupts your charge. We usually only charged once, even though you can charge up to three times. It’s just not prudent in most situations. Speaking of charging, you can use a variety of different items in battle, but you have to charge first to use one.
In single-player, you control both characters at the same time. While the battle system is straightforward, it becomes more complicated with a partner. I struggled to remember my enemies’ weaknesses, but my husband didn’t, so he got to spend his time yelling commands at me so that I wouldn’t get us both killed. It also makes charge attacks more enjoyable because both players have to activate them at the appropriate time.
DT: Yeah, for whatever reason, SM could not remember creature weaknesses. He also had a hard time remembering where we came from and where we were going, even with the help of the radar/map. But it was pretty fun getting to bark orders and tell him when he was wrong. I mean, isn’t that the best part of any relationship?
SM: As a side note, we encountered multiple crashes during our playtime. The game saves every time you enter an area or the Nest, so we never lost much progress, but it still happened far more often than it should. The developers are releasing a patch this week that should address those issues. As such, these technical issues were not a factor in our review.
A Loving Haven
SM: Haven is absolutely worth playing, especially with a partner. Its story is beautiful, engaging, and authentic. Its storytelling sets a clear benchmark in realistically portraying relationships in video games. I do wish Haven’s gameplay reached the incredible standards set by its story, but even a few blemishes can’t completely tarnish such a unique experience.
DT: Haven is phenomenal. The voice acting is some of the best I think I’ve ever had the joy of listening to, the characters are so relatable it’s almost ridiculous (and that’s really saying something, considering they can glide and fly and travel through space), and when you play it with a partner, it opens up all-new levels of depth and complexity. I think I enjoyed the experience slightly more than my husband did, but to be fair, I have much better taste in games. Definitely give this game a try. Play it by yourself, with a friend, or with your partner. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I’d give it a 4.5, but he’s giving it a 4, and since we don’t do quarter scoring, it’s stuck as a 4. Blame my husband for his poor judgment
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, PC; Publisher: The Game Bakers; Developer: The Game Bakers; Players: 1–2; Released: February 4, 2021 ; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $24.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.