Nightingale must lean into its magic to survive

Firstly, I’d like to apologise to the team at Inflexion Games. I happen to share my name with their forthcoming gaslamp survival fantasy – to the extent they’ve had to mute me on social media so my silly little posts don’t get in the way of them looking at what people are saying about Nightingale.

And there’s plenty to say, especially after I was able to get a good tour of its systems back at Gamescom, and a peek at its beautiful world. It certainly looks the part, with some of the most gorgeously shimmering water and realistic wave physics I’ve seen. There are spectacular magic effects from player and enemy alike, and vibrant, hyper-realistic lighting.

The world feels unique – with fantasy tropes such as fairies and magic and colossal beasts explored by a character suited and booted like a Victorian, with a Mary Poppins umbrella that lets you float over grand, open landscapes. There’s a decent variety of environments populated by walking trees, giant skulled elks, elephant-esque dinosaurs, and other bizarrely spliced creations. Between the smart outfits, the inventive creature design, and the lush environments, it looks like nothing else.

Nightingale Release Date TrailerWatch on YouTube

And that’s important in such a crowded corner of video games. With Valheim and The Forest proving supremely popular in a short space of time, Nightingale needs to quickly stand out – and then stand the test of time. And for that, it needs a gameplay twist as well as pretty visuals.

Thankfully, there are realm cards. Inflexion promises around 50 cards will be available relating to biomes, creatures, resources and more. Together these cards are used as the basis to form procedurally generated realms to explore and in which to gather resources – players will use a biome card (like a desert or forest), a major card and a minor card and the system deals its magic.

It’s a smart way of putting power into the hands of players, while also limiting progression. Need more of a specific resource? Simply use the associated realm card in your next world, with rarer resources requiring rarer cards. Rather than endlessly exploring, players have agency in order to focus on more important things like storytelling, plus customising their character and estate.

Realmwalker at night with mystical sky in Nightingale

Magical estate in Nightingale

Nightingale has some beautiful environments. | Image credit: Inflexion

Before that, you’ll need to survive. Initially, that means collecting berries to eat, and sticks and rocks to create tools and weapons. Want to cook? You’ll need to make a fire first. Crafting seems remarkably quick and intuitive, with tools created in just a couple of clicks and building parts selected in menus and plopped into the world, with elaborate construction done with ease. It’s also perhaps a little mundane to build the basics considering the magical fantasy setting. Eventually players will take on imposing creatures, but it’ll take a fair bit of busywork to get there, starting with small but vital tools and buildings before the more experimental work can begin.

Then you’ll want to fight off those creatures – and it’s here I have reservations. Nightingale can be played in both first and third-person, but – at least in this hands-off session – its combat just didn’t look satisfying. Melee involves blocking and swinging floaty weapons around like we’re back playing Skyrim in 2011, while gunplay lacks impact and force. Of course, it’s hard to tell without playing it myself and it may be that more interesting weaponry is found later on, but I don’t want to be up against a bullet sponge of a mystical giant with a rifle that feels like a pea shooter. Big numbers from each hit fill the screen but don’t suffice in selling the power fantasy.

The developers took us through an encounter with a Sun Giant, one of the game’s apex creatures, and it was the variety of options in gameplay that impressed more than actual combat. An elaborate sniping tower was built near the enemy who stood alone in a vast swampy lake, but this was swiftly knocked down once battle commenced. The battle could have been avoided entirely had the giant accepted an offering instead.

Battle against Sun Giant in first person
The dominating Sun Giant. | Image credit: Inflexion

This being an enemy with the power of the sun, the giant can blast dazzling rays of light at the player. The heat from these can be used to rise up into the sky with your umbrella and shoot from above, Breath of the Wild-style. Later, some other creatures joined the fray and carnage ensued. The encounter was lengthy, requiring shot accuracy and considered use of the environment. It seems there will be multiple ways of approaching combat, thanks to the crafting system used for buildings, tools, and weapons.

Then it’s back to your estate to build some more and customise your character. There’s an impressive character creator with plentiful, diverse options that’s detailed right down to the eyelashes. Indeed, player expression is important when joining others online for battle and proudly showing off estates, which continue the elegant aesthetic. Want to build more? You’ll need the materials, so back to the realms you go.

Survival game fans will certainly find a compelling loop here and there looks to be huge depth to the crafting system and realm card combinations. Yet I hope such fantastic visual design extends to the gameplay too and it doesn’t get bogged down with lightweight combat and mundane busywork. There’s still time for changes – its early access launch doesn’t roll around until 22nd February. But for now – and for a game about survival – Nightingale needs to lean more heavily into its gaslamp fantasy to ensure it sticks around.

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