A review in hindsight from the end of the game
One of the highlights of October for me was the release of an indie game named “Pine” from “Twirlbound“. After about 20 hours of playtime I got through the main story and I have a few thoughts to share, some positive, some not as much. Realistically though, no matter what I say here, this is a truly interesting game with a ton of potential, beautiful landscapes and some intriguing dynamics in its game-play. So settle in as we get lost in the woods and make some friends on the way.
Pine takes the classic “Farmboy/Hero” trope and gives it a twist in it’s opening act.
On the island of Albamare, you are one of a handful of the last humans in a world inhabited by sentient animal tribes and various critters.
You won’t see anything revolutionary in the way the story unfolds but that definitely doesn’t take away from the overall effect. The story begins small scale in your village atop the “Crumbling Cliffs” (Foreshadowing…) and you must go forth to find a new home for your clan. Beyond that, there are some interesting ideas about the origins and history of humans on the island but nothing that really gets going or dives deep. On various occasions I saw glimpses of awesome ideas with both the humans and the animals that dwell on the island but it always felt more like an easter egg than an actual story thread to follow.
All that said, realistically, the story has very little impact on the game overall. Whether you get attached to the characters, read every glossary update or just wander off into the wilderness, it won’t make much of a difference to your experience.
I’ll finish by saying that the story that does exist is definitely well written, the dialogue is well polished and the full glossary explains everything from within your inventory in a clear way so that you’ll never be lost with what to do next.
Here is where the game shines!
The island of Albamare is a beautiful and diverse place and the resource gathering mechanics make sense for each location. For example you’ll find ores in the mountains, fungus in the swamp and vegetables in the forest and plains.
The game is extremely forgiving with where you go right off the bat and pretty much all the animal tribes will stomp on your bones no matter what (More on that below). You can uncover and explore the entire island before even touching any of the quests or story, which is something I really appreciated. If you’re a player that likes direction, it may be a little daunting at first but it is definitely worth having a run around to find some of the more visually appealing vistas that are presented across the island.
The models and terrains have been lovingly crafted and fall somewhere between “Breath of the Wild” and “Yonder” with an almost cartoon feel but enough realism that monsters still look gruesome and your sword looks like it would do some damage when you swing it.
Overall, most of my 20 hours was spent simply exploring and uncovering the map. The only downside to it all is that there isn’t a vast amount to do on the map aside from collecting “Amphiscus Orbs” for a side quest and discovering the different tribes. A few notable locations do exist but unfortunately they aren’t really of any value until you hit a specific quest or story beat. A few scattered dungeons or more interesting “Boss” monsters in the existing caves would go a long way to enhancing the exploration aspect of the game.
Oh boy…Where to start here. The combat is, disappointing.
Firstly, it uses a similar style to “Dark Souls” and that is not something I’ve played a lot of but the whole “Timed Blocks/Attacks/Dodges” really doesn’t gel with my play-style. That’s my excuse for getting beaten up a lot anyway.
Aside from my own shortcomings, every enemy in the game WILL at the very least give you pause. There’s no running in and just smacking at them until they fall over and heaven help you if you come across more than one at a time!
The lock-on system is severely lacking for combat and I found my camera zooming into trees, the ground and even my own head at one point. All making it extremely difficult to time responses to my enemies visual cues. It also seems to restrict the dodge distance a bit meaning, if you’re up against a bigger enemy like a Krocker, they will still hit you even if you have the fastest fingers in the west.
The solution, don’t lock-on. Combat was more manageable without locking on to enemies albeit still janky and annoying. The biggest drawback to the combat though is that there will come a point where you simply have to fight.
Through the story you will make friends and enemies of the animal tribes that live on the island but even leading a raiding party, you will (somehow) always be the most effective fighter of the group. Despite the fact that, if you were to turn on your allies, they would smush you without batting an eyelid.
Maybe it’s a strength in numbers thing. Maybe I suck at video games. Maybe it’s a combat system that needs some balancing or at least some new ideas. I’ll let you decide.
Firstly, sad news friends. Pine is not an RPG. There are no stats or levelling, no perks, feats or skills. Just Hue and his ever growing collection of weapons and thicker armours.
There are hints in the descriptions of these items that could indicate they protect against certain attacks or hurt certain enemies more but honestly, it was very vague and I just went for the coolest looking stuff I had at the time.
The majority of your game-play is based around befriending (or not) the various tribes of the island. Each has a unique culture, some story elements and fighting style and they are all pretty good fun to discover and see brawling in game.
Before I go on, the random battles between scouts and gatherers across the map are excellently implemented. Plus you can get some decent loot from time to time by looting the battlefield.
Here’s the problem though, and it’s a real big one.
You begin the game with the option to befriend all five animal tribes but as the story progresses you WILL annoy more and more of them and slowly your options of where you can rest your head and get some trading done dwindle. This is honestly the biggest disappointment of the whole experience.
Working with the different tribes as their allegiances shift and trying to stay on everyone’s good side is an excellent system and it is (for the most part) implemented in a solid way. But to slowly remove your options and effectively close off areas of the map that are owned by tribes you pissed off because…”You’re human”…I guess, it just doesn’t sit well with me.
If something is the strongest and most unique aspect of your game, don’t restrict it or remove it. And especially don’t show players everything they could have and then arbitrarily remove it over time without any option to go back or alter the outcome. By the end of the story I was pretty ready to stop playing and when I discovered you couldn’t alter the tribes allegiances after finishing the main quest-line, I was ready to call it a day.
As for the other game-play aspects, survival is implemented well with a wide range of edible materials available. It could do with a basic campfire system for cooking up some better foods with the natural ingredients you have on hand or even some kind of temperature system (Something mentioned in some of the armour but not really in the game).
That aside, it’s balanced enough that you’re not constantly looking for food so you don’t starve and you will obviously use more energy the more energetic you are being.
Gathering is nice with a wide range of materials but honestly this is another area that is lacking in my eyes. There are various recipes (or Ideas) that you can unlock and craft but some of the materials are so rare or only grow in one small specific area of the map making some treks a bit ridiculous.
“I really should be uniting the tribes but instead I’ll run the length of the island to the one spot that I know that flower grows so I can make this one potion”
The crafting system gets the job done and your collection of armours and weapons will give you enough options to pick a setup to your own unique tastes but it does seem that a lot of recipes are basically the same stat-wise. Simply changing aesthetic based on the tribe you trade with.
If this is your thing then go for it, just make sure you get all the recipes you want early as later on you will have NO CHANCE to get them because everyone is pissed off with you for being a human by that point.
Despite all my rantings in this review, I did thoroughly enjoy the first 2/3rds of Pine. The island was interesting and beautiful, the animal tribes were fun and unique enough that finding each of them was worth it. The puzzles were well crafted (Albeit super vague at points) and the general feel of the game was pleasing.
However, as the story progressed and I found myself running in larger and larger circles looking for one specific plant, my interest waned and when it became apparent that the story was closing down my options as I went, I almost completely turned off to it.
If I’d known going in that was going to be the case, maybe I would have rolled with it more, but the way it occurred was pretty off-putting.
The fact that there is clearly a lot of love and imagination going into this game leaves the shallow lore and side nods to lost tribes and other story elements feeling a bit of a shame.
It’s clear that the writers and developers had a lot of ideas to run with for this game and it wasn’t possible to implement them all but I would have liked to have seen it fleshed out a little more (A tribe of mole people that dig up magic electric crystals that’s only mentioned once in the whole game. I want more story about them please!)
Before I sign off with the all important question of whether you should play Pine or not, there is one thing left to mention. As far as I can tell, this entire game was made by no more than 7 people and there is a very clear love for the project that shines through in every aspect.
To Play or Not to Play?
Now we reach the important question.
Pine is a beautiful and obviously lovingly crafted experience made by a very talented group of individuals.
It has a lot of character, some very unique game-play aspects and an enjoyable story to journey through.
Where it lacks is depth, so many interesting things are sprinkled throughout the game and so much seems like it could be taken a little further (Diplomacy, companions, end-game content, dungeons, lore, side quests, cooking, crafting the list goes on).
With some additions, Pine would rocket up in my favourite games of 2019.
As it is, if you like chilled, exploration games with very little oversight, unique systems of game-play and beautiful landscapes, play Pine.
If you’re looking for a full RPG or a game to take up more than a few evenings and unfold a grand epic story Pine is not the one for you.
That’s all folks, thanks for stopping by, if you end up playing Pine please share some of your thoughts in the comments here and include any screenshots of cool stuff you come across as you play, til next time!