I think Retreat to Enen is a gorgeous game and you should definitely play it. I spent hours fucking around in the Steam Next Fest demo and saw no red flags that would have me banging the drum warning you to STAY AWAY.
That being said. *inhale*
While the demo is a demo (IS A DEMO) and clearly doesn’t contain every scrap of mechanic/content/info/fluff that the full game will contain at launch/throughout development- I feel like it did help solidify how I feel about the vibe & gameplay: FOR ME. FOR ME AS IT PERTAINS TO ME. [Oh FYI you’re going to see that blip “for me. How it feels for me. How I like it” A LOT. So don’t try and do any of those “drink when he says FOR ME PERSONALLY” because you will probably pass out.]
Retreat to Enen is a first person, open world, futuristic survival game where players can craft, base build, hunt, fish, meditate & explore. Rather than dropping us into a typical POST APOCALYPTIC ZOMBIE world, Enen goes completely in the other direction. [Though we still get to this point by basically fucking up the world with strife/war/ignoring climate change. Sound familiar?] Your basic purpose, per developers, is as follows: “…every human who reaches adulthood is now tasked with learning how to become one with Nature, on the island of Enen. Retreat to Enen focuses on this rite of passage. Arrive at the legendary island to learn how to live in peaceful harmony with nature by surviving on your own, discovering the island’s secrets, and mastering the art of meditation.” Spoiler- the game handles this premise beautifully. And that’s kinda how they lost me.
You start off by popping out of your little trippy-futuristic-honeycombed-pale cerulean dome. And you kinda just start to do the typical survival dance; explore, move around, poke the stuff, eat the stuff. There’s a tutorial on the top left of the screen that will prompt you to accomplish specific tasks- basically your typical “touch this, craft that, go here” setup. I found it all to be incredibly straightforward and largely unnecessary- I would have actually welcomed the ability to completely skip/toggle off the tutorial. For me (drink!) the allure of the survival genre is figuring shit out-hell even dying to it- as you puzzle out exactly how things function in this broken/remote/deadly world. But the developers have said that based on player feedback they’ve added in additional pop ups, extra tutorial steps and info to help folks along. They also mentioned that the demo is harder than the release will be…? So that’s a bit interesting. As someone who plays a lot of survival games – and flat out prefers bush craft type survival- I feel like many of the issues/questions that people were posting to the Discord were often either very basic survival game mechanics or (what I like to call) “common sense” survival questions.
If you’re in the Hashtag Survival Discord/have listened to the podcast you’re familiar with the following but in a nutshell it often boils down to two things.
- The survival genre is soooo so wide that when folks onboard with a title that handles more like a RPG or MMO-lite than a survival game, like say Valheim, there can be an abrupt awakening when trying a survival game with “two dimensional” mechanics. Suddenly there are impactful mechanics and/or choices that can dictate flourish or flounder- versus more of a basic premise of “running around and trying to not get killed by mobs” like you would in Super Mario, any MMO, or really most games.
- Oftentimes in those RPG/MMO style ‘survival’ titles, there’s a lot more handholding or mechanic breakdown. The item you need will glow or have an icon, it’s very clearly pointed out how to progress with an item or task from A-B-C, items or mechanics often feel one dimensional. But I find in survival titles you often can find the answer to a problem by thinking of the situation in a real life fashion. “I need water? Can I craft something to catch rainwater or is there a standing body of water somewhere? I doubt it’s intended to DRINK OCEAN WATER so let me look around. Ah I found a pond, I’ll risk drinking and see if I get sick.” In some games you’re given a crafting menu/book right off the bat and can browse through it and see shit like “PRETTY FLOWER TEA. CURES DYSENTERY FROM DRINKING DIRTY WATER”. I mean you get the idea right?
The main game premise of VIBE WITH NATURE ends up dictating how mechanics & interactions in the game are handled. You can only surface mine, forage, hunt and gather for supplies. No cutting down of trees. No disruptive behaviors towards the land at all. Additionally, even though you do use a weapon to slay animals, there’s no butchering/processing of the carcass. Instead you use a feature called Quantum Control to basically…I dunno. Futuristic hand vibe USE THE FORCE point and make things happen. You hand vibe dead carcasses, ore- hell you even hand vibe to start the fire. The in game building follows the same setup- with player built structural items just vibing [I know it doesn’t quite work in this sentence but I like it so roll with me] into being if you happen to have the blueprint unlocked and the materials on hand. If you have some Subnautica time under your belt- or you’ve been following along with Forever Skies previews- you’re probably already OK with some type of “futuristic technology means I can do this thing very EASY FANCY”.
For me it was exactly that lack of friction between the end result (gathering meat, gathering ore, starting fire, building) – that ended up disconnecting me from the entire experience. There’s a very visceral component to many bushcraft survival games- the grit and effort to source & gather materials, make the item/tool, utilize it to claw your way up a progressive chain of items/resources/etc. Don’t get me wrong, I get that it’s meant to be both a natural balance/harmony and a more relaxed direction for survival, but [for me/DRINK] it ended up taking away from any actual feeling of needing to put in effort to subsist.
The meditation mechanics were created in collaboration with licensed mental health specialists and offer the chance to learn breathing exercises and participate in the guided meditations IRL. It’s not a token mechanic meant to help the game stand out in a sea of survival titles but a necessary component to game-play progression and survival. Many games handle building & crafting by searching out blueprints, having a handy guide book, or unlocking recipes solely based on ingredient acquisition. In Enen you rely on the completion of golden domed meditation points, located within scattered ruins, to unlock varied recipes. Additionally the developer stated in Discord that there is a meditation mode in the pipeline where you just gather, build, and meditate- no survival mechanics required. That would likely drop in 2023, assuming it isn’t scrapped along the way.
Meditation in Enen isn’t something you can ignore. Meditating refills your spirit meter- the resource bar by which you are able to utilize Quantum Control AKA spirit vibe hand- and low spirit meter will lead to death. Or, as it’s called in Enen lingo, “medical extraction”. I would mind this feature less if it wasn’t so restrictive. The blue dome meditation points can be quickly utilized; you pop in, hit your button, BREATHE ALONG with the animated gif as your bar refills and DONE. The golden domes are an entirely different story. They last FOREVER. (Okay maybe it’s like 30 seconds but it honestly felt like forever to me.) You cannot skip out of them. You have to listen to a guided meditation that came across, to me, as incredibly stilted. And in all fairness I asked my wife to listen to the meditation, since meditation/yoga/etc are her jam, and she was basically like “…I’ve heard so much better”. It just seemed like an extra layer that I didn’t personally click with- if I wanted guided meditation, I’d like some agency in choosing the type I experience- maybe voice options, or pacing, or yanno the option to skip it entirely.
So you’re probably thinking, “geeze Jordan, why’d you tell me I should play the game and then basically write about all of the shit you didn’t like”?
Fair point grasshopper! Honestly- as with any upcoming game not made by a AAA studio with gorgeous visuals- people are falling all over themselves to rhapsodize about how amazing or awesome it’s going to be, or how excited they are for it to arrive. And that sentiment has only grown since the demo was launched because the game is gorgeous and has a lot of attention to detail within their ‘one with nature’ vision. Hell I’m pretty sure folks who are into building will love the game hardcore. All of the building fun of other survival titles but less danger, whether it’s from AI or whatever. The launch of the game will see the addition of two more biomes – both 2-3 times the size of the biome we experienced thus far- plus wolves & bears, which provide another layer of danger beyond the snakes already in game. [Which are honestly pretty easy to ignore if you’re used to ignoring ground based dangers like snakes & scorpions from other titles.]
I definitely think you should get it. Hell I wouldn’t be surprised if my wife got it- and she’s not even into the genre. For me it’s not going to fulfill the specific itch I have when I look for a survival or bushcraft survival title- or a title with survival mechanism depth & difficulty. And that’s OK! Not every game has to be Green Hell’s King of the Jungle, or The Long Dark’s Interloper. Any game-play criticisms I had either were resolved by the developer (like not being able to access the menu while in an active game, which will be changed) or they’re quirky things that just bug me personally. Like the way the spear is carried across the body, the GRUNTING noise as you strike, etc. Oh actually I really thought the “combat” – i.e stabbing an animal – was very very clunky and felt like nothing was happening??
But in the end, if you’re coming to Enen for the relaxation and meditation – you won’t be disappointed.