Back when she was alive, your mother’s favorite memory was vacationing with your father in a far-off island called Eastshade. It’s a wonderous place with breathtaking scenery and curious inhabitants that are all equally friendly and talkative bipedal animals. Your mother’s dying wish was for you to visit Eastshade on your own, explore, and paint four specific pieces of the island. It’s never that easy, though, as the vessel carrying you over crumbles in the ocean and you wash ashore with nothing to your name except your easel.
At least you made it?
Eastshade is a first-person narrative adventure with a bite-sized mostly-open world to explore. The island is littered with inhabitants that often ask for help with various tasks, like fetch quests or painting a specific landscape, but the only core tasks are those four mentioned by your mother. You aren’t given a lot to go on so you’ll be venturing off the beaten path for most of the journey, gathering crafting materials along the way.
The best way I can explain Eastshade is “Morrowind as a walking sim,” which is pretty accurate. The environments and character types all reminded me of the Elder Scrolls classic, with the camera even doing that quick zoom in whenever you initiate conversation. There’s no combat or action of any sorts — you talk, explore, and help out where you can.
Crafting is a key aspect of the game and resources aren’t always in steady supply. Out in the wild you’ll collect roots for twine, sticks for fires, plants for tea, and, most importantly, fabric and boards to craft the ever-important canvas. I mean, you can’t paint without them. Nightfall in Eastshade is also dangerously cold, so for the first third of the game the time you’re given for exploration is limited (but not to an annoying degree). Eventually you’ll be crafting tents and rafts to venture out further, and you’ll want to keep a constant eye out for the game’s many, many materials.
I rarely stuck to the road and only found myself needing to backtrack for specific things just a small handful of times. These were usually found in very few different locations and would only respawn after three in-game days had gone by. This doesn’t include the fabric and boards for canvas, though, and that presents one of my main complaints: I wish Eastshade made canvas materials more readily available so you can spend them on more personal paintings.
Often, I’d only find just enough to complete quest-specific paintings or to fulfill a commission for some extra cash. You do eventually meet an art dealer that sells canvases at a reasonable price, but I usually needed that money for helpful (and expensive) items, like a coat that allowed nighttime exploration and a teapot to brew fast-travel drinks out in the wild.
Nothing is every stressful, though. If you’re completing quests and fulfilling commissions you should be able to buy everything you need to complete the game. Personally, I just wanted a little more wiggle room to wander off and paint sceneries that weren’t needed for anything other than my own enjoyment.
On the technical side, it saddens me to say that Eastshade is kind of a mess. Even playing this on my Xbox Series X the framerate was always inconsistent and the entire game (all 8 hours of it) was littered with environmental and texture pop-in. I could have forgiven this stuff if I were playing on my old Xbox One, but there’s really no excuse for a $25 game, indie or not, to perform this poorly on the most powerful version of the home consoles.
It’s not as if Eastshade is visually taxing either. The character models are dated by at least two console generations, but I’m not really a graphics snob. I found everything pretty charming, honestly. I’m just baffled by how badly it ran, including framerate stuttering, interactive button prompts that never left the screen, quests that never triggered, issues with deploying crafted items like tents and fires, fish floating in mid-air after catching one from a school, NPCs stuck in the geometry and some not even turning around to face you while they had full-blown conversations.
During the game’s final acts I spent a lot of time navigating Eastshade by boat, which you have to manually place in the water. But, more often than not, I’d run into a problem with the placement reticle showing absolutely nowhere viable to deploy it. If I spun the camera around and/or aimed into the sky it would sometimes correct the problem, but usually I just had to put the raft back in my backpack and try again until it worked.
I ran into another annoying issue while deploying the upgraded raft (a reed boat) into certain (mandatory) waters. As soon as I found a spot that would even let me sit it down, it would immediately launch into the air and land upside down. Sometimes it would take upwards of 3 or 4 tries before it worked properly.
Even with the technical hiccups, I had a pretty decent time with Eastshade. I found the premise endearing, although I wish the aspect of painting was more interactive than hovering a cropping square into the proper location. I was usually eager to discover a new locale, but nothing was ever jaw-dropping or awe-inspiring. I like what the dev team was going for here — a relaxing narrative-focused adventure game that’s more involved than your average walking sim — and I’d have an easier time recommending it if it actually worked properly.
I played through Eastshade on my own through Xbox Game Pass because it looked interesting and I saw that it was leaving the subscription service here shortly. I don’t regret my time with it, but had it not been on Game Pass I’d have been incredibly upset that I paid $25 for something so jarringly flawed on a technical level. Others reported achievements not popping, but I didn’t experience that myself.
If this seems like something you’d be interested in then I highly suggest either waiting for a sale or for an update patch to fix the glaring issues. It’s been available since 2019, though, so the likelihood of that happening in 2021 is pretty slim.