Title: The Fabled Woods
Developer: CyberPunch Studios
Release Date: March 25, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Walking simulators have become more widespread throughout the last decade. Yet, the genre remains to be a bit divisive to many gamers. While walking sims emphasize exploration, narrative, and discovery, some are turned off by what limitations the genre can bring in terms of gameplay.
Rather than imbuing elements of action or win/loss conditions, the walking sim category insists on storytelling and worldbuilding. Despite being skeptical about the genre, I’ve come to appreciate several games that have been released over the years, such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Firewatch. The bar for this genre has risen, and developer CyberPunch Studios tries their hand at it in their newest release, The Fabled Woods.
The Fabled Woods is a short mystery narrative taking place in a beautiful forest. Surrounded by picturesque nature, you observe the tales of multiple characters, following their stories and discovering clues about what happened to each of them. As you explore, you get to see how these narratives intertwine and connect.
There’s no denying that the graphics for this game look stellar. The surrounding scenery is lush and full of vibrancy. Whether it be the rays of sunlight shining through the leaves or the steady ebbs and flow of the water, the environment looks phenomenal. To aid the tale’s level of engrossment, there is a simple yet fitting soundtrack to accompany your movements throughout the different settings.
During exploration, you also get to listen to the characters’ narration to provide some context. This is where the immersion started to break loose. The performances of the voice actors vary. While some lines are delivered well, many others sound so ingenuine and forced. Supplementing some of the shoddy performances are the rushed character anecdotes. The characters are very quick to move on to the next topic and dismiss further conversation, leaving you feeling unsatisfied.
One would assume to explore the environment for objects and clues to provide more contextual background. Yet this game has a severely low level of interactivity. Outside of a few small items with no relevance, you’re not given much to interact with. There could have been a lot more to do here for the player, given how much we see into the characters’ stories.
Outside of looking around the various environments, a major element of gameplay is a visual power that allows the player to “remember” what happened. This vision shrouds the whole area in red and gives some hints about what may have occurred before your arrival. With this vision, you can also find the object of significance to unlock the next area to explore. This part is not explained by the game whatsoever. While it isn’t that difficult to figure out, it would have been nice to include a few words on what to do, as I initially spent some time just roaming around, lost and confused.
Upon discovering these vital items, you transport into this demonic-looking void as you hear the chatter and lines that transpired during certain story events. Honestly, this felt odd and out of place. Using fantastical imagery to tell a story is fine, but this had poor execution and didn’t mesh well with the atmosphere. All you do is walk through this void, which doesn’t have much to look at anyways. Personally, I think it wasn’t necessary.
Sadly, this dull approach to the narrative is also found in the narrative itself. The pacing is inconsistent and monotonous. The details are not engrossing or surprising in any manner. In fact, the premise and conclusion are predictable and typical of mystery narratives.
Nothing about the story itself was unique, which hurts me to say. It felt really rushed putting all of this together, only for it to run for an hour’s length of time. If more work and time was put into adding more context, interactivity, and detail, especially into learning more about the characters, I think it could have pulled off something quite well.
What works about successful walking simulators is the vigor and vitality put into both the narrative and the surrounding world. You want to feel engrossed and experience something unique and attention-grabbing. The Fabled Woods had the environments and graphics on point, but everything else, from plot to dialogue to gameplay mechanics, felt lackluster in comparison.
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