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Away: Journey to the Unexpected Review

In this day and age, it seems like you can’t go a week without a new roguelike game dropping onto game stores. The idea seems great. It’s a game that can be played over and over again, offering something new or different each time. Games like Rogue Legacy or Dead Cells really nail this genre because each time you die, it feels like it was your fault. You got greedy, you were dumb, you needed to learn how to defeat that boss. The key is making the player (that’s you) feel like it was their fault, not the game’s. Choice is key. Away: Journey to the Unexpected doesn’t look like a roguelike at first glance, yet that’s exactly what the game is: a very unique take on the roguelike genre. Unfortunately, Away: Journey to the Unexpected (to use a baseball analogy) swings and misses more than it hits. In short, Away: Journey to the Unexpected is a mixed bag.

In Away: Journey to the Unexpected, you play a teenager who is on a mission to find and save his parents. Over the course of the game, you’ll go to strange places, beat up a bunch of different creatures, and make friends. Like I mentioned above, Away is a roguelike game. Death doesn’t end the game, you merely start over again.

One of the first things I really loved about this game was its visuals. This is a game I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, first seeing it in a Nintendo Direct a year ago. It has such a unique look that I’m confident when I said the game was a roguelike, you were like, “No way that’s a roguelike.” You can clearly see the love the developers had for crafting such a beautiful world. It’s a 3D world with 2D characters. On its visuals alone, the game stands out from anything else out there.

Away: Journey to the Unexpected also does a great job at making you feel completely underpowered for your adventure. You start off with 3 hearts and a stick; that’s all you have available to you in order to survive and beat enemies. A lot of that beginning adventure is about figuring out timing. How do I time my attacks to hurt the enemy while avoiding getting myself hurt? It makes each initial fight a cautious, slow encounter. To be fair, I died a number of times in this beginning area because I didn’t get my timing correct. Once I did get my timing down, however, the adventure became much more enjoyable. This is especially important for the game’s dungeons. In these areas (which are randomized each time), you’re thrown into a dungeon with a bunch of random enemies you have to defeat. No two dungeons are the same, which is nice for roguelike fans. Dying doesn’t feel like a punishment because each time you go into dungeons, they are all new again. Inside these dungeons, you have to search for a lever you need to pull to open up the boss dungeon in the area. I honestly found these dungeons to be the most enjoyable part of the game. The overworld, while pretty and open, just wasn’t as much fun.

The biggest issue I have with this game is its endgame. The opening hour or so of the game feels like a rush, jumping right into the action and getting used to the game. The end of the game is gated and grinds everything to a complete stop. One of the things Away has in it is friendships, characters you find along the way and recruit to your adventure. This sounds good in theory, but in order to continue towards the end of the game, you absolutely must have recruited ALL the characters in the game. Again, in theory this sounds good until you realize that recruiting them all is a massive pain. To recruit someone, you have to first talk to them while having an open friendship slot. You’re given dialogue options during this conversation, and you have to pick the correct dialogue option that will lead to them joining you. However, the correct option is very unclear in these conversations, and they flat out feel completely random. Yet again, in theory, this would make some sense, but if you fail to recruit them on the first attempt, you have to wait until you die to try and recruit them again. This turns the end of the game into an extremely boring cycle of finding characters you need to recruit, start a conversation, picking the wrong option, killing your character, and starting all over. This isn’t something you can skip. You absolutely CANNOT reach the final area of the game without having recruited everyone.

My other major issue with Away is the poorly done “upgrade system.” Like with other roguelike games, you are rewarded for dying and are allowed to level yourself up after each death. The problem is that in Away, the level-up system works very awkwardly. Most of the level-up rewards allow you to fast travel to different areas of the game, but the sheer amount of experience required for these “rewards” means that you end up unlocking them well after you started needing them. It’s great that I finally unlocked the ability to fast travel to this specific location, but I actually NEEDED it to unlock many, many deaths before.

These issues take a truly unique game that plays pretty well for the first hour and turns it into a frustrating, annoying experience at the end. Was I able to finish the game? Yes. Did it require way more work than it should have? Absolutely. I could forgive the fairly broken level-up system if getting to the end of the game wasn’t such a chore. The game never tells me I absolutely MUST have all the characters as friends before I can reach the final area. So I go about playing the game the way I would want, only to be “punished” for not doing what the game wanted. It’s a game that is hard to recommend. If I only focus on the first hour or so of the game, it would be a very easy game to recommend. However, thinking about the whole experience, if you’re looking for a good roguelike game, Away: Journey to the Unexpected isn’t it. There are much better games out there to play that truly nail the roguelike genre. It’s a shame too, I really had been looking forward to Away for quite some time.

Developer: Aurélien Regard

Publisher: Playdius

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC

Release Date: 5th February 2019 (PS4), 7th February 2019 (Nintendo Switch), 8th February 2019 (Xbox One), 13th February 2019 (PC)

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