As Far As The Eye Review
As Far As The Eye is a turn-based roguelike procedural village builder that sees you (in the role of wind-like deity Sigh) lead tiny tribes of nomadic “pupils” from settlement to settlement, away from an oncoming flood and towards the central “eye” of the land, and safety.
In each settlement (or “halt”) you have a set number of turns before the flood comes for you: you’re asked to gather resources for your journey, with different objectives depending on the halt you choose, before the land – and you – are washed away.
As you assign a pupil to a task, they passively improve down basic skill trees. Should you give them a specialist building to work from (such as harvesting huts for gatherers), they can go down a specialised branch, with three further skills you can then choose for them. It’s a neat little system that doesn’t require intense micromanagement, but rewards optimised placement of your pupils. With only three to five pupils to pay attention to, it isn’t hard to know your best builder and most dedicated chef by name.
Where the water tastes like this is far too much water
With the threat of an oncoming flood, the game also sees you struck by random catastrophic events, called vagaries. Small flash floods, bouts of sickness, forest fires – these affect your resources and your pupils’ ability to work, ensuring you can’t just set up a pipeline and let it go until you have the resources you need. As Far As The Eye is a game with no combat, no hostile animals and no fights for expansion, so your responses to these environmental threats are where the game asks you to panic-scramble away from your neatly planned strategies.
This emphatic lack of violence is part of As Far As The Eye’s exceptionally gentle framing. Your role is cast as the “Sigh”, a wind-like god, whose influence is felt by pupils who have tied colourful balloons around their waists to know it better (and to be easier to click on). You’re reminded not to take more from the land than you need, and if you try, you’ll find you can’t take more than you can carry. Each time you journey on to the next “halt”, you pack up your resources in an inventory management puzzle.
Protective auras that limit the collection of resources are “soothed” by your druids, and additional fluffy pack animals tamed in animations surrounded by love hearts. Even the work animations are more of a ritual dance than they are anything depicting actual labour; fruit isn’t picked, but leaps from the earth on request. In all these details, the relationship between visual storytelling and gameplay is sweet and seamless.
It’s got style
As Far As The Eye is a visual treat, too – there’s a crumbling stick of pastel strewn across the top of the map where your journey is laid out ahead of you like a cartographer has thrown it down. The maps themselves pair their colours beautifully, with rust orange plains and bright turquoise lakes. There’s pleasure in just roaming through a map when you’ve newly arrived and allowing the world to reveal itself to you, splendid and colourful.
Unfortunately, for all its visual polish and fine details, the core gameplay feels unbalanced in key ways.
Most of the time, the greatest threat is starvation, not the flood – the resource management is very based around acquiring food, and you can’t manage this with only one dedicated pupil. Making rations is more efficient than eating raw food, but this requires one pupil to collect fruit (or wheat, or fish, or game), another to work in the bakery or cookhouse, and a third to at least intermittently resupply the bakery or cookhouse with wood. With a dedicated two-and-a-half-person food pipeline, you’re left with a third jack-of-all-trades to gather the resources you need for the next leg of your journey.
Hunter and/or gatherer
Even a dedicated food pipeline doesn’t keep your pupils from starving, however, as they can become less efficient at it over time. Gathering is centred around hub buildings, and as you deplete the closest tiles and move further away, the added travel time means the amount eaten per turn can quickly outpace the rate food is produced. This is particularly frustrating as you may not realise this has happened until your pupils become sick from hunger, at which point it’s too late to change anything – pupils who become sick die faster than you can instigate any change in your resource pipeline, due to the number of turns in a harvest cycle.
An efficient pipeline is also only useful for one settlement at a time – with four different food sources (each with specialised buildings), and two mutually exclusive food preparation buildings (a bakery is only vegetarian, a cookhouse only cooks meat and fish), a fully levelled fruit gatherer and a portable harvesting hut are a wasted investment if your next settlement only has game. At each step of the way, the hunger system seems to contradict the rest of the game’s design.
We all need food, right?
This heavy emphasis on struggling for survival undermines your actual play goals: to stockpile resources for the next leg of your journey, as you progressively move towards the “eye” and away from the threat of the flood.
The trade specialisation system incentivises you to recruit new pupils from other passing caravans, but it’s rarely a good opportunity to do so. New pupils won’t work until you build them somewhere to live, but they will still eat from your supplies. Unless you already have all the resources for a camp ready, it’s a significant risk to take them on.
Similarly complicated are the random traits each pupil will have, both explicitly negative and positive. While some of these can be useful and shape how you pick trades, such as increased movement speed (or reduced appetite), many of the negative traits involve constant health loss over time, inabilities to work at certain times, or even to specialise in any trades at all. Rather than interesting debuffs or quirks, they disproportionately outweigh the perks of the positive traits, and sometimes result in “death by randomness” – a problem that increasingly crops up elsewhere in the late game as vagaries dramatically increase.
Not what it seems
A difficult thing about writing reviews is that you’re working with a pre-release copy of the game. Options settings and some ways to level up were greyed out with a cheerful “coming soon!”, with the developers clarifying that these would be available in the full release. Daily patches addressed bug fixes, amended the English localisation, and significantly adjusted and re-adjusted the balance of the game. While we did get told that some of the settings could be further customised in the full release, that’s not what I got to play, so I can’t really comment on how effective that is.
While turning off frustrating features is a blunter solution than seeing them integrated into a better-balanced game, As Far As The Eye has a grounding in something really beautiful. I look forward to the opportunity to experience the game I saw parts of underneath its less well-implemented elements. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the one I got to review.
[Reviewed on PC]