Open-world titles are a strange batch to do a preview piece of. Theoretically, all of the content is already there to see, albeit in a state that isn’t quite finished. Although, the nature of finding all of this content is another matter entirely, as it is an open world setting with a hand-designed area (as opposed to a procedurally generated land). I would either find everything within an hour, or I will have only scratched the surface, and I wouldn’t know either way. So, in an attempt to keep things neutral, I decided I’d describe the adventures of John in the land of The Black Death, a game developed by Syrin Studios and Small Impact Games.
Although, before I do talk about his misadventures, you can find a video of my first impressions here:
John was a simple peasant. He wasn’t one of the fortunate people in the tales he had heard about living in the land of the rampaging dead, a world populated by nudist colonies; not even a mythological world without curves. There was a clear caste system–a class system if you will–that you were born into. Sadly, he was not destined to be a militia man, skilled at kicking people in the shins, nor a merchant who could buy and sell goods. Instead, he was a peasant, learning the family secret passed down from generation to generation: how to sow seeds into crops. John didn’t know how to do anything with the wheat, like make food. The powers that be dictated that he would never learn to do such a thing, even after his family pressed the seeds into his hands as he left home.
“But why did John leave? Aren’t peasants destined to toll the land like their ancestors?” Usually, yes, and John’s passed down job title hung over his head in the form of his surname. Sadly, with the sweeping tide of The Black Death dooming his village and a poor harvest starving it, John Potatoherder was forced from his land. He decided to venture out in hopes to escape the peasant caste he was a part of.
The lonely peasant had heard tales over the campfire that even with the equipment he had on his back, bandages, and some food, his greater foe would be hunger. He heard that he must strive to find a reliable food source. In his youth, an old man had told him that by practicing chores like gathering rocks, twigs, and berries, he could gain skill points which he could invest in learning how to create things like bread and tools. To the pitter patter of rain that drummed across his shaved cranium, he smirked at the odd babbling that old man offered. Every time he had tried to apply his experiences to learn how to craft bread or to reap seeds from his crops, it failed him for some reason. The “skill points,” to use the bearded story-teller’s words, simply would not apply to the skills he wished to acquire. Maybe it was him, though. Maybe it was a myth?
John’s smirk turned to a grin at the odd adventures he had been on. It was possible that it was just the land behaving in bizarre ways. Did he really cheat water by leaping upon it, able to then sprint across rather than swim through it? Had he been able to float five feet up in the air? Was it true that the mental picture of himself that sprung to mind when checking through his backpack didn’t reflect what he actually looked like? He could even faintly remember, perhaps, a previous life, where he was a woman and that same mental image persisted. John swept some of the water off his scalp and scratched the wet area with a new layer of rain at this icy thought.
He looked down at this broken body as he walked through the rain. He had gotten into a mighty scrap, hadn’t he? John had stumbled upon a gang of bandits. He only had a wooden stake, but fortunately that was enough, as the bandits would often think he didn’t exist or quickly forgot about him whenever they did realise he was in their camp. John had even heard of guards who would get stuck at stairs or around corners when chasing criminals down. Despite this odd behaviour, they had still put down a few swift strikes upon him, leaving him now bleeding along his traversed path.
Even a simple punch would put him down at this point, but John knew people in this land were unable to fight with their fists. It had something to do with honour or, like people’s tendency to ignore being stabbed with sharpened wood until felled, something to do with the land it self. Still, at least he was alive.
Fortunately for John, he stumbled upon food when looting the backpacks of the bandits. Back on the Potatoherder farm, he swore he could go days without feasting, and yet here he grew from a full to starving state in a matter of minutes. So he was relieved as he filled his bag up with apples and cooked meat. John had even dumped the cotton he had picked up to accommodate it, later realising he could have bandaged his wounds with them.
In the end though, as he finally walked to the beach with wanderlust and breathed in the salty air, John’s hunger begun to gnaw on his body. He knew it wouldn’t be long now. He had left a trail of blood to the sea, clinging to life, and at this point he was too frail to fight off the gnawing sensation of hunger. “Maybe this is a good spot to rest?” John thought to himself, eyes becoming heavy as he sat down.
In his dazed state, he thought back to how he entered this forsaken land and the strange person he had met. A few hours from his village, John had been walking down a beaten muddy road when he came across a passing traveller. John still couldn’t work out what caste he might have been, as he looked too fallen to be a merchant, too frail to be military, and too well-groomed to be a peasant. As they walked and talked, his new found friend (with a sing-song voice) spoke of rumours of the new land. He said that while it could offer him fantastical opportunities, it could also offer the greatest of perils.
There were many houses able to be bought. A smile crawled up his lips as it was with gold he was unable to find later. He was also confused as of where he would pay for it, which made him question the traveler’s reliability. There was also The Black Death, threatening to ruin his body if John lurked too near to plague sites or consumed rotting food (something he knew at the time would eventually happen to stave hunger off, at one point or another).
John was also told that he would have to fight off others in the land, people who were free to cave his head in for a lark. This was the case especially as the soldiers were spread too thin and too apathetic to protect anything outside of their keeps. To this he was prepared. His father had taught him to move his stance with the swing, sometimes switching without attack, to a left, right, or central stance. If he could time it just right, John could block an attack meant for his head with his own attack. Sadly, it was something he could never quite get to work no matter how much his father punished him for it with a sore head. Still, at least those lessons helped him kill the bandits, even if he failed to block their own attacks with anything but his own body.
As they reached a junction, all those days ago, the traveler walked down a separate road. John had waved good-bye. He had tried to get information on where this wanderer had gone, thinking it could be better than his destination. Yet, all the man spoke of was a hamlet, one with evil corrupting the land with sickening abominations. It was clear then that such strife was not for the likes of John, and they parted ways. Although, oddly, he wondered what could have been if he did trek for the hamlet instead…
Besides the strange oddities that plagued the lands, as well as the odd speed of his hunger, the only problem he had was the barren nature. Had the lord called everyone to the sword and swore them to duty to fight against a foreign threat? It would explain the empty land. Maybe if the land had been populated it would have been more enjoyable?
John shifted down, laying on the soft sands with a rock as a pillow. As he watched the waves reach up the sands and pull back, he couldn’t say it wasn’t worth it. Sure, the strangeness of how this land behaved and the emptiness of it bothered him, but the idea of travelling to such a place appealed to him. John hoped that when people came back from war, the militias wouldn’t just kill the merchants and peasants for food and goods. Even if there are rather dim guards, those could be taken care of by one skilled with a blade. It would be as though said skills were tempered by war. With each caste of people working together, and sometimes in competition, it could have been a more interesting landscape than the bare fields and settlements he had walked through to get here.
John Potatoherder had outlived his other family members, but alas the name would end with him. He decided this would make for a good nap. Finally feeling his soul leave his body, a flash of one last message scorched into his mind: that he had been killed by early-1900s former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain…
…Whoever that is anyway…
…Anyway, you can find The Black Death on Early Access tomorrow here. It will be £14.99/ $19.99/ € 19.99 and will be for Windows PC only.
A PC code for The Black Death was provided by Green Man Loaded for the purpose of this preview