Tuesday, April 16

Review: My Time at Portia [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Games that are sort of life sim sandboxes, the likes of the classic Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, or Stardew Valley, are always pretty placid affairs. You’ll spend your time exploring, collecting, crafting, and generally pursuing whatever may interest you; the idea being that the game systems in multiple areas are fleshed out well enough that everyone can find a path that they’re interested in. The latest onto the Switch scene in this vein, My Life at Portia, certainly provides the sandbox feel in its very pleasant 3D world, and some of its areas are satisfyingly deep, but it’s also hard not to note its inconsistencies that hold it back from reaching its full potential.


You’ll start the game by using a reasonably good character creator to determine your gender, base look, and name, and then after a short boat ride arrive at Portia. Having inherited your father’s workshop your generalized goal in the game is to become a successful builder of many and diverse things, but the road to get there will require a whole lot of gathering, forging, and incremental progress along the way. First crafting your base tools for breaking down rocks and chopping down trees you’ll be off to begin collecting the elements you’ll need to build your new empire. Taking on smaller odd job level tasks from your fellow townspeople you’ll get plenty of opportunities to gain experience, gold, and build friendships. Meanwhile, on the higher end you’ll be assigned much more ambitious projects that will take far more investment, especially early on before you’ve built all of the tools that you’ll need to create and refine more complex parts.


As you begin get rolling with your crafting you’ll inevitably end up needing to hit the mines to get ores and some other materials. Mining, in general, will probably be a hit or miss thing for people in terms of enjoyment. By putting on some special goggles you’ll be able to look around and pinpoint items of interest that you can then try to dig your way to, generally picking up useful resources along the way as well. It’s overall a pretty quick and satisfying activity and there are a multitude of things to find doing this, ranging from rare parts to data discs that you’ll then be able to trade in to unlock blueprints for new tools that will come in handy for your business once you get them identified.


You’ll find that there are many more things to do in the game, whether farming, fishing, fighting, participating in town festivals, or playing mini games of various kinds for prizes or to build friendships with people. But while Portia does go pretty wide with these activities it unfortunately doesn’t tend to go very deep. Fishing and generalized combat are the easiest things to call out for their shallowness. Once you get the hang of the somewhat odd and poorly-explained fishing mechanics if you have a worm and a rod you’ll very quickly be able to catch things without much effort at all. With just a pretty simple dodge roll and quick swiping attacks combat is also very bare bones and not terribly satisfying, though some of the creatures and monsters you’ll encounter are quite capable of killing you, some very suddenly in fact, which can be annoying when it is so abrupt at times.


Aside from some of the systems in the game lacking in depth there are some other things worth noting. First, even though a pre-release patch has improved the loading times in specific situations, overall they’re still quite noticeable. In particular the time from starting up the game to being out in the world actively doing things is a bummer as the game takes time to get to the main menu, then to load your file to start with you waking up, but then another load delay as you go outside. At times just pulling up the inventory at a shop can also take an unusually long delay. Given the size of the world and the number of things in it this may not be surprising, and in general I don’t let load times bother me, but they’re long enough that it makes them noteworthy nonetheless. Second, the pacing and in-game guidance are a bit off. Very quickly you’re given the project to build a bridge, but you’re not even remotely capable of doing so as it will require tools you don’t have. The issue is that all that it will take to get there isn’t explained well and there are tools on top of other tools you’ll need to build to accomplish this task. Last, while I like being able to go and do my own thing, discovering hidden secrets and quests that are nice surprises, Portia just feels comparatively lacking in structure, It throws a bunch of random parts on the floor, some more interesting than others, but it’s not really clear what you may be ultimately building towards as a whole. Even if I choose to be distracted and do whatever I'd like it’s still nice to know what it is I’m ignoring.


My Life at Portia aspires to reach the heights of renown some other titles in this space have garnered, and on the surface it has pretty well all of the elements that it needs to do so. The problem is just that many of those elements feel lacking or simply thrown together to check them off a list rather than each activity you could choose feeling good and worthwhile on their own. If your goal is to simply lose yourself in daily tasks, slowly but surely expanding and improving your workshop and the island little by little you may well find it scratches that itch nicely and be thrilled with it. If, however, you find that the things you enjoy doing aren’t very satisfying you could very quickly feel disappointed and burn out on the experience much more quickly. Portia is still a nice place to visit, and I have no doubt the proper audience will adore it, just in terms of breaking out into more mainstream appeal I think it comes up a bit short.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • An interesting in-game world with plenty of places to explore and things to discover
  • On a general level this is a sandbox experience, providing for many ways to enjoy yourself and find success
  • The crafting system gets to be pretty elaborate

Cons:
  • Not all areas of the game share the same degree of depth and care, combat and fishing are both easy to point out as being lackluster
  • Some of the load times are noticeably long, though thankfully the Day 1 patch helped to improve them in some circumstances. However, time from boot up to exploring outside your house remains painful specifically
  • The lack of structure and proper explanation of some elements of the game early on can make it more frustrating getting started than it should be