Geometric Bytes is a new developer on the Steam market with an early alpha-build of the adventure RPG, Eonia. H. Juan M. Silvetti, the one-man team behind this vivid spectacle, has proven himself not only welcoming of praise, but also of critical feedback needed to turn the potential of the alpha into a fun and engaging experience.
In my time with the alpha, Eonia has proven that it has the potential to be special. The world, the characters, the flora and fauna, the mythology and the lore; all of these aspects shine through the grime that plagues Early Access. Unfortunately, my experience was also marred by that grime. While Eonia has gone so far as to amaze me, the moments were few and far between.
In the Beginning There Were Tutorials
Eonia begins with the toll of a clock. Albius awakens from his dark slumber to the first of many thoughts rendered in an elegant yellow scrawl: he has just turned 15, the age when a child might become an apprentice. Despite the lack of a voiced-protagonist, the excitement is evident. He is to become Master Enodio’s apprentice, a figure he clearly knows from before this fateful day. In the coming hours, Albius will explore the vibrant world of Eonia, seeking not only his master and his tribe, but the elusive creatures that roam the fields and perch upon the highest rocks.
In this first moment of clarity, the player is greeted by both the strength of EONIA’s narrative and the weakness of its tutorials. Rather than introducing the world to Albius as if it is altogether new, the player is thrust into EONIA with a brief message from it’s creator, Silvetti. He writes, “Eonia is a game of exploration, discovery and mystery. Don’t rush. Go slow. Read, think and enjoy the adventure.” We are Albius, and thus this strange and neon land is home; it is not foreign to Albius, thus it is not foreign to player. This sense of instant familiarity is key to the game’s narrative, as the history and the stories of this world are found in books for the player to discover.
A Heavy Hand Makes for a Slow Start
This experience, then, is nearly ruined when the player is presented with a standard and overbearing tutorial. While I am later grateful for Silvetti’s many interjections, this is not one of them. The problem: Albius has dropped the key to a chest. The game gives the player a solution: we are introduced to walking, crouching, jumping, and activating items in an overly complicated segment set within Albius’ small basement. The narrative later shows that he is an excellent student and, as with any RPG, a hoarder. So, why does the tutorial rely upon a clearly important key being willfully forgotten, and how does it benefit the narrative here, rather than at Enodio’s tower where we are introduced to the rest of the mechanics?
To make matters worse, the player is also exposed to the excessive hand-holding of Eonia. As soon as Albius had rolled out of bed, I wanted to interact with the space, particularly the door to the outside which, at that moment, was more important than a dungeon-like basement. Instead of allowing me to step through the door, I find an invisible barrier, and am instructed to grab the Travel Bag. After doing this, I am then instructed by Albius’ ever-present thoughts to “carry the jars as the Master has requested. And it wouldn’t be bad to take some fruit in case I’m hungry.” Just to leave the house, I have to go through several steps that feel more like busy-work than engaging gameplay.
That is, until the first book appears in the chest unlocked by the lost key. It is a quest log, but the physical representation of it in-game intrigued me. I wondered whether other books might similarly grant knowledge of important skills within the game. It turns out I was right. There are several texts littering the game world that will offer tips on skills and disciplines like fishing, spotting, or combat. In its current form, the system is rather basic. You pick up a book, scroll through the pages, and the knowledge is yours. It is my hope that the player feels invested enough to actually read the text-and judging by the quality of the mythology, I predict this will be the case. It might even be nice to see a minigame that further immerses the player in whatever skill that is being studied.
Immersive Simulation or Action Role-playing Game?
Within the world of Eonia, learning the world occurs through a physical interaction within the confines of the game. As shown previously, the player must read a book for a skill to be granted. A watchtower must climbed and the compass directions observed for a map to be drawn. Signposts must be read to find a location. A creature must be observed through a telescope before the player understands its purpose or danger level. All of these interactions cumulate in an immersive experience-as if we, the player, are actually Albius struggling to the learn how to navigate Eonia.
This immersive experience is highlighted in a certain quest currently available in the alpha. We are given a simple instruction: “Get to draw the elusive bird.” This beautiful bird can be seen roosting high on a pillar of stone. As you approach, it spots you and takes to the sky with a raucous shriek. You try to draw it through your telescope, but it’s too fast; it lazily circles in the brilliant sky, waiting for you to leave. The quest log hints that we should learn about its diet. I finally found the bait in the form of a Little Crab Esrejo. I was observing the funny creature scuttle back and forth. In the midst of drawing it, the elusive bird swept down from the sky and stole the crab away.
The game hadn’t told me to go looking for the Esrejo. I found it by exploring–looking for hidden wonders. Through multiple playthroughs I’ve discovered that this scene is a scripted event, but that doesn’t dampen the fun. Having a solution present itself through the natural order of a world is exciting to experience. If Geometric Bytes maintains this attention to the ecosystem of Eonia, many more of these moments will appear in the narrative.
At its best, Eonia reminds me of Bethesda Game Studios’ Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The game exhibits a focus on detail that is otherwise missing in many of its peers. The elusive bird is the highlight of the current experience. This doesn’t detract from the rest of the game. Instead, it proves what Geometric Bytes is capable of. Eonia hinges on its exploration, and the current mechanics, while still somewhat bolted together, support this intention.