When PixelCount Studios first showcased Kynseed during their initial funding on Kickstarter, they promised a sandbox RPG sim filled with fancifulness and adventure. Even more thrilling, the developers stated that the gameplay would focus on the cycle of life and death. What would you do, they proposed, if you knew your choices carried the consequence of time in an aging world?
After multiple hours, the answer is – not much. The advertised early access world of Kynseed is outstandingly beautiful, but it initially provides such an unstructured interface, lack of guidance, and shallow gameplay that you question whether or not you want to continue playing even after the game is finished.
The story of Kynseed begins as your character, a boy or girl of your choosing, and their twin sibling are adopted by a man who owns a farm in Quill, the magical land Kynseed is set in.
At the start of the game, you are encouraged to help out around your father’s farm. There are a few daily tasks, but you ultimately make the decisions on what to do during the day. There are many ways to fill your time — you can grow crops, mine, blacksmith, fish, etc. Exploration and purpose are yours to define.
The Passage of Time
Kynseed’s story starts twelve days into Summer. Your neighbor introduces you to the mysterious Mr. Fairweather, a Fae (ie fairy) who offers you useful magical items. He warns you that you must pay for his baubles with years of your life. As such, you must choose carefully so as to avoid losing too many precious years.
In your first encounter, the Fae also hands you a gift – the Kynseed, an item that will visualize the aging component of the game. In the game, you will age along with items, people, and the game setting, giving weight to your choices. Kynseed bills itself as a multigenerational game, and when your character dies, you will take control of your child. The choices the previous generation made and the relationships they’ve developed will affect your family’s story.
A New Day, A New Problem
… or so you’ve been promised. Upon playing Kynseed, the game opens up with an ominous warning sign. The developers present a note that this is an early access game. This product, they state, isn’t even “quarter finished”. The aging dynamic doesn’t exist yet. The unfinished aspect is so apparent that it actually makes reviewing the game difficult.
It’s noticeable in the introduction to gameplay. Upon waking up on the bank of a lake in Quill, you will interact with your twin and foster father, who encourage you to perform a few tasks, but then barely tell you how to do so.
I’m no stranger to sandbox sims, and yet I desperately needed a better introduction to gameplay mechanics. In general, ALL of the interface menus need to be simplified for better access to information. If there is a part of the game that introduces how to do something, then it also needs a tutorial on controls.
A World to See and Hear
If you can get past the confusing introduction, you should definitely explore the world. Kynseed showcases an eye-popping land full of lore. The developers of PixelCount Studios first cut their teeth on unique, world-building games such as Fable, and it shows. The tired high fantasy elements that constantly show up in video games of elves, dwarves, and dragons are not to be found in Kynseed. The land of Quill is full of vibrant, British faery folklore. It’s apparent down to the enormous wickerman statues and celtic runes that dot the map.
The sound of this game is even better than the aesthetic. BAFTA nominated Russell Shaw, a veteran of sound in the video game world, provides the music for the game, and it is sensational. I literally spent a day running around just to find all of the sweet tunes of Quill. Kynseed defines itself with sight and sound.
Lost. Among a Sea of Faces.
Definition stops after the visuals and music. A menagerie of tired villager stereotypes from most farm games populate your surrounding townships. It’s striking to see a game pride itself on its world, and then squander it by filling it to the brim with lifeless automatons who only seem to exist to inform you that they like certain presents, sell you some tools, and depart to use the bathroom.
And boy, do they use the bathroom. A lot. There’s probably something in the water. It becomes noticeable because it’s truly one of the only routines they do. The characters don’t even attend the first holiday in the town. Randomly generated bodies populate the town square during these events.
Many sim games create character development through cutscenes and backstories that get randomly offered in conversation. At this moment, they’re absent in the game. Since these characters lack personality, the gameplay mechanic for developing relationships seems pointless.
What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
The most trying aspect of this game is the lack of navigation. In addition to very few tutorials to let you know what you’re doing, there are no highlighting indicators for items of interest, no local maps (they have to be unlocked for some reason), and no guiding directions or introductions to people or places in the map you need to discover. I spent my time running around clicking everything and walking into houses to see if I was in the right place.
All of these design choices result in you spending a good part of your initial foray into the game missing out on ways to play and getting lost. I half attempted to write this review based on the days that passed in this game. It would have read:
Day 1 – Took me an entire day to figure out how to feed a pig.
Day 8 – Apparently there’s a guy living above my farm handing out fishing rods? Wish he’d introduced himself!
Day 11 – Did anybody realize you could purchase the blacksmith shop? Or sell produce in the fair ground? Or sell produce at the store?!
And so on for literally the entire experience. This sandbox game makes the mistake of treating tutorials, maps, and indicators as extra features. Kynseed needs them from Day 1.
Mr. Fairweather’s Dilemma
The current state of the game is so early access that it even fails to realize the gravity of its main premise. After twelve days of struggling through controls and wandering aimlessly, my meeting with Mr. Fairweather felt hollow.
Why would I worry about being respectful of time when my day to day is full of being lost in a world with underdeveloped characters and meaningless tasks? Although Kynseed bills itself on being a game about time, It has done very little to make time meaningful. As a result, I had problems caring about the premise and the game while I played it.
Time after Time
Developers tend to fix a lot of initial issues in early access games by rolling out updates constantly. I’m still not convinced this will be the case with Kynseed. The development roadmap published on the game’s website provides little in terms of describing fixes for the navigation issues, character development, and muddled interface. Instead, the game promises to introduce even more features in the months ahead. I find that problematic, since the game is really struggling to showcase the ones it already has.
Kynseed promises so much, and I’m hesitant to simply throw away my investment in such a beautiful world. While the game is an ongoing development, it offers little reason to stay, and at this point I’d consider holding off until the game becomes easier to navigate and more features are fleshed out. Until then, much like this game advises, be wise with what you choose to do with your time. You can find Kynseed here.