Survival Games often push players to their limits by giving them a goal to work towards or new problems to deal with. You may have to constantly move due to a lack of resources like in The Flame in The Flood or crazed mutants may attack your base, like in The Forest, and hence, you’ll need to find solutions for those exact problems to keep playing the game.
But those conventions aren’t strictly needed to make for an interesting experience as Retreat to Enen shows. You don’t need to constantly be on the verge of dying and it’s interesting to see a new twist to the Survival formula, even if some of the existing conventions for Survival games add a lot of Quality of Life improvements that I wish were also part of Retreat to Enen’s experience.
Developer: Head West Publisher: Freedom Games Genre: Survival, Open World, Exploration, Indie Release Date: August 1st, 2022 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was provided by the publisher.
Today I wanna share my thoughts on a Survival Game that promises to teach players about Mindfulness and Meditation while at the same time providing them with an interesting premise and gameplay loop!
Peace, Love and Plants
It’s the year 3600 CE and humanity has moved past war and strife. After narrowly avoiding extinction, humanity chose life and peace, trying to live in harmony with nature and the wildlife, giving the environment the ability to recover.
In the game, you’re taking part in a rite of passage where you have to return to the legendary island of Enen and meditate in various spots to become one with nature and find new technologies that will guide you in finding your place in the world.
To do so, you’ll obviously have to gather materials, forage food, build up structures, and take care of your needs. This isn’t, however, done by completely obliterating forests and terraforming everything. No, you have to collect sticks and stones from the ground and utilize those to build your basic necessities, like a smoker, a fireplace, a shelter, a cooking pot, and your own four walls.
Health, Hunger, Thirst and Spirit Power?
Retreat to Enen emphasizes living in harmony with nature but oddly enough, it’s perfectly okay for you to kill animals as you see fit. On top of that, I don’t think that a culture of foragers and gatherers wouldn’t be able to go a few hours without drinking or eating. Your thirst and hunger meters drain really fast which at times can get quite frustrating when you’re constantly looking for meat, eggs, vegetables and fruit. Yes, later it gets a little better with the introduction of planters and better weapons… but it still often feels uncharacteristic of a game about Mindfulness to make the player eat so much meat. Those poor Rabbits!
Another meter you have is “Spirit Power”. This one’s used for a very futuristic tool that you own called “Quantum Control” which allows you to break down resources into their most basic components. The Spirit Power used for this is replenished by meditating regularly. On different spots scattered around the three biomes, you can meditate once per day to replenish it. With how much you’re struggling for Survival and to keep yourself fed, though, I find it odd to sit down and pass time by meditating in the middle of a Life-and-Death situation.
The meditations themselves, though, are an interesting concept and I feel like it’s a good idea to teach people about the benefits of regular meditation and other mindfulness exercises. Great idea, honestly, but the execution is flawed. The regular “meditation” spots will just give you a circle that is supposed to represent your lung. It doesn’t do much else. You breathe in and breathe out. The golden spots can be used for dream journeys and other exercises, though, which were executed a lot better. Too bad that those are rather limited…
But from meditations and quantum control to other matters…
Retreat to Enen NEEDS tooltips!
I get that it’s realistic for you to get bitten by a spider at night when you’re camping in the jungle… or that you’ll get sick from pathogens when you drink water from a puddle… but the need to suddenly craft a lot teas or antivenoms to combat these without the option of storing them for later is incredibly annoying. Furthermore, when you sleep at night, you’ll see a big tarantula of sorts on the screen that scared me shitless. There is no option to turn this off or a warning of sorts on the screen or settings either though. You can turn off “bears, wolves, and snakes” but frankly, those just prevent them from spawning. That’s much more elaborate than an Arachnophobia mode just disables those gross screens as you doze off.
At the same time, there are other things that bothered me in the game about the game design. You can only use twigs to fuel fires, for instance, and while they do respawn, I found it annoying to collect a big bunch of them since they’re needed in everything. You can’t select how many twigs you use to fuel the fire and you can only use twigs but not the dead grass you’re collecting as well.
The biggest problem I have with Retreat to Enen is the lack of tooltips. Aside from the “tutorial” you get at the beginning, the game explains nothing to you.
You collected an ore? No information. You crafted an item? No information. I crafted this “Tonic Bottle” that literally does nothing until you also craft a Tonic… I also crafted a water canister that looks like a water bottle to me.
Anyway, after filling it up and stuff, I learned that you can use it to water plants… but you can’t use it to drink water. You can, later on, boil it and fill it up, I guess, but that’s something you’ll need to learn yourself or through other players telling you how to play the game.
For a game that is all about mindfulness and meditation, a lot of this is so frustrating that I could need a meditation session in “Headspace” (Great app for sleep and meditation and stuff, btw, even the free version!) after the play session. It’s ironic, innit?
And well, there’s a snowy area later on that you can craft a “snowpod” for. I’m not sure what it’s for but I guess the only way to find out is to craft it. There is also a “basket” you can craft. Until I got that, I dropped items on the ground to “store” them. With the basket, I can now drop them as well… but in style.
This game just feels unfinished…
Retreat to Enen is probably the most unfinished full release I played in quite a while. It feels like an Early Access title – which I mean in a bad way. There are a lot of different areas where I’d think they forgot to replace the sound effect… A lot of the animations seem to be lacking or they’re completely broken. Animals just fall over when they’re hit by an arrow. It’s honestly a bit funny how bad it is.
Sometimes, you get the feeling that the developers only tested the game themselves… and when everything worked like how they designed it, they figured “yup, let’s ship it, it’s perfect” – but in reality, there is so much missing from the game (autosave, manual save (away from the bed), big storage, etc.) in terms of quality of life features that the overall experience, despite its interesting idea, is lacking and frustrating at best. The most frustrating bit is probably the price tag.
In its current state, I can’t recommend Retreat to Enen to anyone who values their time and money. I will maybe revisit this game in the future when it got a few more patches. It’s a bummer that so much seems unfinished or lacking. I was quite excited for this one, after all.