Magical Action, Crafting and Survival in Nightingale

Nightingale Preview

At this point, fans of the survival/crafting genre are either frozen by choice paralysis or luxuriating in the number of excellent games. Get ready to add another — and very intriguing — game to the menu. Nightingale joins the ranks of Steam Early Access on February 20. Described as a gaslamp fantasy game, Nightingale takes familiar elements, adds a lot of depth, and then pushes deeper into some genuinely new territory.

Late Victorian-era culture embraced the supernatural. Tarot readings, seances, and astrology were popular parlor pastimes. Thanks to some cleverly faked photos, a lot of people believed in fairies, too. The famous Cottingley Fairy photos showed groups of little fairies cavorting with English children, and for a while, the images got a lot of attention. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the creators admitted to faking most of them.

I thought of this as the team from Inflexion described their game. Nightingale is an action-crafting-survival game that takes place in an alternate-history 19th century. It’s a gaslamp game, which is basically a subset of steampunk in which magic and machinery go hand in hand. In Nightingale, the supernatural Fae emerged into the human world in the 1500s. People learn to travel to the Fae lands and hang with famous Shakespearean Fae like Puck and Oberon. Things go bad in 1889 when a Fae cataclysm called The Pale severs the portals between worlds. You play as a Realmwalker, trying to survive in the lands of the Fae.

Call Home

According to the developers, Nightingale has three important elements. Survival and crafting come first. After the basics are in place, players can face off against powerful boss monsters. Finally, they can use their improved resources to build imposing structures or even sprawling towns. All of these things can be accomplished by both solo players or co-op groups of up to six. Nightingale is strictly a PvE game, and the developers stress that they want to create “safe spaces” for players to roleplay and enjoy the camaraderie of others.

Crafting and survival games have recently grouped themselves into two broad categories. Some are casual, and make gathering resources easy and quick. They don’t pester the player with constant worry over every stat. Other games are more hardcore, where permadeath comes from starvation or thirst or a run-in with a monster. Nightingale’s gathering and crafting edge towards the more casual approach, but not entirely. Killing and skinning animals use different tools, for instance. There’s no permanent death, but the natural elements play a major role in character health and functioning.

By admission, the developers didn’t want to reinvent mechanics that everyone already understands. Instead, they took them and added some depth. Some items break down into magical faery essence, which can be used to repair gear. Other plant and animal resources have special properties that add magical effects to weapons. Once you get used to it, Nightingale’s gathering and building are fun and intuitive. My only gripe was that, at this early stage of development, finding just the right position to pick items up is very finicky.

A Whole New World

Where Nightingale innovates is in its Realm Card system. The Realm Cards are, essentially, ways of both crafting the environment you wish to explore and adjusting many of its parameters. Instead of a card battle system, think of it a little like Tarot cards. You start with a Biome card, which determines if the Realm will be forest, desert, or swamp. Major cards determine the level of challenge, and Minor cards affect weather and things like resource or monster density. The card system gives players the potential for endless variety and creativity in designing the world in which they build and explore.

After playing for several hours, it’s clear that the crafting and card systems are only part of what promises to be a very rich experience. There are historical character NPCs to meet, and a few from fiction as well. You can befriend NPCs and have them gather, build, and fight alongside you. The Fae Realms are rich with lore, monsters, and magic and combat is an exciting mix of melee, gunpowder weapons, and magic spells. Lead developer Aaryn Flynn told me that the main story and basic gameplay loops clock in at between 30-50 hours. Of course, that’s just the beginning. Nightingale was designed to be open ended.

Play with Style

Of course, no one will want to spend hundreds of hours in a game world if that world isn’t visually engaging. Eschewing a photorealistic approach, the art team at Inflexion has given Nightingale a stylized look that might remind you a bit of Dishonored. Faces are angular and bodies are more like real humans than superheroes. The character creator is full-featured if a bit logically constrained by the art direction and historical setting.

Out in the world, the blend of Victorian opulence and Fae ornamentation sits comfortably in the various biomes, which are likewise somewhat stylized. While this approach might be disappointing to players looking for bleeding-edge graphics, it’s ultimately a smart decision, making the game essentially timeless looking. Also, the Unreal Engine 5 gets a decent workout in the game’s lighting and weather effects.

With prior experience spanning hundreds of games, the new team at Inflexion is relatively small but clearly knows what they’re aiming for with Nightingale. The game is confident in its approach to the crafting/survival/action genre and strikes a great balance between familiarity and innovation. The game’s setting and lore are engaging and will be perfect for fans tired of traditional fantasy or modern realism. I really enjoyed my time with Nightingale and I’m looking forward to spending lots of quality time with the game come February 20.

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