(Sun Haven is available on Microsoft Windows and macOS via early access.)
-REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS-
Games with a heavy focus on lifestyle simulation have become a mainstay in the market. From Animal Crossing to Stardew Valley, My Time in Portia to Forager, these titles have all but flooded this once niche genre. It’s left many of us who grew up on these types of games longing for something new, with a fresh and unique take on the life-sim formula.
Thankfully, Sun Haven comes pretty close to hitting that mark.
If I were to get all “AAA Game Journalist” on ya, I’d throw the obligatory elevator pitch your way. “Sun Haven is what you get if you mix Stardew Valley with the visual style of Maplestory”. Thankfully, I’m not working at any major gaming firm that may still rely on corporate greed payouts or an arbitrary rating system to tell you what games you should spend your money on. That’s right, I’m freelance, baby!
Instead, I’d like to provide a more in-depth look at what separates Sun Haven from its contemporaries and why I think it’s worth your time.
For starters, let’s talk about what differentiates Sun Haven from any other life sim out there on the market: it’s emphasis on story. Sure, the story is nothing ground-breaking, and most of the narrative content can be completed in roughly 5-6 hours, but it helps give the game identity nonetheless. From the start of your journey, the story beats act as a guide to familiarize yourself with this enchanted world full of angels, demons, and furries. Eventually things do give way to being more open and reliant on choices the player makes as well, which was a pleasant change of pace. If you ever wanted to play a game with roughly 1.26% of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s DNA within it, Sun Haven has you covered.
Beyond those few hours of story content are plenty of side activities for you to waste your day away with. Fishing, farming, mining, crafting, smithing, cooking, combat and more await you in easily one of the densest early access games I’ve ever played. Many of these activities are accompanied by a skill tree as well, which lends a healthy dose of role-playing and character building to the game. It helps make many of the more tedious, repetitive tasks feel more rewarding than they would be otherwise.
There’s also an entire magic system. Did I mention that?
That’s right, you can live out your fantastical, uh, fantasies in Sun Haven by becoming the magic-wielding farmer you always wished you could be! There’s a plethora of spells for you to experiment with here, many of which are useful in various situations. For example, one spell allows you to push out a blast of energy like a forcefield, knocking back enemies who may be getting just a bit too up in your personal space. This is obviously useful in combat scenarios when you’re looking for a moment to catch your breath or assess a situation. It also serves a more practical use as well. You can actually use this same move to help clear large groups of minerals when in the mines, searching for copper or iron. This variety in the way some spells could be used was a definite highlight in the sea of Sun Haven’s many systems, and I’d love to see this design philosophy expanded upon moving forward.
There’s loads of customization as well. So much so that Sun Haven teeters on having almost too much customization at times. It’s not quite over that line (since it’s nearly impossible to have too much customization), but a few additions beyond what’s already there may well send it over the edge. Clothing, housing, farm layout, pets, mounts and more await you in the realm of self-representation in Sun Haven, which is an apprehensively welcome design choice in my opinion. Just… try not to get too lost in the style sauce. You may not ever surface again.
Sun Haven also features a large amount of quality-of-life features that I’d love to see in other games within the genre. For example, there is no stamina system to contend with in Sun Haven. This means that, aside from a small time constraint that plagues you around midnight every night, there’s no need to worry about how to go about your day. This was a more than welcome addition, as this sole point of contention was enough to dissuade me from ever trying Stardew again.
There are few aspects of Sun Haven that could use some love and attention too, mainly in regards to the early portion of the game. While Sun Haven eventually opens up and becomes this sprawling, lived-in world, the opening hours of your journey do little to excite you for that payoff. Movement speed is especially slow, with no proper sprint or way to fast travel. These nuisances are eventually rectified, but in ways that felt more like a bandage than a treatment. Movement speed can be improved via specific skills on a skill tree, while the fast travel dilemma gets resolved with the power of purchasable mounts.
These solutions both feel out of place, with a substantial focus on grind in order to achieve any worthwhile results. Providing a sprint or increased movement speed option from the start would greatly help mitigate this issue. A proper fast travel system would also do wonders to help cut out the absurd back-tracking currently in Sun Haven.
Maybe consider adjusting the movement controls. As it currently stands, platforming in Sun Haven feels more like a chore than anything. Movement, especially while airborne, feels floaty and slippery, like a cloud of butter slipping through the sky. Hardly any platforming section feels enjoyable at this moment, though I’m hopeful future updates will address this issue as well.
Other core game designs could also use a revisit also, such as the side quest system. Nearly every side quest in this game amounts to nothing more than a “fetch this, deliver that” formula, which felt outdated nearly 10 years ago now. Some deeper variety in the quests could go a long way in helping to provide hours of enjoyment for the player. Instead of only providing quests such as “grow these crops” or “return this object”, maybe add some flair and depth. Things such as “build this” or “cook that” could do wonders when it comes to adding gameplay variety versus your standard fetch quest exclusive mission structure.
Sun Haven may still be in development, with a variety of growing pains to contend with, but what’s currently there is still more than enough to warrant keeping an eye on this project. There are a massive amount of characters to meet, locations to explore, secrets to uncover, and activities to participate in beyond what I mentioned in this first impression. Even after spending hours with the game for the sake of sharing my views on as many facets as possible, I’m still discovering new systems to dive into. It’s a mash-up of many things that make this once tiny genre so great, and I’m here for it.