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Game Reviews

Potion Craft Early Access Review

(Potion Craft is currently available on Windows via early access.)

I think many of us are familiar with the concept of alchemy. It’s been used in the media time and time again. From the totally not-sad-at-all-at-any-point manga/anime Fullmetal Alchemist to some weird guy doing chemistry (that’s kinda like alchemy, right?) on television in the 90’s. It’s safe to say alchemy is often used to, ahem, stir up reactions in people…

Potion Craft is a modern example of this aforementioned concept. Thankfully, it does a decent job laying the groundwork for what could one day be the best alchemy simulator out there. Here are my two cents on Potion Craft’s Early Access release.

Image provided by Niceplay Games

Your time in Potion Craft opens with a short tutorial outlining the day-to-day tasks of the local potion brewer (that’s you). Pick ingredients in the morning, open up shop for the day, listen to and fulfill customers’ needs, repeat. 

There’s an almost criminal level of simplicity to the core gameplay loop, which is carefully counterbalanced by the tedious and tactful task of brewing bubbles. When a customer comes to you with an order, you’re given all the time in the world to fulfill it. So it’s off to the brewing board (not sure if that’s what it’s called but that’s what I’m calling it), a massive map of various potion effects eagerly waiting to be brewed. 

The actual art of creating potions is, as with most other things in Potion Craft, amazingly simple to get the hang of. Your goal here is to guide your potion icon to your desired effect’s icon on the board. Depending on which ingredients you throw into the cauldron, your potion could end up going one of many ways. Once you reach a spot you’re satisfied with, you pick a bottle for the concoction and finalize the brew. 

It’s a surprisingly basic system that looks more complicated than it really is.

Image provided by Niceplay Games

Which leads me to my biggest gripe with the current state of the game. That being, once you’ve crafted a few potions, you’ve…kinda crafted them all. Meaning that the flow of potion crafting hardly changes throughout the game. Sure, more specific effects are required for customer requests later in the Potion Craft, but they hardly mix up the core gameplay beyond adding artificial length to the whole thing. 

There is hope for depth to extend beyond the game’s namesake though. While the game’s current reputation system (which goes up when you do good deeds and down when you do bad) seems to have next to no effect on the gameplay, there’s certainly room for change. It would be awesome to see more consequences come from actions made in the game. 

Right now, entire quest chains begin and progress whether or not you actively pursue them. For example, one customer may ask you to brew a poison so they can kill their neighbors’ livestock. Even if you choose not to fulfill the customer’s order, they’ll still make subsequent returns asking for more game over juice. Seeing more dynamic quest chains in response to your choices to help specific customers would go a long way in helping diversify gameplay.

Again this is only one example of how Potion Craft could build upon its current systems. However I believe this growth philosophy could be applied to a variety of aspects within the game.

Image provided by Niceplay Games

Outside of the major aspect of not enough depth currently here for players to enjoy, Potion Craft gets nearly everything else correct. The medieval storybook artstyle helps the game stand out as something unique and distinctly deserved of a pre-bedtime play session. The music, while currently lacking in variety, is calm and tranquil enough to get you into a relaxing, near meditative state. 

Potion Craft may be a hard sell at full price in its current state, but give it some time for updates to roll out and I’m sure this sentiment will change. I picked up my copy during Steam’s Winter sale in 2021, which brought it into my library at around 20% off. While not a major discount, it did adjust the price enough to warrant picking it up. That said, Potion Craft is a welcome addition to an ever growing list of simulator games, and one that is bound to grow greater with each subsequent update.

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Game Reviews

Sun Haven Early Access Review

(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.

Is Maplestory chibi art making a comeback?!

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.

Snaccoons: This Realm’s Snorlax

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.

Did I mention there’s dragons?!

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.