The Master of the Land

cover (23)

You could consider some of the following to be spoilery. I urge you to play this game before reading. In fact, I urge you to play this game.

A lengthy choice based game, I have played through several times now and still have not seen all this game has to offer. We play as Lady Irene Victor, daughter to a prominent politician in that tumultuous period of European history directly after Napoleon. Lady Victor is  a “scholar of natural history who needs trousers,” the game tells us, early on, intimating that this protagonist is straining against gender boundaries of the time. Indeed, this forms one of the central plot lines of this game.

My first play through is spent just wandering around this party, undirected. My second, third and fourth play through’s – I explore different avenues and experience different outcomes. 2 hours goes by and I don’t notice. This is a game that needs and rewards multiple plays. Things are happening – conversations, movement, life – constantly, simultaneously. You are at a party – you can hardly expect it to revolve entirely around you.

The ultimate goal of the game is nebulous at first. I have a couple of simple tasks – but then, on my first play through, I reach an ending which I suspect I have the ability to change through resolving some of the introduced plot lines. On my replays I feel I am getting closer.  However, the list of things I haven’t yet done is still long. I am excited to replay again. And this is the thing – the way this game is presented, this dynamic world, makes me actively want to replay.

There are multiple achievements in this game, several quests. Some of them I am given up front – some of them I get as I wander around the party. Scandals, plots against the King, mysterious crying men. The game opens up and then opens up again. People revolve around the palace, each engaged in their own tasks, with their own motives. I am on the periphery, and I can sometimes choose to get involved. It’s up to me.

And it all continues to change. This was one of the most impressive aspects of this game, to me. In general, a game of exploration and discovery (which if you boil this game down unfairly into its basics, it is) is most times a static thing. We wander about and map the world – “You are in a pantry. Exits are east and West.” – but this game takes a different approach. And an important one – one that ought to be a template for games following it. The location description, is, effectively derived from action, time and what’s going on. Of course, this doesn’t happen always – but I’m still exploring this world, and still seeing new content. It’s quite an achievement.

The game would fall down if it didn’t have the prose quality to match its ambitions as a game. Mostly the text is very strong. Some of it is very effective in coloring this world.

ALL THE THINGS I SEE. The puppeteer, mounting a stage. Three peasant musicians, playing a sarabande. Children running after siblings, friends and dogs and cats. Colours melting under the heavy, hazy light. Burburum: red cloth covering their faces, small horns hanging from their necks, threatening the citizens with their canes.

My only caveat is that I could do with, as the player, a little more direction sometimes. While I have reminders, these could be more useful. I am occasionally wandering about out of the action and wondering what to do. Then again, I have the ability and agency to do so. I could sit in the Library and read a book for the entire game if I want I guess.

Finally, a note on the interface. It’s extremely well thought through and done. I have a map on the right side which I can use to navigate. A clock ticks the time down. Options of choice are presented in neat little boxes that don’t just give you the choice, but, on occasion, also the protagonists thoughts about that choice. I have a map I can open up.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It really takes choice based implementations to that next level. It creates a seemingly dynamic world, gives the player complete agency within that world and then says ‘go’. It is an important game, this.

An astonishing achievement. 10/10

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