Post-human survival games are frequently frantic, desperate struggles against the surprising number of still existing humans. They tend to be full of ruin and madness and bitter trials of life. Eidolon, released in August, takes post-humanity into a decidedly more sedate direction. Here, post-human really is post-human. As you roam the wilderness of Western Washington (circa 2400 c.e.) not a soul stands in your way. Eidolon shows us a world abandoned, with only memories of humanity left behind.
As far as I can fathom after hours of playing, there are two ideas behind the game – survive in this landscape and learn about it. You explore the wilderness avoiding anything detrimental to your health: sickness, hunger, frostbite, wounds… The standards for survival aren’t too demanding. As you wander through the vast open spaces, you can find the skeletal remains of cities or towns, broken roads and cars close to being utterly overgrown. Everything seems just a moment away from disappearing completely, and your glimpse into fragments of their history comes solely through what their occupants left behind.
Pages of journals, postcards, photographs, newspaper clippings: everything you stumble upon seems almost magical, full of human perspective. Revealing the history of the world in this manner is complex and captivating. Some of the writings have overlaps of people or places, some the writers themselves wouldn’t even know about. These snapshots into their lives, glimpses into how they felt and how they influenced others, are both movingly poignant and intrusive. Nothing about their personalities is sacrificed for exposition – how exactly events unfolded we might not know, but you can certainly know how people dealt on a personal level.
There are few game mechanics to get to grips with – click to pick up food, click to use an item, walk around a lot, sleep when you get tired, and eat when you get hungry, that sort of thing. But keeping yourself alive doesn’t feel like a chore so much as a gentle accomplishment. Eidolon also takes away your ability to cheat survival by just stuffing your backpack at the start, as food spoils if left too long. Your continued existence is a constant work in progress, which feels right. It helped to keep me connected to my exploration. Finding areas stuffed with berry bushes felt triumphant, and missing a shot on a lone deer was a disappointment, though easily shrugged off with the sort of “it is what it is” acceptance I experienced the whole way through playing. I do feel bad about killing and eating that pack of dogs though.
The art direction is an incredibly simple, but I feel like it’s been well utilised. Every colour palette feels perfect, and the lack of visual distraction feels important on what becomes an almost spiritual journey. The UI feels similarly unobtrusive – your notebook and tablet (holding all your supplies and information) are clean and there’s no titles or text anywhere that isn’t a part of the game world. Choosing one of the few items available to use is a simple as the scroll wheel, no need for a menu, down to the icons showing what you own only when you’re scrolling, fading away when they’re not needed. Even the health warnings that pop up if you’re suffering in some way seem quiet and almost apologetic, hovering briefly in the bottom right of the screen before getting graciously out of your way.
There are some niggles in the game. On occasion I found patches of grass floating in the air and some fonts on release were difficult to decipher. But creators Ice Water Games have been rapidly updating since release to solve any problems and get the game running more smoothly. The responses to feedback have been rapid, and Eidolon is clearly a labour of love with a lot to offer, despite any initial glitches.
Simple in its beauty and complex in its story, Eidolon feels almost like walking meditation. Almost nothing stands between you and immersion in your adventure. There’s no need to save the game, you’re dropped straight back in to wherever you were when you quit. Starting the game up is almost like opening your door and stepping right in. The unobtrusive, almost ambient soundtrack drifts in and out over your muffled footsteps or the rippling of water. Bird and animal calls are scattered throughout your journey. The weather is changeable, each one as beautiful as the rest – rain and fog and snow that, for all their lack of detail, still look stunning.
If you choose not to sleep through all the night you’ll see some of the most vivid night skies I’ve ever enjoyed in a game. Sitting watching the stars over the crackling of my fire was particularly satisfying. Hearing the call of a wildcat nearby made sure I knew there was the potential for injury, but didn’t leave me unduly worried. Whether you’re freezing or bleeding or starving everything still feels peaceful. I haven’t died yet, but I almost get the feeling it wouldn’t terribly matter if I did.
That, I think, is the core of what appeals to me in Eidolon. It seems to be mostly about existing – your act of actively doing so (or failing to do so), paired with the long forgotten moral and physical struggles of those who previously did. There’s little explanation as to what your purposes is, why you are there, in this world void of human life. I found it didn’t bother me. This exploration wasn’t about me, or a greater purpose, I was simply along for the ride of the world.
Frankly, I’ve never felt more content while starving to death.
“It is a game about history, curiosity, interconnectedness, and the slow and inevitable beauty of life.”
- Beautiful, varied environments
- Expansive narrative with depth and meaning
- Simple and intuitive to play
- Mesmerising soundtrack
- Some game glitches still, although being dealt with
- Prepare to do a lot of walking (thanks autowalk function)