In Nightingale the fun is always just around the corner

March 7, 2024
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Somehow, I’ve spent nearly 40 hours playing Nightingale, but I’m still searching for the fun. I’ve seen glimpses of the game I feel we’ve been promised – the Victorian fantasy where friends glide through the air on umbrellas, fighting mythical beasts together in strange fae lands – but only ever glimpses. Mostly, I’ve been in dogged pursuit of an excitement that eludes me, hoping it’ll be around the next corner I turn, in the next gear tier I unlock. But every corner seems to just bring another corner, and so around and around I go, getting somewhere but never there.

It’s a shame because as a concept, and even in practice, there are things I love about Nightingale. The setting! A Victorian world of old-fashioned explorer garb and backpacks, of canvas and ironwork. And the fantasy world lurking just beside it, filled with unexplained phenomena and menacing faerie folk. It’s pulled almost one-to-one from the pages of Susanna Clarke’s brooding fairytale Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I adore – they’ve even cast Marc Warren from the television adaptation to reprise his role as a faerie, which he does with sinister brilliance again. In Nightingale, the doors to the faerie realm have been blown wide open, and humanity scattered throughout the immeasurable archipelago of rae realms. Now, humanity is trying to find a way home, hopping through portal after portal as it tries to get back the eponymous city of Nightingale.

It’s a refreshing set-up that’s perfect for a survival crafting game, because it can be broken into myriad small realms to adventure on. These self-contained realms can be procedurally generated and offer varying threats, treasure, resources, depending on whatever seed you generate them from – the seed in this case being cards, which are another of the game’s big ideas. These are craftable and collectable and open doorways depending on the cards you use. Match a desert or forest biome with a card representing a certain difficulty, and it will then appear. It’s a great idea that works brilliantly with the setting of Nightingale to make the game feel distinct.

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