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Nightingale Is A Solid Survival Game With Flair

I’ve been keeping eyes on lamplight fantasy survival game Nightingale for a good while now. Not normally a fan of the survival game grind, I still found its whole ‘turn of the 20th century with a hint of magic’ aesthetic alluring, and seeing the scale of some of the monsters teased in the trailers, there was enough mystery in the whole premise to capture my imagination.

Also, it’s made by former BioWare devs, and even though there’s basically nothing RPGish about this game, I definitely stumbled upon snippets of writing, lore, and worldbuilding in my time with it that could elevate Nightingale above the sometimes faceless survival game crowd.

Building A Solid Foundation

The building-crafting loop is Survival Games 101, and is probably most comparable to yesteryear’s smash indie survival hit Valheim. You gather resources, build crafting tables — smelters, tanning stations, sewing stations, you name it — of various sorts, then augment them to unlock better things to craft. So whack a coat stand near your tanning station, or an anvil near your smelter, and you’ll create little workshop clusters dedicated to specific crafts.

You’re going to be building a lot of crafting stations and accompanying doodads in Nightingale, so it’s just as well that the game gives you plenty of room to build a sizable estate for you and your fellow Realmwalkers to hang out in after your expeditions into the wilderness. While, in my limited time with the game, I barely got my homestead past the level of a hermit’s hovel — a twig roof held up by wooden logs, essentially — even in that time, I found blueprints for fancy things like chandeliers, candelabras, and a few other old-worldy elegant bits you might want to adorn a Victorian home with.

Deeper into the game, you’ll get build sets that let you create tudor-style manors, Arabic-looking desert abodes, and other pleasingly themed homesteads, and the build system is relatively simple and modular, so even an architecturally unsound ignoramus like me should be able to build some half-decent structures.

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A Step Into A Bold New Realm

But in order to get those building resources, you need to get out there and explore those Realms, which combined with the Realm Card system, are probably the biggest selling point of the game alongside its strong theming. I’ve already talked about Realm Cards in more detail here, but essentially they’re cards that you can apply to realms that you’re in — or are travelling to — to change the conditions of that realm in interesting ways; whether it’s reducing gravity, increasing the number of roaming enemies, or plunging the realm into darkness.

Exploring these realms — which have endless permutations thanks to procedural generation — is a core part of the Nightingale experience, and it’s made more enjoyable thanks to the fact that these lands are beautiful to behold. Sunlight softly reflects off the surrounding waters with a golden glow, mysterious temples jut out of the landscape, beckoning you to plunder them for secrets and riches, and you never have to wait long before sighting a strange creature, be that a Swamp Hippo, a giant ghostly deer, or any of the creatures our Wyatt Grondin talked about in his piece lauding the game’s creature designs.

These worlds have the feel of surrealist paintings at moments, as rocks float in the sky, impossibly constructed buildings loom over you, and unique creatures roam around the place. In its own way, the procedural generation probably bolsters this dreamlike quality.

Looking Forward To The Future Of Nightingale

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Where procedurally generated worlds can often lack that ‘human touch’ that makes them feel convincing (or take years to get right, like with No Man’s Sky), in my several hours with Nightingale, I didn’t get bored of the landscape. With that said, I can imagine that with just three biomes currently available — Forest, Desert, and Swamp — the repetition of the generation might start becoming apparent after a little while. It’s going to be an Early Access game on launch of course, so I hope that they can add two or three more biomes in there by full release to keep that realm-jumping feeling fresh and varied.

Another area that could still use just a bit of spit-and-polish is the combat. It’s on the right track, with blocking and dodging being incorporated into the melee weapons, but whacking enemies and hit registration can feel unclear and unimpactful at this point. When I was fighting the formidable Automaton boss at the end of my first dungeon, I was hoping to feel some of that clanging impact as the machine broke down and faltered on its way to defeat, but in the end, each of my blows felt a bit soft and MMO-like. I appreciate that various creatures have weak spots that you can aim for with your gun or bow, but the game needs to make those hits count with a bit of oomph, not just higher damage rolls.

But despite some small, hopefully solvable, little bits, Nightingale is an interesting twist on a well-trodden genre, showcasing a level of imagination that you’d have hoped for from an experienced team of former BioWare developers. With its unique presentation and swathe of original ideas, it deserves to succeed, and any game where you can glide around with an umbrella while hunting Swamp Hippos with a rifle is a game I can get behind on principle.

Nightingale tag image
Nightingale
Released
February 20, 2024
Developer
Inflexion Games
Publisher
Inflexion Games
Genre(s)
Survival , Crafting

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