With so much competition out there in the world of games, those first few attention-grabbing screenshots have maybe never been so important. Without wanting to sound cynical, Chinese developer Pixpil sure knew what they were doing in that regard – the first time I saw Eastward back in 2019 it immediately seared itself into my brain. A giant house, seemingly completely built out of driftwood, framed by nothing but the purest cerulean sky. There is so much detail to this one house – the discolouration of the wood, its crooked windows, boards sticking out left and right. Of course good visuals don’t make a good game, and yet this attention to detail tells me so much about Eastward.
The story follows Sam, a small girl with a mane of white hair, and John, who looks a bit like a black Russian terrier – his face completely obscured by his fringe, the rest of his face taken up by his beard. John, who never so much as utters a word, took Sam in after she appeared in the underground community of Potcrock Isle out of nowhere. Even though they’re very poor, they enjoy life together, until one day an apparition that looks just like her inspires Sam to break Potcrock’s cardinal rule never to travel to the surface. They are expelled and put on a train to the surface. As it turns out, the surface is…mostly fine? But a dangerous substance called Miasma is an ever-present threat, and the reason John and Sam must move onwards rather than settling in the first place they find.
This straightforward setup takes several hours to unfold, because Pixpil made absolutely sure to thoroughly introduce you to John and Sam before sending you off with them. Combat is something of an afterthought and a last resort, because what person who walks around with a little girl would want to regularly get in danger? When the need arises however, John is handy with a small array of weapons – you start off with his trusty frying pan and a set of bombs, and gain a short-range shotgun and a flamethrower over the course of the first few chapters. It’s a strange arsenal that sees you through this friendly post-apocalypse, borne of a world that’s retained a few technologies and lost many others.