After a sluggish start, Herald delivered an engaging story of alternate reality Colonial ship life. It provided enough player agency and consequences to reward my time spent, and delivered an exciting climax and cliff-hanger that has me intrigued to see more.
Herald’s first 30 minutes were almost enough to put me off, but I’m glad I stuck around until the much better Book 2. Book 1 however, could have benefitted from trimming the opening salvo of setup dialogue. There are still choices to make within the conversations but they don’t feel weighty enough to provide tension.
The game picks up steam as more crew and passengers are introduced and varied tasks are demanded. Once rolling, the gameplay consists of navigating conversation, convincing characters, investigating small and large mysteries, all while performing your mundane duties.
There is a consistent amount of choice to be made and – in several instances – Herald delivered multi-layered results that were extremely satisfying. Navigating the period’s etiquette and class system was a fun gameplay wrinkle that was explored and implemented well.
Like most branching narrative games, Herald uses the diamond design, offering the most choice in the middle but funneling you towards a strict resolution. This is a common and perfectly acceptable format that provides enough agency while giving the developer the control to tell a compelling story.
There were still enough outcomes affected by my actions that I felt my input was respected and needed.
The presentation is strong though a little uneven. The visuals are vibrant and expressive, but the cartoony depictions of characters can remove some of the impact from more serious moments. The art style made me think of the advisors from Civilization Revolution getting their own game.
The voice acting is mostly above average but a few lines have noticeable variances in tone, accent, and sound quality, which can be distracting. Overall, the performances, ambient sound, and score were a pleasant surprise from a $10 product.
If you prefer Adventure games for their story instead of puzzles, you will find a lot to like here. There are no frustrating item-combinations, and I was never stuck for more than a few seconds. The game does a great job of leading you to the next story progression and puts the emphasis on how you role-play your character rather than solving obtuse problems.
There was only one instance of irritating backtracking when I was required to grab a lantern and fill it with oil before returning to a darkened area. This felt tedious as it required no choice or thought, and had zero impact on the story or characterization. Perhaps the developers felt it would seem unrealistically convenient to have an oil-filled lantern in that room, but it stood out negatively in the otherwise well-paced Book 2.
The second half of Book 2 built to a tremendous climax with a surprising sense of urgency rarely felt in the genre. The climax and surprise ending were enough that I’d like to see more.
If you’re intrigued by a grounded period-piece that delights in conversation, etiquette, and humans finding their place in the world, I’d recommend you check out Herald: Book 1 & 2.