Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
Sun Haven is a farming-based life sim from Pixel Sprout Studios. It’s currently available in Steam’s Early Access program and will release later on Switch.
The game’s been called Stardew Valley meets Dungeons and Dragons, but it seems like that’s more of a shorthand way of saying it’s a farming-based life sim with fantasy elements.
Quick and dirty version: This game is good; one day it’ll be great; some of you will want to buy it today and others should wait.
If you’re a seasoned veteran when it comes to games such as Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, My Time At Portia, and Graveyard Keeper, you’ll find yourself right at home with Sun Haven.
Pixel Sprout’s painstakingly captured the essence of these games and it’s quite obvious the company isn’t trying to shy away from comparison. When you fire up Sun Haven you’re treated to an extremely familiar opening scene (unless this is your first genre title, in which case: enjoy the trope) and then you’re dropped off in a town that has a nearly identical layout to the ones in Stardew and Keeper.
This is a good thing. The familiarity not only helped me acclimate to some problems we’ll get into later, but it made the differences between Sun Haven and similar titles even more startling.
In Sun Haven you’ll go through the same farm and village-building routine as you always have, but you’ll also experience roleplaying elements typically not present in those other games.
Experience points are used in a branching tree of unlockable abilities providing a layer of player progression I don’t think we’ve seen executed as well in the genre before.
What’s more, the developers also differentiate Sun Haven from similar titles by catering purely to the player. This game is dripping with quality of life tweaks on the decades-old formula.
These include the removal of arbitrary “stamina meters” whose purposes are better served by utilizing the in-game clock and day/night cycle, introducing ranged and magic combat options that actually make killing things easier, and absolutely filling the world with methods by which the players can permanently and endlessly upgrade their character’s abilities.
In some respects, the game can feel a bit too nice, but this is countered by its immensity.
The game has a lot going for it in sheer terms of scope, scale, and size. There are more than a dozen romanceable characters, the map is relatively large, and I felt as though I barely scratched the surface after 16 hours of gameplay. There’s a lot to do.
The not so good
Unfortunately, the game’s in Early Access because it’s not ready for a full release yet. And when I say it’s not ready, I mean it.
I’ll call it playable in its current state because I never experienced a crash while playing and, so far, I haven’t experienced anything that made it impossible for me to move forward in-game.
But that’s where the laurels end when it comes to the game’s level of polish.
First off, the controls are abysmal. The only way the game was playable for me or my review partner/fiancée was to utilize an uncomfortable controller-mouse combo where you do actions and selections with the mouse in one hand and use the left stick on a gamepad to control movement.
You can certainly just use keyboard and mouse, but the movement felt much better with a controller (note: we had to set the controller up in the Steam menu, the game itself doesn’t offer any apparent native controller support).
It gets worse. You can’t map any controls in game. This was pretty close to a deal-breaker for me. Nearly every game Sun Haven competes with makes controller support seamless while simultaneously nailing keyboard and mouse controls. This game feels like it was made by people who’d never used either, and that doesn’t make any sense.
This absolutely needs to be fixed, and fixed well before anyone can justify the $25.99 price tag this Early Access game ships with.
Moving on, there are other problems with the current game state that make it difficult to understand its developmer’s priorities. One of the best things about the game is discovering new gear options that change game mechanics or offer new features. Unfortunately, getting or using a fancy new treasure would often inexplicably result in a previously gained treasure or item disappearing.
It’s great that I found a magical book, but why did my hard-earned, badass, super sword disappear the moment I switched to it in my hotbar? These kinds of issues happen far too frequently.
And there were scores of instances where I simply didn’t know what was going on and couldn’t be sure whether the game was buggy or I was just being dense. I spent 15 full minutes trying to figure out how the hell to plant seeds – literally the first quest in the game. And I still don’t understand.
Check out this screen shot:
I was supposed to till 10 patches of grass, plant 10 wheat seeds, and water them. Simple right? If you’ll notice above, it looks like I mangled the lawn and haphazardly planted seeds in no discernible pattern. Am I a wild man who spits in the face of symmetry?
No, no I’m not. There just didn’t appear to be any actual rhyme or reason as to why I could plant seeds in one tilled tile versus another. All the brownish spaces there in the green grass area where you don’t see little speckles of plant growth (those are the seeds) are places I tilled and inexplicably couldn’t plant seeds.
This might seem like a silly complaint, but these games are literally about building your ideal little farm. But instead of realizing my gardening dreams, I was stuck playing a game of reverse-Minesweeper trying to figure where the hell I could and couldn’t plant seeds.
Stuff like this happens far too often for me to spend as much on this game as I would for Stardew Valley and Graveyard Keeper together.
But, I love it
All that being said: this isn’t a bad or broken game. It’s a good Early Access game that almost surely will become a great finished product some day. The developers lovingly took this game from a successful Kickstarter to a well-reviewed Steam Early Access title and they’re still pushing constant updates.
Some of the things that pissed me off about Sun Haven last week are no longer issues today. And I expect most, if not all of my above gripes to be handled at some point.
I really enjoy playing this game and it has a lot going for it. But I honestly don’t think it’s worth $25 yet. It’s missing far too much polish.
Right now, I can’t recommend purchasing it unless you’re in it for the long haul. If you’re the type of person who puts 100 hours in a farming-based life sim, Sun Haven may very well be the itch-scratching mega title you’ve been looking for. There is plenty to enjoy right now, in its current stable build.
But if this title isn’t at the top of your Steam wishlist, you may want to wait until some more kinks are worked out. We’ll revisit Sun Haven once it sees a full release with a review that touches on the story and multiplayer aspects of the game.
Until then, if you remain undaunted, you can purchase Sun Haven on Steam here.
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