Herald: An Interactive Period Drama is a subtle choice-driven adventure game, which sets it distinctly apart from more notable choice-driven adventure games, such as The Walking Dead. Where The Walking Dead constantly barrages you with extremely difficult and blink choices, Herald offers choice a person is more likely to encounter, which resonates a lot more with the player. For instance, in the second episode of The Walking Dead, a character has his foot caught in a bear trap as a zombie horde approaches. Do you cut off his leg with your axe to try and save him or leave him to his fate? While that's pulse pounding, it's very unlikely a person will ever have to make a decision like that. Herald's choices are much simpler but more realistic. For example, how would you respond to a racial jab? Would you rat out an employee to gain favor with a boss? It's these type of realistic choices that make Herald unique and worth your time.
That's not to say Herald is perfect by any stretch. While it's time period is unique, the setting and gameplay can get pretty dull after a while. Also, the voice-acting can be unintentionally comical and the character animations are blocky. But its well-written narrative makes up for most of these flaws and is a must play for any choice-driven adventure game fan.
You can purchase Herald: An Interactive Period Drama for $9.99 on Steam.
Set in a thinly veiled version of the 19th century, you play as Devan Rensburg, an Indian boy on a clipper ship searching for his true heritage. Devan was raised in the Protectorate (Britain during the height of its empire) and is looking for his true family in the Colonies (India). The story begins with Devan caught in a shipwreck and being mysteriously rescued. You awaken in an Indian palace and recount your story to a woman called Rani, who appears to be Indian royalty.
Devan's story is his time aboard a clipper ship called, The Herald, going from The Protectorate to The Colonies. You begin as a lowly errand boy and slowly work your way up to steward. Sadly, the first chapter begins rather slowly. It's mostly just meeting important characters, such as the captain and other officers, and learning more about the clipper ship. You can tell Wispfire has done their research. Clicking on any piece of the ship prompts Devan to describe that part of the ship and its function with a good amount of detail. Fortunately, the second chapter picks up considerably. As the steward you interact with more characters than in teh first chapter and are doing much more than simple fetch quests.
Each character is unique and fully fleshed out. The captain, the snooty Senator, the chef with a mysterious past, and the first mate who's trying way too hard to be your friend, are just a few of the characters you'll encounter. Through dialogue and choices, you control Devan's relationship with them, sometimes affecting the story in ways you did not predict. For instance, how you treat a particular character throughout the first chapter will heavily affect his drastic actions at the end of the chapter. The character's have a surprising amount of depth. For example, I was talking to the chef about the meal we were preparing for the guests, when all of sudden the conversation shifted to a terribly sad and personal story about lost love and the unfair class system of his homeland. It was unexpected and added a lot to a character I had previously only thought about as "foreign chef."
It's worth that Herald doesn't gloss over the two major social issues of this time period: imperialism and racism. It's no secret that he British Empire treated its Eastern colonies, particularly India, horrifically. But as opposed to Mafia III's handling of race, which involved every white character using the n-word every 15 seconds, Herald's characters are more quietly and maybe even unintentionally racist towards the two Indian characters. For instance, the chef assumes that because your character's Indian, he must like spicy food. You can either choose to be offended and ask why he thinks you like spicy food, or you can agree with him and have a pleasant conversation about spicy food. The captain patronizes you and the Senator treats you like dirt, but nobody ever says why. It's probably because your Indian and their English, but nobody says it, which is a much more honest look at casual racism than Mafia III. This bleeds into the story nicely as well. The first mate is the only other Indian on board and differs with the captain on multiple occasions, which offers you a real moral choice. Do you side with the captain and ensure your rise in the ranks by betraying your fellow Indian, or do you side with the first mate, but face the wrath of the captain? It's an interesting series of choices and more difficult than you might think, since you are constantly reminded that your place on the ship is by no means permanent.
Like most story-driven games, gameplay is not Herald's strong suit. It's simply clicking with your mouse and talking to other characters. Most missions, especially in the first chapter, are fetch quests. You go to a room, grab an object or talk to a character, and return to whoever sent you there. There's no real puzzles or challenges. There are a few interesting gameplay moments, such as figuring out who stole the gun, whether to stand up for yourself or be a docile servant, and helping the doctor heal a gunshot wound. It would've been better if Herald offered more than just the ship as the setting. After a while, all the rooms in the ship begin to look the sameTruthfully the gameplay is quite dull, especially in the first chapter. But, for me, the story was interesting that I wasn't bothered by the slow gameplay. Your enjoyment of the game will depend on your investment in the story and whether or not you think the story overcomes the dull gameplay. The game is also quite short. It only took me around three hours to complete the two episodes, and it only took that long because I got lost trying to figure out what a tween deck is (the ingame map isn't very helpful).
Graphics and audio
The graphics vary from beautifully hand drawn to strange and blocky. The hand drawn characters that appear whenever you're in a dialogue and the animations at the end of each chapter look fantastic. But the character's movements and actions look unnatural. It was a little disconcerting, but not enough to break my immersion. The soundtrack is gorgeous, particularly a piano ballad you overhear a character playing late in the second chapter. It reminded me a lot of Elizabeth playing the guitar in Bioshock Infinite. The voice acting is solid, if occasionally overly enthusiastic.
Despite only lasting a few hours and having dull gameplay, I recommend Herald: An Interactive Period Drama. It's time period is unique and the story is very well written. The characters are interesting and have more depth than you think. Herald also has a good replay value. Playing the game through again and making different choices does noticeably change your experience, although obviously the main plot isn't affected. For example, telling the captain the gun was stolen will make him blame the boatswain who was supposed to be guarding the guns and the boatswain will hate you the rest of the game. Whereas if you protect the boatswain and find the gun before the captain realizes it was stolen, the boatswain will be friendly to you for the rest of the game. Most importantly, the story ends on a compelling enough cliffhanger that I wanted to keep playing. Ultimately, it's up for you to decide if a compelling, well-written, and interactive three hour story is worth ten dollars. For me it is.
|+ Compelling narrative||– Dull Gameplay|
|+ Interesting characters||– Blocky animations|
|+ Handles mature themes well|