Among Trees, released in Early Access June 20th, is a chill survival sandbox developed by FJRD Interactive in which you find yourself in the heart of a vibrant forest. Your priorities quickly become clear as your hunger grows and you must find a place to rest. The outline of a cabin is immediately presented to you when you begin the game and resource gathering is introduced quickly. It must be because it is what will be taking the majority of your time. It is vital to be practiced at gathering resources, and managing your hunger, rest, and health. Your cabin becomes your home base, and as you gather, craft, and build tools to help you navigate the surrounding area, your ventures through the wilderness become large loops to explore and collect additional resources for survival.
The roadmap for Among Trees’ development doesn’t seem to indicate any full game release date. However, it does show the plans for some interesting new in-game abilities such as bee-keeping and brewing coming towards the fall of 2020.
Among Trees can be found on the Epic Game Store.
Story: One With Nature
There isn’t much in the way of story with Among Trees. There’s a bit of mystery here and there, but it isn’t dialogue so much as discovery. The tale is the one you make by thriving in the forest and, well, not dying. You don’t get a backstory to your character, how you ended up in the wilderness, or what the ultimate goal is. If anything marks this vividly, it is the day counter that ticks by every time you wake up from resting. A few days go by, then a week, then three weeks, and you realize that you physically haven’t progressed much further than you had three weeks before. You’re still in the same forest, same cabin, same goals – survive. It’s then that you realize your journey to becoming part of the forest is your story, in all its quiet tranquility.
The animals that dot the wild move naturally with your presence. At first, a rustle in the bushes and movement out of the corner of your eye might cause caution, not realizing what to expect, but as you explore further, you begin to appreciate the life you find and feel as much a part of the scenery as they do. However, there are animals to fear. Bears roam key areas guarding interesting resources and items that help with progression.
Gameplay: Adapt, Improvise, Eat Mushrooms?
There are relaxing moments in Among Trees. In fact, the game’s entirety really does fill one with the sense of wonder at the immensity of the forest and all it has to offer. That being said, hunger and rest will determine your exploration. You’ll be more focused on your hunger and rest meters than you will be the sights and sounds around you. You will be, at least, until you are able to craft more resources.
Resources are crafted by blueprints which are found throughout the area. Even something as simple as a map to mark where you have been must be crafted. In fact, if it wasn’t for the home marker that remains on the screen for orientation, there were several times early-game when I would have gotten lost altogether. The compass is an interesting but unnecessary tool to use, as once you have the map, it becomes redundant.
As you build on to your house, it becomes possible to grow and cook your own food, providing the resources you need to stay fed and alive. Crafting also allows you to have access to a larger backpack and different types of clothes. These provide additional (although not a ton) space and perks for more exploration time and better chances of survival.
Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe
Resource management is the biggest challenge you’ll face in Among Trees. Your backpack is small and some items don’t stack as much as you might think. On every foraging trip away from the cabin, I had to leave items unattended in the woods to come back for later. However, with no way to mark the map as to where specific items were for crafting, trying to find that exact spot on another scouting trip is incredibly difficult.
Perhaps none of this would be so tedious if your hunger and weariness didn’t come on so quickly. I feel like the veracity at which you must manage your well-being doesn’t match the chill vibes of this game. Even realistic simulator games that have you micromanage the smallest of things such as hunger and rest don’t decline this fast. Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s hunger system might be half as fast as this. Granted, these are two very different games, but even KCD in all its realistic, gritty hardships knew that managing food, stamina, and health simultaneously gets very monotonous.
Don’t Get Hurt
Health doesn’t regenerate and any encounter with an occasional dangerous animal will decrease a permanent chunk of your life bar. Not only that, but larger enemies like bears will cause bleeding that will not stop unless a med kit is used. A med kit can only be crafted using finite resources. If you don’t have any of those resources left because they’ve already been used for something else, you die.
If you die, you’ll restart back at your last save like any other game. However, Among Trees’ save system is unique, allowing one to save the game only at the cabin. This means that any progress that included a long trip out for exploration or foraging might be lost if one doesn’t get back to the cabin in time and dies of starvation or animals. It will have to be completed all over again.
Stealth with bears is frustrating. There’s no recourse to using stealth or avoidance techniques on the animals, so you have to wait and try to avoid his senses. The problem is, the bear’s awareness is very touchy, and there’s limited areas of tall grass to hide in. It was so time consuming, in fact, that I simply stayed away from the bear encounters altogether. An attack from a bear without a med kit is usually a death sentence.
Building the cabin is extremely rewarding as materials aren’t necessarily easy to get. The feeling of finally crafting a new room after an hour or so of work feels good. Probably like it actually would if you accomplished that same task in the wild. In some cases, that room will have another room that can be built on to that so you may repeat the process to further expand your living space.
Also satisfying is the collection of resources, blueprints, and food to be stored inside your cabin. I get some Minecraft vibes playing Among Trees, as I organized storage bins according to their contents inside. It feels good to have a hardy stock of button mushrooms and fir planks for emergencies. Doesn’t everyone?
Visuals: Naturally Simplified
There’s no doubt that Among Trees is a gorgeous game. From the light shining through the morning fog, to the soft, slightly eerie waning darkness of sunset, the ambiance of this game is spot on. It’s a joy to wander the forest. While the graphics are simple, the game draws you into its world. There’s a magic about it that wouldn’t be captured with photo-real textures. Visuals are where this game shines. It’s an experience to be seen just as a walk through a nature trail might be.
Sound: Immersive but Sparing
Sound design is appropriate and adequate. The soft, wispy sounds of your feet crossing the forest floor match the stillness of the forest. There is an ambient soundtrack that plays in the background which I found interesting in a game that exudes a purely organic experience. But I can’t help but feel like there should be a bit more. Perhaps more animal sounds, an occasional branch falling or the wind rustling through the leaves. I want it to sound like I’m in the deep forest, entombed by its earthy noises.