AWAY: Journey To The Unexpected can be considered many things. It's a roguelite, no doubt. The procedurally generated levels and back-to-start nature of death screens ensure that. It also has some roots in adventure games, demanding you navigate conversation trees correctly to enlist allies to your cause. Some have even called the game a first-person shooter. That one I contend with, but at times it does include such elements. Away wears many hats, but the adjective that drew me to it in the first place is "feel-good." I was looking to play a game with that sort of lighthearted, optimistic tone, and despite issues elsewhere, the feel-good nature of the wacky story mostly keeps the journey to the unexpected quite enjoyable.
Away is truly an amalgam of several genres and styles, even visually, which collectively lend themselves to helping this indie project stand out. You play a kid, whose name you decide, on a quest to find your parents in a fantastical world full of dangers. Often times there are branching paths to take. As long as the paths before you are unlocked, you can play them in any order. Due to the roguelite design of the game, amassing skills before death sends you back to start with your skills intact. You'll overcome randomly generated mini-dungeons on the way to unlocking and completing larger, more difficult dungeons.
The game's feel-good nature is displayed both in the brightly lit environments of the terrain you'll explore as well as in one of its central mechanics: making friends. Your journey will fail almost undoubtedly on the first few tries, but as you play and replay areas you are able to make allies with several characters. Each of them has requirements that must be met. Sometimes your task is cryptic but usually it comes down to saying the right thing in dialogue trees. Say the wrong thing and that potential ally won't join you at that time, but it gives you the knowledge of what not to say next time. Eventually, you'll get it right. Sometimes they will be more mercenary and just demand money for their services.
This is really the best part of the game for two reasons. For one, it's just cute. A game about making friends on the way to saving your parents from goofy aliens is as lighthearted as advertised, and it's a nice change of pace from the hulking men of war so often populating video games. Additionally, each friend has their own special ability and most of them are hugely beneficial. One of them drops health for you, another has an awesome high-powered rifle, another unloads booby traps for encroaching enemies. None of them feel less than helpful and it's up to you to decide what party you want to take with you once you've begun to unlock several of them as you can only bring up to three at a time.
It's also very important to have these super moves available because the game's combat is its most frustrating feature. While the world is 3D, the enemies are displayed as flat 2D sprites, like those you'd associate with the earliest DOOM games. Sizing up the distance at which you should swing your melee weapon is consistently problematic, making it so you'll get hit often from these 2D foes at a frequency that feels unfair. You'll probably get better at it as you go, but you'll likely never quite feel comfortable with it. Swinging too early or too late will regularly leave you vulnerable and that part gets frustrating fast. It's too bad too, because otherwise the mix of 3D and 2D in the world really makes the game look special.
Your allies' special abilities thus help take some of the frustration out of the game, by often making it so you're not as reliant on up-close melee combat. Taking them out from a distance makes it all easier, though you'll need to watch your usage; these friends can disappear if you drain their power meters before recharging them at in-game shops.
While allies help with one problem, they can't do anything for the other. The game's procedurally generated levels are already an element some players just don't like by default, but even among those who do like that sort of thing, some will find its implementation in Away to be lacking. Simply put, it's all very inconsistent, with some levels being absurdly easy and others feeling unfair. The same goes for boss battles. It all unfolds without much evidence of rhyme or reason. The game is reliant on this randomized nature given its rogue-lite progression, but it just doesn't deliver the sort of variety you'd like to see.
These issues may seem glaring, and I suppose they are, but ultimately I more often than not enjoyed my time with Away simply because of its tone and its ridiculous story — one that somehow goes almost nowhere and still manages to be delightful. Making friends in a brightly lit fantasy world while an upbeat original anime-like soundtrack keeps you pushing forward reminds you that the game isn't meant to be taken too seriously. It's also not meant to take too long, ending at about four to six hours of playtime.
The achievement list was not yet visible during my review period, but as is always the case they did unlock on screen as I performed required tasks. I can say there will likely be very few achievements on the list, as most seemed to go for 50 or more gamerscore. They were mostly given out for natural progression through the story.
Check out our Best Xbox RPGs Available in 2017 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
SummaryAway: Journey to the Unexpected tries to do a lot at once, which is a tall task for a game mostly built by just a pair of people. Ultimately, its strange direction lends to the charm of it all, but it's also clear the game is lacking in a few key areas — namely, shoddy combat and inconsistent level randomization. Still, it was billed as a "feel-good" indie and I'd have to agree. Despite its faults, I'm happy to have played this weird game.
- Energetic anime-style soundtrack
- Cute and lighthearted tone and story
- Combat is annoying throughout due to 2D sprite enemies
- Randomized levels can vary dramatically in quality and difficulty without much rhyme or reason
The reviewer spent six hours on a Journey to the Unexpected, making friends and chucking fireworks at cutesy bad guys. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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