Preview: ‘My Time at Portia’ Tries to Remix the Sandbox RPG Formula #E3 #E32018
I’ve started to realize in my time exploring different kinds of games for Geeks of Color that there’s a majestic, almost irreplaceable peace that comes from farming sim games.
My Time at Portia is the latest installment to this peaceful genre, developed by Pathea Games and published by Team17.
Immediately, Portia tries to establish itself as a lifestyle game that’s for avid simulation players – with a large array of choices across character creation, there’s an attempt to compete with Stardew Valley for making unique, clever characters.
The big problem is that one of the key elements that players tend to look for in these ethereal farming games is the ability to make a character look and feel like you. As a black woman, I wasn’t as immediately charmed by the options to make a playable black character – in addition to a pretty heavy lack of coiled-looking hairstyles, there was a pretty glaring issue where making a character’s skin tone too dark left a thin, pale ring around the lips, as though a Caucasian character had simply been painted over. It doesn’t help that you can’t really alter facial features in Portia either, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The game is, after all, still in early access.
Where the game suffers in an attention to diversity, it makes up for its commitment to creating a beautiful world. Even more than in games like Harvest Moon, Portia’s world design and color pallete make me excited to run around and explore. There’s an almost Ghibli-like design to the world, that’s half-rural, half-oceanic in its style. The architecture in the game follows suit. I was pleased with the beautiful designs of the buildings in town, though my own workshop seemed oddly proportioned to my character model, as though I had been plopped down into a too-large doll house.
The nonplayable characters also have some pretty cute designs as well, which makes them an excellent add-on to the already beautiful world. The choice to find and meet them all, though, falls onto the player, and that can get pretty difficult pretty fast, especially in a demo. They don’t really have as much popping personality as in other games of the genre, which is a disappointment. Part of the fun of being in these worlds is getting to see what townies live like.
This frustration also carries somewhat in the gameplay itself. Portia is a very complicated game, which is good, but you get almost no instruction in the beginning, besides a couple of fetch quests. It takes a lot to get started in the beginning of the game, and with no warnings, instructions, or tutorial, you’re expected to flounder and struggle before you actually manage to get anything done.
Portia does give me something I’ve desperately craved from other lifestyle farming games – I can fight! In addition to combatting enemies, I can go up to any old townie and challenge them to a brawl, which I love. The game also makes it pretty easy to dip out, too, if you realize that you aren’t equipped. The combat is fairly easy, which is great, because the game knows that players aren’t showing up just to beat the snot out of other farmers.
My Time at Portia releases on all major consoles this fall, which concerns me a little bit, because the game is definitely still in early access. In addition to a lackluster character creator, the lack of polish makes me worried that it won’t be done in the few months that they have left. My gripes with My Time at Portia all come from a good place – I love this genre and I so desperately want to love this game, and I feel that, with some fixes, I can. As with too many early access games, My Time at Portia is more of a “wait and see” kind of title – cute, understanding of the genre its in, and innovative, but still lacking what makes games like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley really great.