This was one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to review. The aptly-titled Beautiful Desolation is a post-apocalyptic adventure set in South Africa in an unspecified future where you’ll have to be resourceful and tactful to survive. Can you learn to navigate this strange land and make your way back “home”? My advice - You’re going to need a guide to enjoy this game.
Beautiful Desolation is, in a word, strange. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the quirks involved in this game are all too often detrimental. The opening hours are a total pain in the neck, if I’m being honest. The controls are clumsy and the framerate is very inconsistent. Trying to walk anywhere feels like a chore and there is little to no direction, which means you’ll likely spend a lot of time wandering in circles and getting very confused about where to go or what to do. After the awkward stage is over, things get better, albeit only slightly. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of walking and that’s one less annoyance but even then, there are spots where the game itself just can’t function properly. If I had to venture a guess, the conversion from PC to consoles is likely the culprit of the clunkiness.
This game is difficult to understand. Most of the time when I do a review or am playing a game just for fun, I’ll avoid guides as much as possible. I’m usually pretty good at figuring things out and only use them as a last resort. This is one of those games where it would amaze me if anyone could complete it without one because the objectives are so weirdly specific and arguably pedantic; the lack of any real objective markers make this painful. I found myself googling and reading wikis every half hour in my approximate 10 hours of gameplay just trying to power through. You’ll likely encounter some frustrating roadblocks along the way, even with guides. Thankfully, once the quest starts to unfold, you can see how rich it is, despite its flaws. You could chalk the confusing nature of Beautiful Desolation as intentional to reflect the confusion of instantly travelling centuries forward in time but it feels deliberately obtuse.
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There are many areas to explore and wonderfully-performed characters to interact with but even so, they usually send you on vague fetch quests. A game like this would really benefit from a little more gameplay diversity.
Story / Personality
Two estranged South African brothers must reunite in their new surroundings and make their way back home. The dynamic between Mark and Don is tense and compelling, and this tension is enhanced by the setting. Overall, the story is the best thing about this game, followed closely by the setting itself. Beautiful Desolation has some of the best voice acting and writing I’ve ever experienced in an indie game. Every character is given a unique voice (and even animated conversations) and the script is beyond impressive. The story itself is intricate, heartfelt and spectacular. Beautiful Desolation allows you to make dialogue choices (each of which are voiced) which will affect how interactions go, adding a nice twist of RPG-ness into the mix. There isn’t much in the way of music at all, which adds to the empty feeling of the newly-destroyed world.
Graphics / Art Direction
The graphics and world design are also wonderful. While there are some performance issues that can be bothersome, the world is well detailed and lush with life. The overworld is broken up into specific locales that can be accessed via airship and teleportation gates but each one is different and full of places to explore and character models to admire. As you can only talk to people when you actually have business with them, while practical, it’s odd in itself, so there aren’t any annoying repetitive NPCs to worry about at least. The character models you see in dialogues are painstakingly detailed and wonderfully animated. Every conversation was so immaculately done that even if I found the subject boring, I was enthralled by the graphics themselves.
Final Score: 65%
Overall, I have pretty mixed feelings about Beautiful Desolation. On one hand, it features an old-school Fallout vibe that I absolutely adore but the constant wandering, getting lost and general ambiguity has left a bad taste in my mouth. A better objectives menu and some markers would’ve gone a long way to making this game more digestible. As it stands, I have to conclude that while it might scratch that early-90s RPG itch, unless you’re a hardcore fan of the genre and are willing to overlook the glaring annoyances, you likely won’t enjoy it. It’s a lot like Morrowind: there’s some good stuff here for sure, but I don’t think I could recommend this game to anyone.
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