Welcome to a climate activist’s absolute worst nightmare. End of Lines is a visual novel depicting an apocalyptic vision of what Earth could possibly end up like if global warming and the climate crisis aren’t successfully mitigated in the next couple of generations. The indie survival game, produced by Nova-box, is set a decade before the 22nd century (around 2090). Climate change has ravaged the globe, leading to worldwide ecological and societal collapse.
The narrative is told from the perspectives of members from a Sahara Desert tribe. Catastrophic heat and sandstorms have rendered your home uninhabitable, so you’re forced to travel to find somewhere safer to live. You’re a climate migrant. Mostly, I wanted to review this game to show video game naysayers – especially those who think that gaming is just mindless entertainment for “lazy people” – that this medium can and does explore a diverse range of important topics.
At the start of End of Lines, you hear a fable about a lion, panther, tahouri, and jackal. You then make choices throughout the game that align with one of three animal archetypes, increasing those stats: lion (ruthless, suspicious), panther (sacrificial, doubtful), or tahouri (sociable, manipulative). Your decisions unlock different story paths and events, main characters to play as, achievements, and endings. So, that improves End of Lines’ replayability. Your choices also determine which party members survive and for how long, which all goes back to the game’s title: the end of bloodlines/end of the line/end of humanity.
As a visual novel (or interactive graphic novel), End of Lines is primarily composed of narrative text – which can be pretty poetic at times – with accompanying static images. I loved the visuals; they’ve got a sort of impressionistic vibe and, apparently, were hand-painted. As you keep playing, the game switches between different first-person narrators who tell the story in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion, with inner thoughts mixed in with conversations.
Scattered throughout the journey are reveries, flashbacks, and imaginings of pre-apocalyptic times. For instance, Camille’s imagined encounter with his father on the day of his birth, with his dad casually sipping coffee in a café and browsing his smartphone surrounded by other yuppies, while his adult son tells him they are dying and starving. This is just one of many illusory meetings, as the present-day group trudges across ravaged landscapes, struggling to survive and find water and food scraps, including for Camille’s seven-year-old child who doesn’t know what ducks are and has never seen what a dog, chicken, or cow looks like. (No wonder so many individuals of reproductive age are now choosing not to have kids!)
So, End of Lines’ developers covered many bases regarding climate change’s worst potential outcomes. And the world is sort of reminiscent of The Last of Us but without monsters trying to kill you. Everything is in ruins. Vital resources are scarce. Nora and Camille’s kid gives everyone the strength and hope to continue. Although no zombies or monsters are out to get you, whether you trust or distrust other humans is up to you. Militia groups are kidnapping, enslaving, torturing, and killing people, and sometimes eating them. The remnants of former towns are filled with danger.
Add on top of that suffocating heat, destructive sandstorms and tsunamis, species lost through extinction cascades, devastated ecosystems, cities submerged underwater, locust swarms, and meagre water and food that you literally have to risk your life for on a daily basis. Also, rather than zombie viruses, rampant climate change–induced infectious diseases are killing people, too. Not a fun time to be alive for anyone – and that includes First World folk!
- Thought-provoking social commentary; interesting concept
- Choices lead to real consequences; different endings
- Impressionistic art style
- Well-developed characters and branching plotlines
I’m generally fond of visual novels, and End of Lines is very much a visual novel, aka an interactive graphic novel. The game relies solely on text-based narration and static pictures (I mean, the static images move around a bit, but that’s it). There’s no voice acting, no video cutscenes, and the soundtrack is minimalistic. Although I enjoyed the artwork and storylines, and I got used to the simple gameplay style, the game could’ve been fleshed out more. For example, there could’ve been more interactivity beyond dialogue choices and narrative selections regarding who’ll go on expeditions. Maybe some point-and-click options.
I also felt that the game lacked enough audio. Voice acting would have enhanced the whole experience. They could’ve added voice acting for the dialogue sections while leaving the inner monologues as text. Or even just incorporated some random voice clips. And while the music and sound effects were great, more audio would’ve helped to bring the scenes to life.
Regarding the plot(s), I appreciated the thought and attention that went into covering so many anticipated repercussions of the climate crisis. These broadly encompass not just environmental destruction and mass extinctions but the subsequent collapse of contemporary civilisations. However, I’m no climate scientist, but I found it a tad unbelievable that global society would deteriorate to a state that terrible by the end of our century. Probably next century sometime?
I’m only adding this final comment because they’re fictional characters and not real humans, but at certain points, the narrative got a tiny bit preachy and melodramatic. I dunno. I feel that the people likely attracted to playing such a game are already concerned about the climate crisis and know that humanity is causing it. Those whom the game is trying to convert probably aren’t going to play it in the first place. (Kind of like how those previously mentioned video game naysayers are unlikely to read this review in the first place!)
- No voice acting
- Soundtrack is too minimalistic; not enough audio
- Could’ve benefited from additional interaction options
- Verges on preachy at certain points
Final Score: 7/10
End of Lines is not for everyone (but no game is). That said, if the positives covered in The Good section appealed to you, you can currently download the game from the Nintendo eShop for a really reasonable price. Give it a go, even if you don’t normally play visual/graphic novels. Or share it with your eco-conscious friends.
I enjoyed End of Lines’ take on the consequences of neglecting the climate crisis, as shown via the intimate stories and daily struggles of individuals living those very consequences in the future. It’s a warning! Although the game depicts a truly very worst-case scenario, its world is still believable as a possible future reality for humanity – no zombies or monsters, just the fallout of environmental catastrophes and societal disintegrations. The experience would’ve been improved with voice acting, more music (basically, more audio), and different kinds of interactivity.
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