Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Starting off on a stormy night in South Africa, Beautiful Desolation is the story of two Brothers and their relationship after the events of humanity’s first contact. Having lost his wife on that first night while on the way to pick up his older brother Don, as Mark you’ll have to navigate your way from post contact mid 1980s into an unknown time far from anything you could have ever imagined.
Beautiful Desolation is one of those titles that will not be for everyone due to its pacing. Set in a third person isometric view, you’ll have to do as much exploring by foot as you will creative and often convoluted puzzle solving in order to figure out your actual next step. With nothing to really guide you at times but your own character’s resources, there’s going to be plenty of back and forth as well as head scratching on what your next move is supposed to be.
Now throughout my time with Beautiful Desolation, there was one thing that constantly nagged at me. Was this really the appropriate avenue for the experience? There’s nothing wrong with how Beautiful Desolation is designed per say. Visually, it can sit up there with others such as BlackIsles’ older work like Planescape Torment and inXile Entertainment’s newer work like Torment: Tides of Numenera. That said, I found myself continuously thinking that maybe a point and click style would have served as a better medium.
The reason I say this is while it is nice to be able to run around and explore the environments, the usage of “explore” is light at best. Most of the time while running through environments you’ll simply be looking at the scenery. In each environment there are points of interest but these points of interest are specifically for you the player more than for your actual characters. Oftentimes they’ll just be descriptions of what can be seen lying about such as giant fossils or overgrowth or the quality of the water that stands between you and where you want to go. Finally, unlike most third person isometric adventures, there’s not as much that you can do when comparing it to the likes of Divinity Original Sin 2, Pillars of Eternity 2, Baldur’s Gate III, Wasteland 3, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, etc.
So it’s for these reasons that I think that a point-and-click style would have served better than a top-down third person isometric view. Even the interactions with the environments require you to load up your inventory and you select as you would in a point and click. As a final point on this is that generally once you’ve been through an environment, you’ve pretty much seen all there is to it so having to tilt your joystick to run through it all over again is just tedious. I wish there had been an option to allow for a cursor mode to allow the pathfinder to do the work for you with all of the back and forth required at times to figure out the smallest thing.
All of this said though, the experience that The Brotherhood have put together is a good one. The story is enticing so regardless how I felt about the mechanics I kept going back for more. Hell, I also wanted to know more which is probably why at times I was a bit disappointed that once you’ve talked with a person, they were no longer available unless the quest line brought you back to them hours down the line. I would have liked more conversations in this world, not just ones tied to the main storyline. If things were going to be convoluted, at least throw me actual red herrings.
Getting into Beautiful Desolation itself, this story is one of your telling. Trapped in the future that they know nothing of, the story of both Mark and Don is really whatever you want it to be. Starting all the way back to that one night where everything changed, Mark was on his way to pick up Don and what you were going to do was in your hands. Were you going to bring him home? Were you going to bring him to a shelter where he could get help? And how soft of a touch were you going to use as this was apparently not the first time that a good amount of alcohol was involved.
This relationship is as much a focus as the journey to make it back to their own time. While not coming up as often as I would like, there are still a fair amount of conversations in which both Mark and Don can either mend or further break their already strained relationship. This is also taken a step further in which Mark can also create or keep separate a relationship with an Agnate (a form of sentient robotic life) named Pooch. Your choices in how you speak to them and make decisions will ultimately decide how your adventure with them ends. It also helps to define who “you” are as Mark in this strange world.
Now my wanting of Point and Click aside, I’m not entirely sure the transition to console was the smoothest. For hours, I was stuck searching EVERYWHERE for where to go until I realized that Beautiful Desolation released back in February on the PC. Checking Steam’s Discussions, I found the developer’s own everything you need to know guide and from this guide, I checked where I had landed, and nothing more as I didn’t want to spoil it for myself, and then scratched my head. But “I did that” I thought. Turns out, from the beginning hiccup that I was getting in which a prompt would continuously get in my way, very late game, or late game to me because of my choices and paths walked, the actual interface was glitched not letting me scan an item that was at this point paramount to having in order to getting the last required item and seeing the end.
Unlike a lot of titles though, I find myself truly unsure of where to set Beautiful Desolation. On one hand, the world looks and sounds amazing, the voice overs are incredible and unique between the various peoples, and there’s more than one way to go from start to finish. On the other hand, once you’ve seen each part of the world, there’s really nothing left to see a second time as it’s rather empty short of maybe having a new conversation pop up. What Beautiful Desolation does, it does well, but it’s just not enough to hold itself up as on a twelve hour playthrough, I may have only really had an hour’s worth of dialog. The rest was running around and hoping that the combining of items in my inventory works.