Review: On My Own, by Beach Interactive

On My Own is an outdoor survival game featuring exceptional production values, pixel art, and calming music. With little fanfare, you’re thrust into the wildness, tasked with surviving on your own. The ultimate goal is to survive long enough to climb the mountain.

On My Own is dubbed a woodland survival adventure game by Beach Interactive and Close Studios. Released on Steam last month, the game is now making its way to iOS, Android, and soon consoles. Before I start this review, I’ll just mention that I personally know the designer and artist Kyle Weik. I hail from Fargo, North Dakota, where Beach Interactive resides. I’d talked to Kyle about the game for months before it released, so naturally I was a bit disposed toward liking this game.

That said, the subject matter itself was a natural draw. Ever since I was a kid I’ve gone camping with my family. As I got older, we did more extreme camping; I’ve been on about a dozen canoe and backpacking adventures over the years.

At an early age I fell in love with books like My Side of the Mountain and The Hatchet. I was also a Boy Scout, and trained in wilderness survival. Part of me has always longed to strike out on my own, to be alone in the wilderness with nothing but my wits and wisdom. While being marooned in the wilderness would obviously be a terrifying experience—especially for loved ones left behind—I’ve always wondered, Could I survive in the wilderness if I had to?

I’ll likely never know the answer to that. While I’ll always have a love of camping, the modern world is such that it’s nigh-impossible, without immense sacrifice that I’m unwilling to endure, to just drop everything and go into the wilderness. I’d leave too many loved ones behind, for one.

On My Own (OMO), though, afforded me a few hours to think through that possibility. You choose the sex of your character, read a brief letter about why you’re going into the wilderness, and then you’re there. You have a cabin, a hatchet, and a backpack. With little guidance, the game forces you to trap and hunt your own food, sew clothing from hides, construct weapons and tools, and start and maintain fires.

There’s a fair amount of variety to the activities, but time moves quickly through the seasons, which adds a welcome challenge. Berries only grow in the summer. Plants, needed for making bows, are only available in the summer and fall. The winters are cold, limiting how far you can venture from camp before your energy is depleted.

The first couple winters were brutal for me. I didn’t construct a bow that first winter, and berries barely provide any energy. My hunger meter gradually decreased as the winter wore on: I wasn’t prepared, and I thought I might starve at one point.

The second summer I worked hard to gather the materials for a bow so that I could shoot a deer. But the bow broke as I hunted a deer. Then my second bow broke. The rabbits closest to my home were already harvested. I entered another winter unprepared.

As the game progressed through the years (playing a year takes about 40 minutes), I got better at surviving. Soon I had a surplus of food and rabbit skins. The game is a bit unbalanced at times, where you might gather a ton of certain resources and then lack other resources. And time can move a bit fast—both the length of day, and the number of days in a season (ranging from 2-4 days for each season) could be extended.

But for your money, the game is still a great adventure. There isn’t a lot of variety to the music, but the twangy banjo music is uplifting and never gets old.

Conflict is minimal. The need to eat is an ever-present drive, and occasionally you might get mauled by a bear (I learned right away how close I could safely get to the grizzly bear, and where that line was!). The game does not present nature as an enemy, or as something to fear. Nature simply exists, I alongside the myriad animals.

Human contact is minimal, but I never felt alone or lonely. I felt content, satisfied. Often while I played my breath with hitch and I would deeply sigh, relaxed, fulfilled.

The loading screens are peppered with quotes about the natural world. For example,

Seeking means to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.

~Herman Hesse

The game doesn’t hold your hand, and provides very few hints on how to craft new items. I resisted looking up a wiki how to progress. When I finally discovered how to make a longbow, one that wouldn’t break like my bundle bow, I felt so accomplished!

If you are looking for an end-goal, the game provides one in the form of different environments. You can camp in four landscapes, the last being the bleak and lonely mountain. Make it to the mountain and you “beat the game.” This is a game, though, where the destination isn’t as important as the journey. Any woodsman will tell you that being in nature, in and of itself, is enough.

This game released during the Lenten season. As a Methodist participating in Lent, this game had some interesting spiritual parallels for me. Lent is a time of fasting, of journeying, of remembering. The 40 days of Lent mimics Jesus’ own 40 days in the wilderness, on his own.

The drive I feel to set out on my own is more than my ego speaking, more than me thinking about how awesome I would be at surviving in the wilderness. Anybody who’s spent significant time in the wilderness knows that being in Creation is one of the healthiest boosts you can give your spirituality. And you don’t have to be a Christian to recognize this: even non-believers recognize how clarifying the wilderness is to the soul.

For all the challenges those first two years posed to me, eventually I fell into a rut. Harvesting deer and rabbits became easy. I stocked up on berries, fish, hides, feathers, and wood. I accumulated so much that surviving was no longer difficult. As I played the game, I became complacent. I dared walk closer to the grizzly bears, knowing that even if they attacked me, it wouldn’t seriously set back my efforts.

To me, survival games are always most enjoyable in the beginning, when the danger is real. The first time I played Minecraft, back when it was in beta, I had no idea what to do. The first couple nights were actually frightening to me. I had no shelter, and I died over and over again by the slings of arrows from skeletons that I could not see.

But then I learned to build a shelter, mine iron, and craft weapons and armor. I started over many times in Minecraft, and the first few hours are always the most enjoyable. I eventually reach the point where I know how to craft everything, and the challenge is gone.

By the time I got to the third camp of OMO, I had so much stuff that I had nowhere to store it. I just left it on the ground, scattered around my lean-to. I had become rich.

The same thing happened to Sam Gribley in the My Side of the Mountain series, and Brian in The Hatchet series. The first books of those series are the best, when the boys are just learning how to survive. By the later books, they, too, become rich.

And I suppose that’s the natural way of the wilderness. Even alone, you are truly on your own for only a very short time. Then you have your stuff as company.

The third biome didn’t pose much struggle for me, and I was thinking of progressing to the final biome, the snowcapped mountain. With my goal of survival long since achieved, it was time to see the end game.

I loaded up Steam, and as usual, it went through an obnoxiously long update process (why does Steam need to update almost every day?). The OMO title screen loaded, and I went to “Continue.”

Unfortunately, my save was gone. I restarted my computer and Steam, but my adventure was lost to the ether.

It seems my destination is out of my reach for now. Anybody who’s ever lost a saved game before knows that, mentally, it saps your desire to start over again. I probably had six hours into the game: not a whole lot. But still, it seems like, for now, my time in the wilderness is finished.

Many great explorers get close to their destination but never reach it. Twenty-four Americans have visited the Moon, but only 12 have walked on its surface. Of the three people who’ve been to the Moon twice, Jim Lovell never stepped foot on it, orbiting around the Moon on the Apollo 8 and 13 missions.

And I’m sure there are thousands of people who’ve attempted to climb Mount Everest, only to turn back at the last minute, to be delayed by storm, or to die on the way up. Sometimes that’s how survival goes.

One day I’ll return to OMO after the melancholy subsides. Even though my journey ended in a way I didn’t expect, anticipate, or plan, I’m still satisfied with the game, and I’d recommend the game to anybody looking for an adventure.

After all, the destination was never the goal.

Game on,
~Dennis


Check out the On My Own blog for a cool look, with videos, about how the creators made On My Own!

The Minecraft Travelogue: The End of the Quest: Days 123-124

Seven witches are destroying this world by raising an army of undead warriors. My job is to hunt and kill them. Perhaps killing these witches will restore balance to the world.

Six witches have been slayed: one more remains.

This is my journey. My only goal is to tell a good story.

Day 123

I had all the equipment I needed, plus information on the whereabouts of the last witch. This was my best lead in months, and I was prepared to end their tyranny. I headed west, straddling the mesas and the desert.

Minecraft Travelogue

But it seems the witch was laying traps for me. First, I fell into a hole and got trapped on an overhang while riding Lightning. I was almost squished to death.

Minecraft Travelogue

Then I had to cross a shallow sea. It was midday, not a single monster in sight, and yet I heard the growls and the snarls of somebody watching me.

Minecraft Travelogue

Then, out of nowhere, a phantom started attacking me! Lightning was hurt considerably, and I almost lost her.

Minecraft Travelogue

[Author’s note: Seriously, I’m not making this part up! Some invisible zombie started attacking me in broad daylight and I couldn’t do anything about it!]

I continued across the desert, and eventually found a temple that I had destroyed so many months ago. I must have gotten mixed up somewhere along the way.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

Finally, night fell. Witches and monsters come out at night (usually). All of today’s travels was needed only to put me in the right spot. Hopefully this is the right time.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

The monsters crawled out of the ground, and finally, FINALLY, I found the seventh witch!

Minecraft Travelogue

I demounted from Lightning, then went on the offensive. Witches had to be killed fast, otherwise they poisoned you. I would not give this witch a chance to throw potions on me.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

I gave her no last words. This ends now.

After the witch fell, her minions continued their assault. I had to fight off mob after mob, all of them reeling in insanity after their leader perished.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

A creeper sneaked up behind me, but fortunately I was able to dodge his explosion.

Minecraft Travelogue

All this fighting and commotion spooked Lightning, and she ran far from me. She was drawn to the light of a lava pool, and stood perilously on the edge.

Lightning, get away from there! That sand is unstable!

Minecraft Travelogue

She slipped anyway, and fell into the lava. My horse for the past 100+ days! She followed me on this entire journey. I built land bridges specifically for her so she could get across the ocean.

And it all ends with a stupid mistake.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

I needed a moment to compose myself, but now was not the time, for on the horizon, two more witches appeared!

Minecraft Travelogue

This can’t be happening! The legends said there were seven witches harassing this world, not nine!

And then I figured it out. The final witch was the master of her coven. She had not one form, but three. To kill her, all three forms needed to be vanquished.

I’d never challenged two witches at once before. With Lightning gone and my strength draining away, I accepted the challenge. What did I have to lose? If I didn’t save the world, who would?

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

I let the arrows fly from my enchanted bow, and finally, the threat was resolved.

Day 124

The sun was rising, and I could see green on the horizon. Time to leave this forsaken desert behind and find a new life.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

Life seemed to return to this world immediately. The air smelled fresher, the grass looked greener, and the animals more lively.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

There would be no hero’s welcome for me. No ceremonies, no celebrations, no fanfare.

That was just the way I wanted it. This world might not know who saved it, or what, but I would know. And that’s enough.

I found a forest, a deep forest, and ventured inside.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

The end.

[Author’s note: For those of you who’ve followed this story, thanks for sticking with it! It took me a lot longer to complete this arc than it should’ve, so your patience is appreciated! Game on, ~Dennis]

The Minecraft Travelogue: The Enchantment Table: Days 120-122

Seven witches are destroying this world by raising an army of undead warriors. My job is to hunt and kill them. Perhaps killing these witches will restore balance to the world.

Six witches have been slayed: one more remains.

This is my journey. My only goal is to tell a good story.

Day 120

I approached the village cautiously. Would this be one of those places that supported the work of the witches, or those fighting against them?

Minecraft Travelogue

This village had some strange physics at work. How was this platform suspended? Perhaps the people here won’t so trustworthy.

Minecraft Travelogue

I raided their library, taking all the books for myself. I would find a way to enchant my weapons yet, and these books would come in handy.

Minecraft Travelogue

I carefully approached a villager and asked if he knew anything about the witches. He told me that a witch was near, and had been terrorizing their village for some time. They supported my work, and that gave me the encouragement I needed to continue with my quest.

Minecraft Travelogue

At the edge of town was a black hole, leading to mysterious caves. Was this where the monsters were spawning from?

Minecraft Travelogue

The people built their houses extremely high, perhaps to protect against the witch threat. I knew I was in the right place now. My quest would soon be ending.

Minecraft Travelogue

In the mountains was a line of white rock, a sign of great importance. A cave entrance was nearby. I decided to try one last time to find diamonds.

Minecraft Travelogue

I didn’t take me long to find a drop off and underground ravine. This cave system had been mined before. If people had dug this far into the ground, there must be some riches down here. Of course, the villagers are no longer mining, so maybe there are no valuables left.

Minecraft Travelogue

Navigating the lavafalls and waterfalls took me to the bottom of the mine, where luck upon luck!, I found a diamond!

Minecraft Travelogue

I went back to the mine and opened a chest in a mine cart. Sure enough, two more diamonds were inside! This was really my lucky day!

Minecraft Travelogue

Time to get out of this mine as quickly as possible, before the monsters close in on me. Fortunately, the lava provided ample protection against the stupid undead, who walked right into it in their futile chase of me.

Minecraft Travelogue

Day 121

I didn’t have enough diamonds for a sword–I was one short–but I had enough to craft an enchantment table. I would have to make due with enchanting iron armor and weapons.

Minecraft Travelogue

I went into the great hall, the thirty-foot tall building overlooking the town. This would be the perfect spot to set up shop.

Minecraft Travelogue

I went to enchant my armor and was dismayed to find that I needed one more ingredient: lapis lazuli! Will my problems never end?

I knew some was in the mine, so I prepared yet another venture below the surface.

Unfortunately, night had fallen and the witch’s army was back. The zombies chased the villagers, who foolishly remained outside instead of going inside.

Minecraft Travelogue

I fought through the skeletons and spiders just to get back to the mine entrance. These people would have to survive the night on their own. I had to abandon this battle to win the war.

Minecraft Travelogue

Once past the lavafalls and waterfalls again, I found lapis lazuli. Unfortunately, it was on the other side of a lake of fire!

Minecraft Travelogue

I crafted a stone bridge across the lava, careful not to fall in.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve died and resurrected.

Minecraft Travelogue

I exited the mine just as the day was dawning. I found off the remnants of the undead: the villagers survived the night without a casualty. Time to finally enchant my armor and weapons!

Minecraft Travelogue

Day 122

I started with a new iron sword, placing it on the enchanting table along with the lapis lazuli. After speaking an incantation, the sword was imbued with power!

Minecraft Travelogue

Next I enchanted my bow, and then my helmet.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

Now I was ready. The witch clearly wasn’t here last night during the attack. She was likely somewhere close by, directing her minions from a distance.

I saddled Lightning up and said goodbye to the villagers. This quest ends now! Once night falls, the final witch will be in for a surprise.

Minecraft Travelogue

The Minecraft Travelogue: Searching for Diamonds: Days 118-119

Seven witches are destroying this world by raising an army of undead warriors. My job is to hunt and kill them. Perhaps killing these witches will restore balance to the world.

Six witches have been slayed: one more remains.

This is my journey. My only goal is to tell a good story.

Days 118-119

To face the last witch, I wanted to be as prepared as possible. Before I enchanted my weapon, I wanted to make sure it was a diamond sword, something more powerful than iron. To get diamonds, I’d have to venture into the caves.

I’ve heard of these deep caves, but have avoided them as much as possible in my journey. I’ve only briefly explored them to get coal and iron. But diamonds were at the very bottom, so I had to plan this trip carefully.

I put all of my valuable supplies in a chest—in case I died again—then put Lightning in a pen.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

The desert was right next door to these plentiful plains. This cave entrance looked just as good as any.

Minecraft Travelogue

The cave was deep. I planted torches to light my way, but I had no way of knowing if this cave system would lead me to my goal.

Minecraft Travelogue

Immediately I found valuables like iron, but I had to ignore them.

Minecraft Travelogue

Within the hour, I found an abandoned mineshaft! I’ve heard that people used to mine this world, before the rise of the witches, but I’ve never seen evidence of such a mine before.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

Perhaps the village to the north, near my temporary home, was the owner of this mine. When I meet those people, I’ll have to ask.

To my dismay, this cave system was not entirely abandoned: the skeletal bodies of yesteryear’s miners haunted this place!

Minecraft Travelogue

The skeletons spawned from a wire box: what was this black magick contraption? I destroyed it before it could spew any more filth.

Minecraft Travelogue

I searched any chest I found, hoping to find a diamond stored for safe keeping, but found only useless effects, like dry bread and cobwebs.

I found another dungeon, a wire box generating spiders, and quickly destroyed it. I was getting sidetracked from my mission!

Minecraft Travelogue

I continued deeper, deeper, and came across gold. The pressure was building in these rocks, but gold wasn’t my prize either. I had to press on.

How warped my desires have become to pass up gold!

Minecraft Travelogue

Zombies were crawling around these caves as well. Thanks to my new supply of arrows, I could dispense with them safely from a distance.

Minecraft Travelogue

I finally got to the bottom of the cave system. I went as deep as I could go, and saw lava, hot, boiling lava, covering the ground.

Minecraft Travelogue

Diamonds had to be around here somewhere! The lava didn’t leave much room for walking, so I constructed stone bridges to get from one end of the lake to the other.

Minecraft Travelogue

No matter how widely I searched, I found not a diamond. I had to leave this cave system. It was getting too dangerous traversing all this lava.

Minecraft Travelogue

As I reluctantly climbed to the surface, I found an enderman blocking my path. He stared into my soul with those glowing eyes and initiated a battle.

I struck the creature down, and his death screams filled my head, causing me agony and despair.

Minecraft Travelogue

I went back to the surface. It was night, and I had to cross a field filled with skeletons to get back to Lightning and my shelter.

Tomorrow I would enchant an iron sword—that’s the best I could do. Then I would introduce myself to the villagers.

I’m only hoping they can provide some direction in finding this last witch.

The Minecraft Travelogue: Preparing for the End: Days 115-117

Seven witches are destroying this world by raising an army of undead warriors. My job is to hunt and kill them. Perhaps killing these witches will restore balance to the world.

Six witches have been slayed: one more remains.

This is my journey. My only goal is to tell a good story.

Day 115

The villagers didn’t take too well to my destruction of their temple! I should have known that my witch hunting would get me in trouble one day. They have a grip on this world, and the world isn’t ready to forge ahead without them.

I fought back, but took no satisfaction in the violence.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

Eight villagers fell total.

Now what should I do? There was clearly no witch in this area. My violence was for naught. I left Goroth for the bountiful fields.

I saw endermen patrolling the shore, but I had not the strength to attack them tonight.

Minecraft Travelogue

I needed supplies, and for too long I have gone without animal products. I needed feathers for arrows, hide for book covers, and wool for bedding. These plains became killing fields as I slaughtered cow after cow, chicken after chicken, getting the valuable items I’ve needed for months.

Minecraft Travelogue

For the first time, I found a bunny, and that gave me some small joy.

Minecraft Travelogue

Day 116

I wasn’t going to let all this meat go to waste. Early in the morning, I started roasting the beef. It was much healthier to eat than the bread, so I would soon substitute my entire lot of bread for roast beef. All that work for bread, and now I was abandoning it so quickly.

Minecraft Travelogue

Just over the hills I found another village. I would refrain from going there for now. First I needed to be prepared. Maybe word had reached these people of the attack on Goroth just a quarter mile away.

Minecraft Travelogue

I found more cattle, and continued my harvest. It made me sick, but I needed those leather hides for a reason.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

I built a house at night. I would be in this area for some time, so I might as well be protected.

Minecraft Travelogue

Day 117

If I was going to slay the final witch I’d need a magical sword. I wasn’t going to take any chances.

To enchant my sword, I needed books. I’ve been carrying reams of paper for months; now I finally had enough leather for the bindings.

Minecraft Travelogue

Once all the books were crafted, I put them away in bookshelves. I was getting close.

Minecraft Travelogue

For too long skeleton archers have plagued me, firing arrow after arrow into my armor from afar. I needed to fight back. I had the feathers now for more arrows, next I needed flint. I dug through the gravel until I had enough.

Minecraft Travelogue

Minecraft Travelogue

I wasn’t going to enchant any old sword. Ideally, I’d magically-infuse a diamond sword. The only problem: I only had one diamond. My books and arrows stockpiled, my next mission was to go underground, to find another diamond.