“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus
At Winter’s End is a wholesome narrative-focused dice-rolling adventure that follows twelve-year-old Noel as she explores the spirit-filled forest and faces the realities of growing up.
Developer: Slandercast Studio
Released: 2nd November 2023
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Available on: Steam
At Winter’s End follows Noel as she ventures around the forest and helps the various animals and spirits. The game is set over a number of days in mid-March as Spring is due to start. Each day presents a new task such as finding a good spot for a bird to build a nest, or helping flower get the first ready for the new season. There is no quest log but tasks tend to arise one at a time so are easy to keep track of. The forest is quite sizable for the length of the game, however, and a map would have been a nice addition.
In order for Noel to work out how she is going to help her friends, and what to say to them, she must roll a set of three dice with symbols that relate to the available choices. The dice are incomplete at the start of the game but new faces can be collected as the player progresses. The player rolls once and then gets the opportunity to re-roll selected dice once before confirming. This is an interesting mechanic and ties into the narrative well, becoming instrumental toward the end of the game.
The game plays a bit like a point-and-click game but uses primarily WASD controls, this works OK, but mouse controls may have fitted better with the style of gameplay. There are lots of objects to interact with, often prompting Noel to recount memories or comment on the item. This is a very nice touch and helps the game world to feel real and ‘lived-in’.
At Winter’s End’s narrative focuses on Noel as she spends her days helping the forest’s inhabitants with the overarching goal of helping Winter move on so that Spring can begin. The story starts a little slow but progresses into a wholesome, and heart-warming tale with themes of friendship, loss, growing up, and moving on. It is told mostly through dialogue with a host of delightful animal and spirit characters such as a capybara, a rock and a lake!
At Winter’s End features some rather charming illustrative artwork in muted, natural colour palettes. There are varying levels of detail and line width across different elements, however, which results in things feeling slightly incohesive. Overall, the visuals are lovely and in keeping with the game and its themes. The music is pleasant and melodic and serves as an effective audio backdrop for the experience but does get a tiny bit repetitive after a while. Ambient sound effects consist mostly of nature-based sounds and really help bring the forest setting to life.
At Winter’s End can be completed in less than an hour, with the randomness of the ice rolls and a selection of Steam achievements providing some replayability. It boasts a heart-warming narrative, delightful and eclectic characters and charming artwork. There are a few small areas where things could be added or improved such as the lack of comprehensive mouse controls and a map but overall the playing experience is very enjoyable and relaxing. The way that the dice-rolling mechanic is integrated into both the overall narrative and Noel’s own personal struggles is a highlight of the game and really elevates the story. There is very little to lose when trying any short, free games but this one is well worth the time it takes to play it and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a cosy way to spend 50 minutes or so.
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