Educational games are a necessity, I don’t care who you are or what you believe in for education. You can trick kids into learning by making it a game, and you’d be surprised how well that stuff sticks around. I still remember international flags from Carmen Sandiego, and I first learned what fording a river and dysentery were through Oregon Trail. So when educational games come my way, I always like to see what tactics are being used to both educate and make the game fun. The latest to take the dive into this genre are Sunburned Games who released The Great Whale Road into early access this week.
The Great Whale Road starts you off playing as The Danes, because there is no other clan to play as right now. You receive word that the Saxtons have killed a Jarl and his crew, meaning everyone in your village (Ulfarrsted) just lost someone important to them. You choose who the leader is and what kind of traits they have. You’ll assign people to help run the village you live in as you slowly rebuild your society and plot for revenge down the road. You’ll make decisions for the town as seasons occur and defend it from raiders as problems arise. You learn to help the village survive and thrive in a time when a lot of civilizations were being eliminated from plague, low child births, and slaughtering in the name of religion.
As the game progresses, you’ll set off on journeys to other lands for goods and services, trading what you can and purchasing what you need. You’ll end up doing a lot of resource management and get into the occasional battle that handles like a tactical RPG, which you’ll have to do in order to keep your family’s honor. The resource management end makes sense, but can be difficult to follow what exactly your needs are and what the best choices to make for them would be. Often you’ll get lost in the constant menus and guides advising you but not really telling you what needs to happen. At times, you’ll start to wonder if you even really did anything at all beyond the seasonal decisions to protect your village, like choosing what animals to kill for food or whether to take treasure that comes ashore that appears to be plague-ridden.
The combat system is a waste of time in this game. It feels more like I’m playing a long version of checkers where I know what the outcome will be once I come up to an opponent. If they’re at 70 health and I have 140, I know I’m winning the battle because I’m going to last longer, there’s really no surprise element to this beyond the occasional wild hit, so the battle loses its flavor. Not even adding in cards to define the type of combat really takes away from this system. Interacting with people isn’t that much more exciting as the towns and individuals around you don’t provide much sizzle either. There’s no personality in the text, there’s no need for me to be here beyond dealing with quests—I don’t feel important as a character or a clan.
Education wise, it gives some insight into the perils and problems of the Viking era, but it gives no basis for how things came to be, nor does it give an outlook of where you should be headed. As an example, in Oregon Trail, you know where you need to end up. How you get there is up to you. In this, there’s no clear path beyond being killed and your village appointing another leader. It isn’t even clear if getting revenge on the Saxtons is part of the overall goal as it just feels like a side-mission. I feel like the game missed the mark on teaching you something while you play, and while I’m sure all the story elements will eventually come together at the very end, there’s just too much going on for it to be a concise game for people to follow without notes.
The Great Whale Road is a fine idea but it has a failed execution in some areas. Keep in mind this is an Early Access beta and there will probably be some changes as the game goes along, but right now it just isn’t there yet. We’ll have to see where the game stands when it’s finally released in full, but for now, best to wait on it as you’ll probably end up confused and bored.
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