Video games these days are rife with checkpoints telling you where to go and what to do. When we aren’t given direction, we panic. When we get lost, we desperately try to find the way back to a recognizable path. Okay, those might be sweeping statements, and there are certainly those who are content to get lost and go directionless. But how do games cater to both? Shape of the World is a relaxing game about just that. It’s big enough to get lost in, yet never puts the player in state of panic that they can’t find their way back. It’s a game designed to get you lost as you sit back and explore the beautiful world that grows around you.
You are the paintbrush to Shape of the World’s environments. Moving around causes plants, trees, creatures, and other things to pop up nearby, allowing you to effortlessly paint the world. When handed the controller, I simply wandered around through the environment, watching it spring to life around me. Without needing to tell me what to do, I found my way to the next area, but that led to more wandering around and seeing what sights I could discover. Every bit of the art is beautiful, with flat colors that make any part of this game into an amazing screenshot (hopefully it will have some kind of photo mode when it releases).
I tried a healthy mix of getting lost and following the objectives. Large triangular shapes in the sky are there to guide you back, but they are never so obtrusive as to call out “you have to go this way!” They act more as road signs that you can choose to ignore if you’d rather serenely chase the bizarre creatures of the world around without much direction. Once you do choose to follow these triangular gates, they will change and evolve the environment. Technically this is how you “beat” the game, if you want to go straight through it to the end.
Shape of the World may have the ability to be completed, but it’s not necessarily designed with that in mind. The procedural forest is painted only around you, so revisiting an area might reveal new layouts of trees and foliage. Touching a tree will burst it and give you a speed boost forward, and it can be fun to chain this boost with other trees, whisking about quickly in what I imagine it might feel like to discover you could fly for the first time. Experimenting with them is fun to see how they will react to you.
The adventure isn’t just visual and tactile; it is also aural. The relaxing soundtrack evolves as you explore the world and is designed to compliment the look and feel of each area. Interacting with monoliths in the area will change the soundscape and open up new paths that lead to leaping off points, flying high to see the environment from a completely different perspective. It’s these kinds of little secrets and details that make the enveloping Shape of the World fun to explore.
Shape of the World may not have monsters and guns and death and obvious checkpoints, but being relaxed doesn’t mean it has to be slow. The blending of audio, visuals, and the tactile response of the environment makes Shape of the World a serene wonder that I can’t wait to get my hands on again.