Simulation games have become a main staple in gaming over the last couple of decades but none has captured the collective hearts and imagination of its players quite like the farming simulator. Games like Harvest Moon and the more recent Stardew Valley gamble on their players’ propensity for cutesy visuals and rewarding mechanics. In comes My Time at Portia, which released on Early Access last week, which nestles nicely into this beloved genre and manages to add a new layer of depth to the proceedings.
You start your journey on a ship headed for the town of Portia (That’s Por-sha FYI) having been summoned to take over your father’s workshop. A quick tutorial introduces you to the simple looting mechanics and you are set on your way. The name of the game here is to complete commissions requested by your local townsfolk, and each one is a lesson in how smaller components can eventually be built into more complex ones.
The crafting is deceptively simple early on. The first commission is to craft a pickaxe and axe, easy enough. Soon you find yourself mining, digging up relics to craft the engine for a fully motorised vehicle you’re building. The way each blueprint is laid out is a Lego-esque construction kit just waiting to be conquered. Larger structures and items require you to build component parts and then assemble accordingly, ticking off each part from your list and edging closer to the goal is incredibly satisfying indeed.
Crafting isn’t everything on offer here though as there are a tonne of zany characters to interact with. You can romance, spar and earn the respect of each person which in turn unlocks more of the game’s world. The social systems at play here are much more complex than a game like Stardew Valley but are still manageable. Community and holiday events spice up each month’s calendar offering unique opportunities to earn exclusive loot and build relationships, something that will go a long way to keeping you busy during the game’s current 25 hour campaign.
Below the game’s remarkably cutesy art style there are hints of a darker theme which permeates its lore. It seems that Portia is the centre of a post apocalyptic world, something which is mentioned here and there by the townsfolk. The aforementioned relics are said to be the reason behind humanities downfall so I am looking forward to exploring these themes further. For players who are looking for a deeper meaning, it’s definitely there but for those who just want to build out their farm, make friends and explore there’s even more to enjoy. I’m a huge fan of Stardew Valley, having sunk over 100 hours into it on the Switch so far but in terms of depth, My Time at Portia blows it out of the water. A lot of this, I imagine, is down to the fully 3D graphics which convey a sense of scale which games like Stardew simply can’t. I absolutely love the art direction, the colour scheme in particular, on show here.
The world of My Time at Portia is filled with a host of adorable critters including my personal favourite, the pink alpacas which bound across the game’s meadows. The art direction is consistent and the sweet tweaks on each each animal give the game a tremendous amount of character.
There’s little in terms of a difficulty curve when it comes to combat. Mostly consisting of flailing a sword back and forth, the combat is good enough and fits well into the context of the world. There’s a day-night cycle which dictates which flora and fauna are available but don’t worry about staying out too late as there is very little consequence to passing out at 3AM. Upon collapsing from exhaustion you are transported back to your house with full health, something which is a little more friendly than other titles.
Of course, a game like this is only as good as its later-game content so we will have to wait and see if it has the legs to retain a devoted fan-base. The game is in Early Access at the moment but its clear to see that there is a solid set of systems and characters to build on. With a full release planned for PS4, Xbox, PC and Nintendo Switch in the future, My Time at Portia has kept me hooked for near 20 hours now so I am excited to jump back in.