Nightingale is a survival crafter with insane potential | Early access review

by on February 26, 2024

As set-ups for survival crafting games go, Nightingale has one of the coolest in a while. Big hitters like Subnautica and Green Hell are thought of fondly because they did something different, and even this year’s two biggest offerings, Palworld and Enshrouded, have captured imaginations by putting a spin on the established formula. But in terms of premise alone, Nightingale might top them all. To be clear, I’m not saying it’s a better game at this point; but the world Inflexion has created is a doozy.

The gaslamp fantasy city of Nightingale has been swallowed by an eldritch fog known as the Pale. In the midst of calamity, you and the other Realmwalkers leapt through interdimensional portals and are now stranded in the Faewilds, a network of procedurally generated Realms filled with danger, wonder, and other lost wanderers. Your ultimate goal is to find your way to Nightingale, but to do so you’ll have to go native.

Nightingale early access impressions | Godisageek

After an initial tutorial tour (tu-tour-ial?) by the enigmatic, well-spoken Fae guide, Puck, you’re let loose to explore with only simple objectives to guide you. Find this thing, build that thing – but it works. The magic of Nightingale is in its exploration, delving into the unknown and trying to survive. You’ll initially learn to create a basic camp with a tent, bedroll, campfire, and maybe a little storage basket to hold supplies should you find yourself back here in need of help. But before long you’ll create an Estate Cairn, which acts as the centre of your own estate and a fast travel point to return you to your “Respite Realm”.

Building and crafting is simple enough at ground level, but Nightingale asks a lot of you in terms of ingredients, reagents, and materials. There are a ton of different workstations which can all be upgraded using augmentations like, say, creating an extra saw-horse for your sawmill. Raw materials are plentiful at first as you chop down trees and break rocks, or gather sticks, plant fibres, or meat and hide from the local wildlife. Soon, though, you’ll need to start refining materials, creating or finding higher tiers, and simply building a workstation isn’t enough. You’ll need recipes to be able to craft and upgrade your stuff.

So far, so standard, right? Well, this is where Nightingale’s unique selling point comes into play. As a Realmwalker, you can use special cards at portal generators to open pathways into other Realms. At present, there are three types: Forest, Desert or Swamp, with half a dozen major modifiers that combine to make unique Realm archetypes. These affect things like what type of animals and materials you’ll find and how hostile the world will be. Once there, you can apply a whole bunch of minor cards to further personalise the Realm, changing the passing of time, the weather, increasing resource yields or boosting your own stats.

Nightingale early access impressions | Godisageek

The more you explore, the stronger you’ll grow. There are no RPG levelling mechanics or skill trees; stats and later certain magical abilities come from your gear. It’s a game built on a solid bedrock of looting and crafting, but that also means it’s incredibly grind-heavy at this point. The resources required for even early game items often necessitate multiple Realmdives, and storage and carry weight can be issues. You can recruit a follower if you’re playing solo from the scattered Survivors you’ll meet, which gives you someone else to carry materials and fight beside you.

Of course, the intended experience is to play with others, hence the current always-online requirement which Inflexion are already working on options to circumvent because, as it turns out, an always-online requirement sucks. Especially in a game like Nightingale: yes playing with others is a nice option to have, but the atmosphere and premise work better when solo.

Partly this is because Nightingale is a pretty janky affair. Other players and NPCs just don’t animate that well, the physics and collision detection are often way off-kilter, and the AI is, frankly, a mess. For example, give your follower any kind of tool (which double as melee weapons) and they’ll constantly be off chopping down trees or mining. It’d be nice if they then collected the resources they’ve harvested, but they just leave them on the floor for you.

Nightingale early access impressions | Godisageek

Combat AI is also very wonky. Enemy wildlife will, without fail, charge you head-on like a South Park deer, and the main antagonists, the Bound, aren’t much different. They come in different flavours, but all act roughly the same. Smacking things with an axe is satisfying, but it’s all a bit one-note at present. Yet, Nightingale is teeming with cool ideas and elements that just need a little expansion. Floating around on your umbrella like Mary Poppins y’all is awesome, and there are lots of activities and challenges to be found in the wilds, though most are simple enough to overcome.

Aesthetically, I’m fairly impressed with Nightingale. The three primary biomes look different enough to identify, though it’s crying out for some icy tundras, maybe some volcanic islands, dense jungle, or even just some more bizarre alien vistas. Exploring a desert world beneath strange moons has a special kind of mystique to it though, and some of the otherworldly wildlife is interesting, if a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s a giant kangaroo-rat, sometimes it’s just a gaudy hippo. The UI also needs work, as it’s currently a bit clunky whether using a mouse or controller. Speaking of which, the controller support isn’t quite there yet, either, so you will need to make concessions if that’s your preferred input method.

Nightingale early access impressions | Godisageek

Right now at around 15 hours in, I’m really enjoying Nightingale’s core loop, and the premise of Realmdiving and facing the unknown with nowt but a Victorian stiff upper lip and a kit-bashed crossbow is compelling, but it needs a lot of work before it comes out of early access. The crafting economy is just too complex and feels a little too much like busywork, while the Realms do start to look a bit samey after a while. The biggest issue though, is the combat, which needs considerable tightening up – not to mention the bugs and glitches. Enemies spawning inside mountains is all fun and games until you realise you need to kill them all to proceed.

All that said, I have faith in Inflexion to deliver in the long run. The initial premise of Nightingale is exceptionally cool, and the systems in place already form a sturdy foundation, it just needs refining – and that is, after all, what early access is for.