There's something oddly therapeutic about a great farming simulation RPG. You can easily sink an unhealthy amount of time blissfully exploring cartoonish worlds, crafting better resources, and hopelessly seeking a shot at marriage. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon is My Time At Portia, an indie sandbox RPG that has a unique focus on building and a charmingly adorable animated style that even Nintendo would be proud of. The title entered Early Access on January 23 and we were able to take a quick look at it before its scheduled release later this year on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.
For fans of the genre, My Time At Portia's well-worn premise should feel pretty familiar (after all, it has become pretty much a staple at this point). You play as a young builder who has been left his father's workshop after he departs once more on a worldwide expedition, and after patching up the holes in your tattered workshop, you're then left to make yourself at home in the quaint town of Portia, gaining your builder's licence and undertaking commissions and odd jobs for its townspeople. Following a relatively painless introduction, you're then let loose to explore at your own leisure, taking on as many commissions as you like and becoming more familiar with your surroundings.
With you being one of the town's five builders, demand is understandably high and most of your time will be spent gathering resources and crafting at your workshop. Materials can be found by scouting the open world, chopping down trees, mining in abounded caverns, and slaughtering innocent creatures (like pink fluffy llamas, you monster). There's even the opportunity to craft new furniture to kit out your new crib, with each item also bringing character upgrades as a result. Obviously, grinding is an expected part of these types of games, but here it just feels a little too excessive. Early in the game we were tasked with building a bridge to the unreachable Amber Island and that required that we craft two new workstations before we could even start work!
Diving into the abandoned ruins that surround the town proved to be a nice change of pace from gathering materials in other areas of the game. After paying an extortionate entry fee, we were handed a jetpack and a relic scanner and were left to tunnel with our pickaxe in the dark as we searched out rare collectables. The relic scanner allowed us to examine our surroundings to pinpoint the location of any rare relics, and the jetpack proved handy in allowing us to soar out of any dug-out holes. Later mining locations are also filled with deadly creatures to slay and they offer a dark and claustrophobic setting, which contrasts with the bright and cheery world outside.
My Time At Portia also features some light combat elements and an RPG-like skill tree system. Within the skill tree there are three distinctive branches: Battle, Gather, and Social. By going about your usual business you'll level up and earn skill points which can be spent enhancing skills such as your health, social skills, and overall experience gained. This allows you to really shape your character to suit your playstyle and it'll ensure that everybody's characters remain different (unless they share the same skills, of course). Combat mainly revolves around spamming the X button and trading blows with your opponents, with the main challenge being maintaining your stamina, which is also depleted by sprinting and harvesting and can only be significantly restored by sleeping.
With regards to controls, either a keyboard and mouse or a controller can be used. Using mainly the controller we didn't have any major issues, other than that using B instead of A to jump felt a little awkward at first (this is only an issue for us as it has become almost instinctive to use the A button for jumping, so this change felt slightly alien). Using the D-pad to scroll through items within the inventory also felt rather stiff, but this is most likely due to how clunky it feels on an Xbox One controller and isn't an issue when using a keyboard.
Being in Early Access, there's understandably a few wrinkles present in My Time At Portia's current state. Currently, there's no manual save feature and the only way to save is by returning back to your workshop and taking a nap. Not only does this require lots of backtracking, but it also means that if you wish to save in the middle of the day, you'll lose lots of precious time that should be set aside for the time-sensitive commission tasks. Also, when your inventory is filled and you approach another item, the game doesn't tell you what's right in front of you and instead just warns of your lack of storage. This is especially a pain considering crafting is such a core part of the game and juggling your items just to see what something is can quickly get tedious.
While there may be no release date in sight for My Time At Portia, we imagine it'll still be able to suck tens of hours out of those already hooked on the likes of Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon. It already offers heaps of content with a huge open world to explore and many different side quests and commissions that will keep players coming back in search of even rarer resources. There may still be a few issues with regards to the save system and the inventory, but with it just entering Early Access less than a fortnight ago, we're sure these improvements will come soon along with many others.