The year's only just started, and the tree-punching genre is dominating. Palworld's astonishing 19 million players makes Enshrouded's million look modest, but both can be called 2024 early access survival crafting hits. Can the genre go three-for-three?
Nightingale, out in early access on February 20, is yet another survival game on lots of people's Steam wishlists, I think largely due to its neat-looking "gaslamp fantasy" setting—think Dishonored, bowler hats, twirly mustaches—and cool premise, which sees players stranded in Myst-like fae realms.
I played a bit of Nightingale during a server stress test last week, and I'll say first off that it's an unambiguous example of the genre: You'd better believe that I hit trees, rustled up twigs, and whacked rocks to make tools and crafting stations and build a cute seaside house.
The test gifted me about 10 hours worth of materials and unlocks, though, so I was able to skip the typical stone-to-iron age technological progression (I observed a dozen crafting and refinement stations in my list of blueprints) and get right to building my first fae realm vacation home, which was pretty smooth work.
I mostly built in an attractive Tudor style, but later decided I liked the "desert" style's arches more (love a good arch). The blueprint placement system did a good job of 'getting' what I was trying to do, for example by letting roof sections overlap where needed rather than making me redo the foundation so that the pieces fit exactly. I was able to make a two-story house with a spiral staircase with only moderately liberal use of a sledgehammer to demolish erroneous walls and roof bits.
With so many resources—I was encumbered with sticks, wood bundles, lumber, poles, shingles, stone blocks, bricks, hides, bones, foods, and more—it looks like devising and executing a gathering and crafting workflow is going to be a substantial task in Nightingale.
My combat experience was comparably simple: attack, block, dodge. I made easy work of the wolves that kept leaping out of the woods at me by whacking them with my axe, and had just slightly more trouble with a band of lanky goblin-like dudes who chased me down when I went wandering toward what appeared to be a big observatory.
That's where my time ended, though—I didn't make any real excursions into Nightingale's story, which would've taken me beyond the forested realm I started in, and I suspect would've shown off more of the features and creatures that make Nightingale stand out from other survival crafting games.
My favorite not-every-other-survival-game moment from the test was realizing at one point that I was being pelted to death by hail, panicking, and then discovering a folding umbrella on my hotbar. Of course I have an umbrella, being the modern gentleman I am.
From what I played, Nightingale may be on the earlier side of early access than this year's other survival games. Not everything in my inventory had its own icon yet, and other aspects of the UI are pretty placeholder-ey. I was also a little disappointed by the way chopped-down tree trunks awkwardly jittered to the ground and then poofed out of existence—I was spoiled recently by Lego Fortnite's tree trunks, which comically roll down hills, taking out anything in their path.
Nightingale didn't run especially well on my RTX 2070 Super at 1440p, either. It was playable and all, and the shoreline my cottage overlooked was beautiful in the right light, but don't expect a mildly-aged PC to push 60 fps without noticeable compromises.
Even if it's not as glossy as its competition yet, I still think Nightingale could land in the top-half of Steam's most-played games list later this month. I've learned never to underestimate the PC gaming public's appetite for a new early access survival crafting game—so far, we've been insatiable.