My Time At Portia was one of the games I kept hearing lots about, yet never actually got down to playing it. To a degree, it was a mysterious title that made me feel I’d missed out. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and thorough Early Access period, I’ve been able to dispel some of that FOMO feeling because its follow up My Time At Sandrock has made its way onto consoles and PC. Styled as an RPG life sim it’s fundamentally about resource gathering, crafting and creating in a desolate landscape. With so many titles like this releasing over the last few years, can it do anything different to stand out from the crowd, or will it find a chink in the stone that surrounds our jaded hearts when it comes to looting and building?
Set in the same world as Portia and after whatever cataclysm has destroyed the old world, you take on the mantle of a trainee builder that arrives at the little western-style outpost of Sandrock to take over from the incumbent builder; with your main role on getting off the train being to learn about repairing the dilapidated town and taking on various odd jobs the townsfolk need help with. At first it’s learning the ropes (both of building and fighting), meeting the many inhabitants and avoiding the bandits, though as you learn your trade and discover enough about the world and how it works, you’ll be able to head out into the desert for bigger and grander adventures, with the aim of making the place a beacon for prosperity in the region. To make it through the 110+ main missions you’ll have to start small, pay attention to a lot of instruction, tutorials and exposition, and then bring all the pieces together to construct anything and everything that will save the day. My Time At Sandrock isn’t a fast paced game, and it’s relatively gentle and relaxed in its approach with an emphasis on making friends and strengthening relationships with all you encounter, but don’t let the cutesy graphics fool you – there’s some serious depth to be found… and not just in digging through the ruins of the old cities.
My Time At Sandrock is a scavenging and crafting game at its core, though it eschews the fairly typical basic tool creation and streamlines how many different items you need for gathering resources. One of the first items you get as a builder is a Pickhammer which is – yep, you guessed it – a cross between a hammer and a pickaxe. This is your best friend that’s used for smashing apart rocks and junkpiles, and can tackle most of the gathering needs. I say most because you’ll still need a standard axe to get wood, and after a relatively short time there’s a need to craft stronger and more powerful tools to deal with more exotic materials. Where it flows well is that from day one you’re needing to construct and use more advanced material creation techniques through furnaces, processors and drying racks to name only a few of the massive amount of machines available. Where in other games there’s a degree of tedium in getting through the basics, here you’re dropped right in with plenty of scope to industrialise your workshop from the get go. It’s not long before your pockets are full of scavenged items and you’ve a to-do list as long as your arm, and it all prompts you to start prioritising and solving the storage and assembly problems you’ve made for yourself.
Handily, there’s a recycler that becomes your best friend early on as it takes scrap and produces useful components for getting through the early stages and tasks you’re given. A typical mission structure is chatting to a resident – and don’t forget to spend time making them happy!; running to your workbench, figuring out what is needed for the assembly of the item, and then tracking down the pieces from there. Most items can be manufactured, though a few have to be bought – and usually will be mightily expensive because those desert hardware stores know when their products are in demand. Get all the parts and you’ll be either looking at whipping an item up on the workbench, or pulling components together on the assembly platform. All the buildable items in the handbook are either provided in blueprints bought or awarded, or can be researched, and the base component creators can be upgraded to be more efficient and work faster. As we all know (well, physicists and chemists anyway):
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.
…and in My Time At Sandrock’s context this means that you need fuel and water to run your workshop. This being a desert water is tightly rationed and you’ll have to overcome that little hurdle by completing commissions, buying liquid stock or just finding it wherever you can. Fuel is a little more common as you seem to be able to burn quite a lot of the debris with no regard to pollution, so have at that.
Mastering the balance of creating components, assembling items and not leaving the town thirsty is just one part of the challenge. Weather plays a part in My Time At Sandrock, primarily in sandstorms, and it’s treacherous yet necessary to head out into the wilds when one blows in. Survive enraged animals and the risk of getting lost and there are some interesting things to find and loot, though you may have your combat, health and stamina management tested. The latter is the one to really keep an eye on as the gauge depletes with every activity you do, particularly in mining and fighting. Attacking and killing creatures in the desert is crucial for resource farming, as is breaking open anything shiny, though not keeping an eye on your stamina can leave you high and dry. This comes to the fore in the dungeon style areas where you are plunged deep into ruins and mines for treasures from the old world, and can only get so far before needing to replenish your levels. Food is plentiful however, and it’s always possible to recover overnight with a good sleep. In fact, longer sleep is encouraged through well rested perks. Speaking of which, as you play and level up, various points become available to plough into several areas of development which work like perks rather than true skill improvements, so even though there are RPG elements available they’re not overly onerous. Your toughest decision is usually what clothes you’re going to wear, or whether to spend more cash increasing the inventory size to hold all the gubbins you’ve collected.
With very solid crafting mechanics that always feel like you’re able to work out what to do from reading the diagrams and scanning tutorial pages, you’d expect the rest of the game to stand up well. It does, sort of. Graphically it’s bright, colourful and a pleasure to behold, yet does suffer from a fair amount of object pop-in, and not just at distance. I tried switching between resolution and performance modes to dial it out, but it was the same regardless. Strangely, there’s less frame rate judder on the resolution mode, likely to be helped by a capped framerate. Do the graphical hitches cause issues? No, they’re more a distraction when you’re running around town, which you’ll do a lot of. Progress is fairly slow in the early stages, largely down to the daily passage of time being quite short. You can adjust this in the options, though that ends up feeling like you’ve even less time in a day to get anything done, even if it does speed up smelting and grinding out components. My Time At Sandrock’s pace does feel deliberately sedate, which is more about encouraging those with lower patience thresholds to upgrade equipment to allow bigger capacities and faster processing, and not to do with forcing a monetised system on the player. That makes a nice change in a life sim!
It’s an interesting one to sum up is My Time At Sandrock because it’s pretty enjoyable to pick up and play if you don’t mind doing some additional reading to figure out how things work. It’s not impenetrable by any means, and anyone familiar with this type of game will recognise the fundamentals easily. Everything is nice and cartoon-y and outside timed missions you don’t feel under any particular pressure… other than needing to get to bed before 2 am each day. That said, you feel like you’ve seen most of what it has to offer in the first few hours due to minor repetition, and you need to persevere to get some of the missions to trigger, though it will open up and reveal more as you play longer. The question is whether you’d want to commit to the time and that really does depend on whether you’ve struck a chord with the genre. If you have then this is a lovely game that will keep you very busy for hours on end, and a friend too if you take advantage of the PC co-op mode.
A PS5 review copy of My Time At Sandrock was provided by Pathea Games PR team, and it’s available now on PC, PlayStation, Switch and Xbox for around £30, depending on platfrom.
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