My Time at Portia (Switch) Review
I’m torn over My Time at Portia. On one hand, there’s a lot of impressive elements and some obvious thoughtful design that’s gone into it, and the scale of the game is quite astonishing for an indie offering. On the other, there are some disappointments here, and sometimes they make the game a bit of a grind to enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with My Time at Portia, but it feels like there are elements of the game that really hamper it.
Starting up the game, you customise your Builder and arrive in the city-state of Portia to take ownership of your absent Pa’s workshop. He’s not dead or anything, he’s just off on an Eat Pray Love world tour — as far as I could gather — and he’s kindly left you a decrepit old house and no equipment to get you started. Such parenting!
Your old pal Presley from the Commerce Commission gives you a couple of small tasks to obtain your Builder’s Licence, which you’ll need to take commissions to earn money. The commissions are posted by the many townspeople of Portia and completing one will net you some sweet cash, as well as relationship points and some reputation with the Commerce Commission. Long story short, this is a crafting game first and foremost, and while there are some farming and ranch elements, you really don’t need to focus on those things. Most of the time you’ll be using machines, which I’ll refer to as crafting stations, to make things for commissions. Sometimes you’ll need to make one thing so it can be turned into another, for example, smelting copper ore into copper bars to make copper wire. Sometimes you’ll need to use Blueprints at your Assembly Station to build new crafting machines or bigger objects you might need for a commission.
Now, I’m not sure the game makes it clear enough how important Blueprints are, but you’re really going to need them. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if some of the quests weren’t timed, which I’ll talk about later, but I cannot emphasise enough how important they are. The good thing is that once you have your Blueprints, you can look at them at any time from Handbook, which I really like. The Handbook tells you what raw materials you need to make the parts required for your blueprint and tells you where you can find those things, as well as what crafting stations you’ll need to make more complex parts. The crafting stations will also tell you where to harvest materials and sometimes they can be vague, but they’re mostly helpful.
Making things at your crafting stations isn’t always immediate, so while you wait for your stack of 300 copper bars to finish, you’ll need to gather materials. The classic tools are all here; the axe, the pickaxe and the fishing rod, as well as your bare hands to get you started. You can kick trees, although you can gather the same materials by chopping it down, and sometimes you’ll need to swing your sword at an unsuspecting llama or six.
And that brings me to the combat, which is by the far the most disappointing aspect of the game. As I said before, you’re going to need to fight monsters to get crafting materials, and the combat boils down to hack-and-slash, roll away, sprint a little, run back, hack and slash, repeat. You can upgrade your sword and armour, and carry all sorts of health items, but the combat can start to feel like a chore, especially when there are sometimes frame drops that impede your ability to dodge an attack. There are compulsory boss battles in the game which boil down to the same sequence. Sometimes you need to dive into ruins with bosses to find items you can’t get any other way, and sometimes the story requires that you face a boss. The unfortunate thing is that the game doesn’t tell you what level the boss is before you head in and, in one instance, would not let me leave after I’d been defeated by a boss and used all my health items — I just had to reload. If you’re bested by a creature, boss or no, and you pass out, you lose the entire day and have to reload from the beginning, which feels overly punishing.
Sometimes the game seems to assume that by a certain point in time, or if you’ve completed Quest A, then you should be well equipped to take on Quest B. The problem with that is that some quests are timed, and it means that you’re not free to tackle these things and figure out everything at your own pace if you’re not well equipped to craft certain things yet. Take Stardew Valley for example: There’s a letter you receive at some point from a person asking for a pale ale, and whenever I play Stardew, I never have a keg to make ale at that point in the game. Luckily for me, the quest isn’t timed, so an in-game year later, when I finally have the means of making the damn ale, I can happily stroll up to them and complete the quest. If that quest were in Portia, you usually have a week to figure out what on earth you’re meant to do, which at times sent me into a bit of a panic. The other enormous downside to this is that, if the quest is not a main quest and you refuse, you then have no opportunity to take the quest afterwards. If you accept the quest and run out of time, you don’t receive another chance. For me personally, the design here isn’t conducive to the chilled-out vibes of Animal Crossing and some of the other games the developers cite as inspiration, which is disappointing.
Now, I clocked in over 50 hours of play time for this review and I didn’t come anywhere near finishing the story of the game. I like what I’ve seen so far, and I don’t think you’re going to be able to breeze through the story terribly quickly; worrying about getting enough hours out of the game isn’t a concern here. Narratively, I think the setting is fascinating and the underlying conflict between nations and ideas about technology is really interesting. The villagers are all different enough in personality that I immediately picked my favourites and ran around trying to impress them. At one point, I restarted a villager’s birthday four times because I couldn’t find them and wanted to give them a present, so much so that I waited outside their house for them to return home like a completely normal person. I had so much trouble finding them that I was convinced it was a bug, but it’s a testament to how large the game is that I later discovered it wasn’t a bug at all, and I just hadn’t crossed paths with him. Unfortunately for Arlo, I’m not mentally strong enough to re-do the same day over and over to chase him down ever again, so that’s the last time he’s ever receiving a birthday gift from me.
The game is very charming, and the world and the villagers are delightful, but to get the most out of My Time at Portia you might need a guide. A lot of the crafting feels like a big puzzle and most of it I was able to figure out on my own, but there is a lot going on here and it can begin to feel a little overwhelming. There’s a lot to like here, but unfortunately those few disappointments really let an otherwise lovely game down.
+ Story and setting are super interesting
+ Crafting system well thought-out
+ Information presented to players up-front
- Villagers’ timed quests
- The combat