If you could sum up my experience with The Long Journey Home in one word, it would easily be “frustrating.” Underneath the frustrating exterior is an interesting idea: a game about exploration, optimism, and every other theme we love in our science fiction. The promise of exploration, diplomacy, crafting and just a bit of skill is intriguing. However, those interactions are completely mired by the frustrating, repetitive, and incredibly futile tests of skill – and ultimately your patience. This is our review of The Long Journey Home.
The Long Journey Home is a sci-fi, rouge-like exploration game where you are tasked with testing mankind’s first ever jump drive. As luck (or plot device) would have it, your jump drive malfunctions and you’re flung across the Milky Way galaxy, unable to get home. What opens up in front of you is immediately intriguing: a vast, procedural galaxy sprawls in front of you to explore. The promise of encountering new life and new civilizations as you explore is one many of us grew up with. However, everything comes crashing down when you realize that those interactions make up about five percent of what you’ll spend your time doing.
It would take a miracle….
Right off the bat, navigating your ship throughout the cosmos is a chore. Using boosters or thrusts to propel your ship through space is one thing. However, even after hours of practice and repeating the same sequence, going into orbit is still as frustrating as it was the first ten times I tried it. More often than not you’ll find yourself bouncing off the atmosphere, damaging your ship and crew while doing so.
Landing on a planet is no picnic either. Gravity, velocity – everything that would physically influence a landing craft is taken into account. The extremely fragile lander is notoriously hard to navigate around the 2D landscape, carefully hovering over landing spots a nigh-impossible task. I found it more manageable to bounce my lander off the ground near my spot in order to nestle down where I was aiming. It did damage to the lander, but not nearly as much as I would do if I tried to do so carefully.
And that’s part of the frustration. These mini-games make up so much of your game-play, that when you’re pitting with the task of having to repeat them over and over and over again, just to harvest the planets meager offering of resources, it gets tedious fast. I found many times I was doing more damage to my landing craft than I could even repair with the resources I had just damaged my craft to gather.
The Silver Lining
It’s a real shame, because underneath all of this, The Long Journey Home has some compelling interactions that would make the game worthwhile. My first interaction with the Reeve, one of the various races who will either help you or seek to destroy you depending on your play through, was charming and cute. I had one race try to give me resources in an act of good-will, only to have it infect my crew after the fact. These interactions – and the unknown outcomes – really draw me to the game. It feels almost Banner Saga-esque. However, those feelings are quickly quelled once I realize I may have to land for more fuel and metal, knowing I’ll waste more in the process than I can ever replace.
Combat is another area where the game struggles, but out of all the minigames The Long Journey Home puts you through, this was the least tedious in my opinion. At the onset, all you’re equipped with are broadsides, which are as inaccurate as a seventeenth century musket would look compared to today’s arsenals. And really, that’s how you find yourself comparing them, considering your enemies show up with homing missiles and carefully guided weapons. However, I found this part less frustrating and more challenging. Going up against a superior force, fighting not only them but the inaccurate feeling of the controls while doing so, and then winning – it made each encounter feel like I had just reached Earth.
All in all, The Long Journey Home is an incredibly complex game. It’s controls take the patience of a saint in order to get used to. Its core, intriguing elements are weighed down by the repetitive and frustrating mini-games you are forced to slog through. The Long Journey Home isn’t a bad game by any stretch – underneath all that is a story that yearns to be told, and is worth sitting through. Unfortunately, getting to the story is a maddeningly frustrating task.