Feeling overwhelmed? Clear your mind with a climb
2023 was a great year for games, no doubt — but it’s a lot, isn’t it? There are so many brilliant games vying for our attention, and many of them are quite busy, noisy or complex in their own right. Alan Wake 2 is an intense, fractured and scary psychotic horror game. Spiderman 2 is a whole, bustling city full of slippery distractions. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is an ever-changing psychedelic fever dream platformer. Or maybe you’re considering picking up one of this year’s heavy mid-game RPGs – Starfield, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Libertyor Baldur’s Gate 3. Somehow, Diablo 4 is now deep into its second season. It’s all a bit overwhelming.
It may seem counterintuitive to recommend it another a new game for you as an answer to this brain glut – but believe me, I’ve got just the thing. And it’s right there in Game Pass. (It’s also on PlayStation 5 and Steam.) That’s right Eussant: a wonderful, meditative rock climbing adventure from Life is strange developer Don’t Nod.
Preview Eussant back in August I ventured that this might be the chillout experience of the year; playing the final version now, my opinion hasn’t changed. If it’s possible for a video game to be thoughtful, this is it. This is not just because it is very beautiful, completely non-violent and generally peaceful in its aspect, with a minimal soundtrack that is often nothing more than silence, footsteps and the whisper of the wind. It’s also because play is about being in the moment. There is no leveling here, no endgame, no customization, no meta goals to score. It’s just you and a rock face being pulled up one handle at a time.
Image: Don’t nod
Set in a dry post-apocalypse after a great flood, Eussant our young, well-shod solo adventurer climbs a giant rock tower that once housed an entire society of humans when all below was sea. Now the tower city seems abandoned, and for some undisclosed reason, our hero must climb it in the company of a cute aquatic creature that has resonant, life-giving powers.
Eussant didn’t give me stuff, nor did any other game this year – not even the surprisingly fluid, organic and thoughtful, in its own way, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom — do: space, silence and simplicity of purpose. Although there are scattered secrets and collectibles to find as you explore and climb, and although the climbing challenges become increasingly complex and puzzle-like as you progress through the game, Eussant always asks you to think about where you’re going (hint: it’s always, ultimately, up) and how you’re going to get there.
Playing this game really clears my head. I think there’s another reason for that: the gentle, physical rhythm of it. As you climb, the controller triggers a map to your left and right hand grips, and the left stick guides your hands so your fingers do a sort of kneading, rocking motion as you transition from one grip to the next. It’s just inherently relaxing. (How many video game control schemes can you say that about?)
Image: Don’t nod
There’s more for Eussant than that, really. On the one hand, the way a vanished society of tower dwellers gradually reveals itself to you through sheet music, soundscapes, and beautifully cracked and sun-bleached location design gives this solo traversal an emotional resonance it doesn’t necessarily need , but that gives it extra weight. Additionally, climbing techniques are soon complicated by environmental considerations, such as heat that reduces your stamina and withers the vines that your friend can help grow.
All of this helps keep you engaged as you make your climb. But the reason to start Eussant — or download it from Game Pass, which you should do immediately if you subscribe (this is for both Xbox and PC plans) — means enjoying its clean minimal purity and the fact that it’s always asking you to do one thing. As I wrote in August, “In a year where more is so often more, this game is less.” As we enter the final months of this grueling, incredible gaming year, that’s doubly true.