The effects of human-caused and exacerbated climate change are now impossible to ignore. Radical changes beyond natural fluctuations have begun to wreak havoc across the world, gravely endangering the future of humanity. Even with conscientious and proactive effort, the best prospect may be to avoid the worst possible outcome: a global ecosystem brought to or beyond the brink of extinction. Potentially, we’re already on the trajectory depicted in the opening moments of Head West’s Retreat to Enen, which explores a timeline where humanity’s overconsumption and lack of foresight have doomed society to ignominious collapse. But this isn’t your typical post-cataclysm shrouded in the dense cloak of war and famine (although that happened a long time ago). The world has seemingly rebounded, with the remnants of humanity learning from its mistakes, focused on rediscovering the necessary symbiosis between itself and nature. With such a goal, some introspection is undoubtedly required, leading to a pivotal mindset shift one that rejects unsustainable consumption and embraces conscious sustainability. One avenue is self-reflective meditation, a central pillar of Retreat to Enen’s gameplay loop, which at regular intervals forces you to pause and consider the world around you. It’s a unique mechanic not found in any other survival game, allowing Enen to accentuate genre-typical rhythms while drawing attention to how we interact with our natural and digital worlds. that we frequent. The problem is that outside of those boundaries, Retreat to Enen struggles to be a mechanically compelling experience, stirring up unnecessary frustrations that act in direct opposition to its contemplative core.
Retreat to Enen Review: Paradise Lost
Set over 2,500 years in the future, Retreat to Enen depicts an earthly well on the road to healing. Humans have learned to live in step with the world, theoretically taking only what they have to endure while becoming caretakers instead of parasites. To prove that you are one of these guardians, you are tasked with venturing into the wild to survive and ponder your purpose before bringing back your knowledge to share with future generations. An obviously biblical pun, the land of Enen is one of several striking landscapes spread across three distinct biomes: the sandy subtropical island of Enen itself; the dense and sylvan surface of the Valley of the Giants; and the snow-swept rocks of the frigid Far North. While these locations may be visually lush, they’re oddly lifeless on the scale expected from the lean narrative setup, adding an inevitable weight of emptiness to Retreat to Enen. The odd turkey gulps running through brush or snow, a lone deer meanders through trees and undergrowth, a lone fish swims in the waves above rolling kelp forests and poisonous anemones. Not filling the world with creatures is perhaps an attempt to build a firm sense of place through the most environmental storytelling. Perhaps the Earth is not as far along the healing path as expected. But there is a palpable disconnect between the life these environments could reasonably support at this stage of Earth’s rejuvenation and what they actually support. Killing and harvesting these animals is also drudgery, and in a way further decouples the idea of survival from the herding ideal. To completely deter you from hunting, rabbits and boars are masters of escape, some capable of vanishing through trees as soon as you see them, not when they see you; deer and iguanas are also very sensitive to your presence at every turn. Wolves, bears, and snakes will attack you without provocation, though they are oddly less aware of your existence despite being apex predators and often get stuck in the environment. Hunting, in short, is a laborious process that can literally be hit or miss the spear animation makes thrusts wobbly and imprecise, and the lack of hit indicators, visual or auditory, for arrows makes hollow and difficult to trace ranged attacks. Traps and nets are utterly useless, unable to catch anything no matter how long they are left out or where they are placed (at least 12+ hours of play in my experience). What makes things more complicated existentially is that some animals only provide meat while others only provide pelts, and in a game with deep-rooted sustainability themes, the option the most realistic and best would have been for each animal to drop multiple materials when slaughtered if a hunting system is to be included. At the very least, every part of the animal should be used in a crafting component as a sign of respect that aligns with game patterns. When you can’t chop down trees or dig holes, but you can kill an animal and leave most of it behind, there is a contradiction between the message and the mechanics. Besides hunting, there’s gathering, which you’ll do a lot of in Retreat to Enen. You’ll pick up all kinds of materials from the ground, ranging from sticks, stones, and clay blocks to potatoes, mushrooms, and medicinal herbs. Mining is also an option, but not in the traditional survival game sense. Instead of existing as veins running through the ground or through cliffs, ores and gems are attached to rocks and cliffs in clusters, which you’ll smash with your futuristic Quantum Control ability, the same one used to harvest animals. These mats are, of course, used to craft items, build structures, cook meals, and brew medicinal tonics, all subsystems that sound deeper and less tedious than they actually are. The game’s user interfaces are painfully opaque and hard to read, with far too transparent backgrounds and far too small text. While there are options to add or remove predators or remove the HUD altogether, there’s no option to increase menu transparency or text size, two things that would be nice quality of life additions. for everyone, not just those with impaired vision. Building outlines shake and flip wildly when trying to place them, making it difficult to build even simple structures, let alone large and complex camps, as shown in several pre-release marketing materials. Most of the components used to build houses and other more complex objects are locked until the end of the second biome, long after the whole process of meticulously gathering materials or doing almost anything else is probably got bored. The kitchen gives you access to a wide variety of dishes, though there’s no way to cook unique items like meat over the campfire, a weird deviation from the typical survival formula. Unfortunately, none of the meals can be added to your inventory after being prepared. It’s a weird choice to rely on fruits, vegetables and smoked meats when you’re away from your campfire pot when you can brew and then take antiseptic and anti-venom with you everywhere, curing infections parasitic or snake bites while exploring. But exploration, too, is full of frustration. There is no map or compass in Retreat to Enen, forcing you to develop your navigation and memorization skills to the limit. The lack of these fundamental orientation tools makes little sense given your suit’s technologically advanced features, which can manifest buildings from holograms or make animal carcasses disappear in a film of blue light. . To be fair, it is possible to place navigational flags leading to points of interest, but crafting them requires a flower that can only be found in the first biome. You’ll spend a lot of time looking for them or growing them in planters (retreat in the barebones farming system of Enen which barely counts as a farming system) than it’s more efficient to note the landmarks and move on to the next goal. Indeed, to remind us that our actions have consequences, Spirit plays a central role in Retreat to Enen. Run alongside your Hunger, Thirst, Health, and Temperature meters, Spirit decreases over time and when performing Quantum Control-related actions, such as mining and harvesting animals. It’s an interesting concept in theory and one of the elements directly related to the big principles that run through Retreat to Enen. But it’s easily knocked down (on release) by quickly activating Quantum Control, initiating an action, and turning it off. If you let this awareness influence you, it carries very little weight. As the Spirit decreases, you must search for meditation points in each of the biomes to replenish it. In these cerulean geodesic domes, you’ll breathe in to relax and contemplate the world around you, following on-screen prompts to exhale and breathe out, providing real-life calming benefits not often found in video games. Going deeper, each biome has three well-hidden Arcadian ruins that must be discovered to unlock more crafting and building recipes and to reach subsequent biomes to complete the game. This is also where you will find domes of golden meditation with mindfulness exercises guided by a soft, gentle voice. These lessons are similar to those found in mental wellness apps like Calm, grounding you in both game and real life. Using good headphones and closing your eyes, the serene sounds of Enen’s biomes noticeably reduce anxiety and stress, helping you come away refreshed, grounded, and aware of your effects on the world around you. So it’s a shame that those golden domes disappear once they’ve been used, only accessible through later playthroughs, and that the monotony of doing basically everything else erases that calm.
Retreat to Enen Review The Bottom Line
Majestic and varied landscapes. Effective meditation exercises. Encourages reflection.
Tedious game loop. Unbalanced systems and mechanics. Frustrating lack of…