Publisher: Modus Games
Review Context: I love playing puzzle games, especially puzzle games that use unique concepts in gameplay and storytelling. This review is based on my experience playing Degrees of Separation in single player mode with a controller.
Date of Playthrough: February 15, 2019
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU 540 @ 3.07GHz
RAM: 8 GB
Video Card: GeForce GTX 950 2GB GDDR5 ACX 2.0 SC+
Disclosure: This review was based off of a review copy.
Degrees of Separation, developed by Moondrop, is a puzzle game that immediately caught my eye the first time I saw the trailer. The premise of two separate individuals being attracted together and separated by elements is an intriguing concept of a puzzle game that immediately sets itself apart from other games in the genre. Generally in puzzle games gameplay is the most important element, with story being secondary, but Degrees of Separation sets out to meld both of those together.
The game begins with Ember, surrounded by warmth, and Rime, surrounded by cold, being attracted together from their castles. They eventually meet up, but can’t touch each other, remaining separated by their elements. These are two individuals that are stuck in their own elements, that want to be with each other, and end up on a journey together completing puzzles while staying within their own element. When I discovered Degrees of Separation, I had no idea what to expect as far as how smooth the gameplay might be and how this concept would actually work and make sense in a game. The first thing you will do, as I did, is quickly realize how seamless the split-element integration between Ember and Rime is implemented in the game. As someone who was playing by myself, I can switch between both of them, but local coop is also available, with online coop eventually being added. As I was jumping around and moving left or right with either Ember or Rime, the vibrant color visualization stayed the same with no frame dips at all, including the rest of the game. I am no technical expert, but I was surprised by how well the game ran with all the colors on the screen.
As you go through your journey with Ember and Rime you will be entering different worlds within a castle hub world. The first world you enter is very vanilla and just Ember and Rime nearly touching with the warm/cold color split-screen able to be manipulated to solve puzzles. The puzzles in each world are above and below ground, but all connected by a gates that serve as waypoints throughout each world, including the castle. The object of each puzzle is to get the scarf. If for some reason you can’t solve a puzzle you can keep going and use the waypoints to return later. The significance of the scarves is that you need a certain amount in cumulative total across all worlds to enter a given world. The puzzles within each world vary in difficulty, as I found the difficulty to be sporadic. As someone who played alone, I found that some puzzles were much harder to do just switching characters myself, but most of them were fine to do.
After the first world, Ember and Rime get new powers, but they don’t add-on to each other. It’s not until I hit the second world and beyond that it became clear the game would probably be better played co-op. The controls in Degrees of Separation are actually not bad, but there is a lot of precision needed to solve most puzzles. Both Ember and Rime need to be standing in the most perfect tight spots. As someone playing just by myself, I have to toggle between them and if I hit the wrong button by accident a character can be pushed the wrong way causing me to start from the beginning of the puzzle switching between them and re-positioning. Although each hub world has its own different gameplay mechanic, the world environments and structures within are mostly the same with little variety. This makes what is a very colorful and vibrant game feel somewhat bland moving world to world.
The story of Ember and Rime has an excellent premise and during your journey there is a narrator. The narrator is usually triggered after doing a puzzle or hitting a gate within a world. While the narrator’s voice is excellent, the dialogue within the narration is mostly just play-by-play of what you are doing, which is very uninteresting. What did appeal to me was the soundtrack, as it is easily a top contender already for favorite soundtracks of 2019. The soundtrack really did give me Journey vibes, in addition to the inclusion of scarves like in Journey. There were definitely great moments when the narration combined with the soundtrack to bring some emotion to the story, but the great soundtrack was always constant. I have mixed feelings about the storytelling, as there are two different endings, a curious decision that I think is bizarre given the events within the game. Although I am an advocate for games having multiple endings, I feel it is unwarranted for Degrees of Separation, especially with the choices given.
Degrees of Separation is a puzzle game that is very colorful, has interesting puzzle mechanics, and also sometimes very challenging in difficulty. While of the story of Ember and Rime is nice one, I think it needed a little more depth. This is still a very good puzzle game that I would probably recommend you play with a friend to have the best experience, but you can still get a good taste of it playing alone.
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