Published on December 30th, 2020 | by Stephen Heller
Haven Review – Romancing the monotony
From the very first moment I laid eyes on the stylish opening cinematic of Haven I was on board. A swirling watercolor musical number that could have easily been a sci-fi interpretation of Aha’s Take on Me captured my attention, and I instantly knew I was about to play something that was different. Before you start the game, the developers put it front and center – Haven is not a challenging game. We recommend starting with the default difficulty level, an image of two hands clasped together making you feel safe. Considering that the very same developers delivered the utterly brutal boss battle onslaught that was Furi a few years previously, I was a little concerned. What was I about to play? Was this a trick?
Haven is a heartwarming light RPG that explores love, relationships, and compassion, and it does so with such a deft stroke of mastery that when I was done playing, I was quite taken aback. Unlike most games, Haven brings us into the fray during the middle of a second act. The big dramatic event has already happened, and while we aren’t explicitly told what is going on, we are introduced to Yu and Kay, two lovers who are trying to make an unsettled planet named Source their new home. It becomes apparent early on that Yu and Kay have been through some pretty heavy stuff to get to this point of their relationship, and settling down on an unstable planet that is fractured into tiny islets, filled with hostile wildlife, and unknown foods, isn’t making things easier. When their spaceship is damaged during a quake, their already less than ideal situation becomes a little more dire.
At its core, Haven is an exploration game. Controlling both Yu and Kay in tandem, and using some futuristic anit-grav boots, you are literally surfing the the hills as you collect resources to keep life comfortable as you try to repair The Nest, your now damaged space ship that is ultra cozy, but isn’t flying anywhere anytime soon. Knowing that it’s dangerous to not have an escape route off a volatile planet, scouting the various fractured isles for materials that can be used to repair the ship is your main objective. Thankfully Source is littered with Flow, organic energy rails that can be ridden to charge your boots and even allow you to fly in some instances. As you charge up your and ride those rails like a spacefaring Tony Hawk, you will be riding towards Flow Bridges that will connect you to other islets, or sometimes hard to reach places, occasionally with access to an abandoned structure, or some rare fruits and seeds.
Source may be littered with flow, but it’s also covered in Rust; a purple sludge that is corrupting the wildlife, and affecting the Flow strands. Thankfully your boots will blast that rust off and turn it into a resource, and then you start to realize what the loop is – head out and collect food, clean up the rust, explore new zones, and head back to The Nest to craft. There’s no real surprise mechanics, and the world is extremely beautiful, but also extremely empty. It makes sense, you are on an unsettled planet after all, but Haven is not filled to the brim with exciting quests, or an encyclopedia of foreign fruits to find out in the wild. Its monotonous. It’s dependable. It’s reliable. It is a means to an end, that end being the relationship element that Haven does unlike any other.
After a day of zooming through the hills, you return to the Nest where the real fun happens. Using the various stations throughout your coz home, Yu and Kay cook meals together, they synthesize medical supplies, they talk, they shower, each of these actions builds the bond between the two lovers. That bond is integral, because it is also how you level up in Haven, and each time you do the duo celebrates by drinking some perfectly aged Appledew Brew, and you get a deeper conversation revealing more and more about the reason they are on Source in the first place.
I don’t want to spoil any of the story here, because Haven truly does hit it out of the park in my opinion. What is so impressive is that Yu and Kay are fun, mature, and kind adults, and their conversations and ruminations on their relationship and history actually made me think about my own relationship with my fiancé. As Yu and Kay are talking about the dark and light times of their years together, I was thinking about all the times my partner has been there for me, and I for her. I can’t think of a single other video game that explored relationships, support networks, and the sense of love in such a way. It truly is special.
What makes Haven even more special is that the entire game can be played cooperatively, with one person playing as Kay, the other as Yu. This makes these Nest interactions even more meaningful, because you will each be putting half the ingredients into the mix for the crafting, you will each be choosing the dialogue options for your respective characters, you will be writing your own version of the relationship unfolding before you, and perhaps even talking and reflecting on your own relationship together.
This filters down into the rudimentary battle system, which a turn-based affair that pales in comparison to any modern game out there. Using the directions on a thumbstick, players can choose between an impact, blast, or shield action to fight enemies. Each enemy will be weak to either blast or impact, and together in unison, you can perform an extra powerful duo-attack of each type. So when playing in co-op you will constantly communicating, and trusting your partner to work together to effectively beat these simple battles. You will have to sacrifice your health at times with a shield option to allow your partner to charge and attack. You will need to be in sync. You will need each other, just like Yu and Kay need each other.
And I think that is why so much of the game in Haven is simple. I truly believe that this game was made to play with a loved one. Knowing that a lot of people out there simply don’t touch video games, let alone complex RPGs, it makes a lot of sense that almost anyone could jump into this game, especially if they were playing with someone who has a lot of knowledge and skill, yet still contribute in extremely meaningful ways in the relationship building aspect of the game.
And while I will admit, that after hoovering the rust from my thirtieth island was starting to take a toll on me, I am also cognizant enough to know that most people won’t sit down and try to complete Haven in a handful of sittings like I had to for my review. I actually looked forward to playing Haven after a long stressful day of work. I sat down, got into a flow state, and just really enjoyed how it made me feel. The monotony paid off, because the story of Yu and Kay was so meaningful and was resonating with me.
That’s where Haven draws its line in the sand. If you want a story rich RPG with dozens of hours of content, wrapped up with bombastic moments, interesting items, a good battle system, and a world full of exploration and wonder, you will be disappointed. Haven is not that game. Haven is empty, filled with monotony, and the most basic of systems in the name of accessibility. That is not a negative. That is why I love it. Haven explores relationships in a mature and meaningful matter, with such thought and care, that it made me not only appreciate the story unfolding in game, but reflect and celebrate my own relationship. I finished this game a week ago and I’m still thinking about it regularly. I’ve never liked a game that was so empty and so simple, so damn much. If that sounds like something you’d be into, then you should take the time to get a little cozy.
Summary: Haven is a special game that is hard to recommend, but hard to miss. If you want a good honest look at star crossed lovers, and you have someone to play it with, definitely consider dropping some time into this lovely world.