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Okay, so imagine you’re a game developer who shares a spiritual connection with Gordon Ramsey from Hell’s Kitchen. And one day you decide to make something of your own. So what do you do? You add 4 cups of Zelda: Breathe of the Wild in a bowl and grind it to form a fine paste, add some freshly cut Kingdoms of Amalur: Recknoning, one tablespoon of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim bake it in the oven, and finally sprinkle a little bit of low-poly goodness to enrich the taste. And Viola! You have successfully baked Pine, an open-world adventure game developed by Twirlbound and published by Kongregate Inc., which will put your diplomatic skills to the test, as well as your rolling-dodging-blocking-whatever-you-do-in- Souls skills.

Now, let’s take a detailed look at what Pine is all about.

Story and Narrative

You are Hue (pronounced Huway), an intrepid teen with a face straight out from the uncanny valley. You live peacefully with your traditionalist tribe in the heart of Albamare island atop unstable cliffs which, ironically, has been stable for many centuries until it is not! An earthquake shatters the very foundation of those feeble treehouses while your tribe is amidst preparations for a ceremony, killing your only brother Amam and destroying everyone else’s livelihood. So no doubt, you’re terribly  grief-stricken, but at the same time, you’re also inspired by your brother’s aspirations for adventure away from the mundane routine of your sedentary lifestyle. So, you vow to find a better settlement for your tribe. Much to your elders’ denial and their constant nagging, you pick up Amam’s map, your sling and your pinewood sword and set out for the Outs – anything and everything in Albamare that lies beyond the cliffs.

In his journey, Hue will come in contact with many villages caught in a perpetual war of territorial domination, most of them hostile to human beings. But it wasn’t like that always. You see, one of the main reason for Hue’s self-exile was what he had learned in one of his adventures with Amam. Apparently, humans were initially part of the Outs but later forced to recede to the cliffs due to some kind of mega-conflict that happened many years ago. Thinking there’s a chance for the humans to reestablish their domain in Alabmare, Hue ventures forth and discovers those other tribes, all of them sentient anthropomorphic animals with their own chiefs, guards, traders and gatherers. His adventure (as well as grinding) begins the moment he establishes a friendship with a favourable tribe as well as some whitish, bearded koala-like nomadic creatures that assist him in maintaining diplomacy among the tribes. Who knows, they might have some ulterior motives. You need to play Pine to find out.

Gameplay and Mechanics

The combat in Pine is largely inspired by adventure classics but it’s still rough around the edges. What I mean to say is your character’s movements aren’t fast enough to flawlessly hack through the enemies. You’re armed with your pinewood sword (you’ll later gain blueprints to craft better swords), a ranged weapon like a sling or bow & arrow, and a shield, but switching weapons or shifting movements from a shield block to a light or heavy attack or a mere kick to stagger the enemy is anything but smooth. Some might say this might be for realism since Hue’s character’s movements mimic that of a human being, but it makes the combat a tedious experience especially when you’re being ambushed by multiple enemies. And if the enemies are from multiple tribes who’ve allied themselves, then may God have mercy on your soul!

As expected, a miscalculated block drains a large proportion of your health and any action by default depletes your stamina bar, forcing you to rely on the food items you forage in order to gain both health and stamina. You have the option to pin consumables to quick access but do that at your own risk if you’re in the middle of a brawl. Thank god, the shield can block anything resulting in a follow-up attack but it all boils down to perfect timing.

Though not an RPG, there is inventory management since the world is literally riddled with tons of respawning resources to collect in order to appease your stomach and craft a myriad range of stuff, most of which are crucial to the narrative. This goes without saying that Pine encourages you to explore and breathe in the wild as the Outs is teeming with flora and fauna, all of which get added to the in-game glossary for your reference (I just wish the developers add a small tool-tip to the glossary saying which one is which). Collect graphite to craft keys and open rare chests scattered throughout the Outs and obtain powerful crafting blueprints, then collect more resources to craft those weapons, armours or potions, then forage some more resources because your affiliation with a rival tribe village depends on how much you donate them.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Thing is, these five tribes of sentient species, they all have an affinity towards one another – some like each other and some don’t. This constantly changes based on your actions. The more you donate to a tribe or help them battling off enemies and wild animals, the more your affinity with the tribe increases at the cost of animosity with rival tribes. And sometimes to progress further in the story and uncover secrets of Albamare’s past, you need to put your hand into the hornet’s nest. I mean head into their village and attack the guards or the traders or even the chiefs just because they’re carrying something you need to appease another tribe’s chief, further increasing your rivalry with the tribe you just attacked and their allies.

In worst-case scenarios, the attacked tribes and its allies form a raiding party and storm down on the tribe allied along with you. This considerably affects whatever affinity you had built up with them to the extent of suspending some of the associated quests until you’re neutral with them. It’s basically a war on two fronts! Now you can appease them by doing different tasks for them but then again, you’ll end up turning your own allies against yourself making new enemies in the process. You can always craft a Peace Treaty or Tranquility Rumor, but for that, you need lots of Guard and Trader tokens for which you’ve to ambush them. I guess by now you’ve got a pretty good idea of its consequences. So tell me, who preserves peace from the one who preserves peace, eh?

Now speaking of level design, though it’s open-world, Albamare is a tiny island which you can easily traverse on foot from one end to the other and back in say 15 minutes. Because apart from only some geographical features, you can climb anything. You see that mountain over there? You can climb it! But when it comes to dungeons, they’re all linear with some puzzles to kill your time in between (the puzzles are a little amusing though as it made me scratch my brain in some instances). And yet you’ll be running out of resources because of all the crafting and donations and consumption, so you’ll be exploring and grinding and foraging stuff repeatedly, and therefore the extent of the map is something you’ll barely notice.

Then there is the terrible camera. Dragging your mouse to align the camera straight in narrow areas is tenfold more difficult than anything Pine offers. There is no option to make Hue focus on the enemy while swinging your sword, so any misalignment of the camera and you’ll end up beating the air, or maybe the bush.

Visuals & Performance

The overall visuals bear a strong resemblance to Fable but the flora will remind you of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or more precisely, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The ecosystem is vast and varying ranging from grasslands to deserts to snow-covered peaks, and the scenery is extremely beautiful especially at dusk or at starry nights. In fact, Pine is one of those games where you can click screenshots to get awesome desktop wallpaper, something which I rarely say in any game nowadays because most open-world games go for ‘realistic’ graphics approach which doesn’t look much real as a frozen background.

But since battles can happen randomly even when you’re collecting berries from the bushes, there are massive frame drops and increased system temperature in those areas of ample vegetation or anywhere where the system has to render a lot of stuff.

Sound & Music

The innocent and charming OST that Pine offers will remind you of the Aesop’s fables that you might’ve read as a child. The characters all speak an unknown language that will remind you of The Sims, but for some reason, the developers didn’t bother about syncing their lips to the words they enunciated.


Pine is a very enjoyable game but one that is rough around the edges. The combat is slow, the grinding to get better gear or progress further in the story is tedious and the call for polish is high. But if you can look beyond these annoyances, Pine is well worth buying into.

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