If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have a career as a professional travel writer, you’re in luck. Stepping on the plane for my first trip as a travel writer, I thought that I knew what to expect. But as I departed for Florida—and my first destination: the Daytona International Speedway—I found out that I knew absolutely nothing. I will never forget my first experience at the track, and how it changed my life.

She’s traveled the world, from deserts to jungles to the frozen north. She’s seen it all, and then some. She’s met the most colorful people, and the most humble. All her life has been a grand adventure, and it’s not over yet.

Independent games can treat ordinary people and their everyday problems in ways that games with big budgets wouldn’t dare.

In turn, we’ve seen many games, especially in the last decade, replace monsters with the mundane, and trade heroes for villains in favor of the middle class for their mortgages.

Where The Heart Leads is a great example of not only this trend, but also its proper execution. Although the game relies heavily on a script that sometimes collapses under the weight, it is a unique project that attempts to depict both a single moment in the lives of ordinary people and their entire lives, with all the natural ups and downs that come with each of us.

Where does the heart go? critical: Travel Life

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InWhere The Heart Leads, the team behindBatman Arkham Origins BlackgateandReCore takes a whole new approach, focusing on a boy named Whit and the life he leads through the decades. It’s hard to find a point of reference in your own environment, but if you look around you’ll agree that this ambitious project is nothing like Linklater’sAdolescence.

The premise was enough to draw me into Whit’s story, but it was the impressive twists, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, that kept the players on their toes.

When Whit was growing up, his parents made him work if he wanted to play. He has a creative but problematic older brother. He even has a girl next door that he falls in love with. Where The Heart Leads uses familiar paths, but slowly undoes and rebuilds them over the course of about 10 hours.

With every choice you make, Whit takes you in a new direction, and the game does a surprisingly good job of keeping track of what choices you’ve made in the past. The game often addresses them confidently in dialogue, as if Armature is confident that its narrative navigation systems are properly calibrated.

Where The Heart Leads is probably best described as a visual novel, although the game allows the player to move freely through the scenes – sometimes even in large centers such as cities. Essentially, players have several quests to complete, which they can do in any order, and progress through the story after completing all the story highlights.

It also feels like a novel, as the players will have to do a lot of reading. Without dubbing, you will have to follow hundreds – if not thousands – of dialogues in the game. Armature allows the player to open an overlay as a precaution and catch up on the last few minutes of dialogue if necessary.

The player can zoom in and out on each scene to a certain extent, but sometimes even the closest image of the scene seems too far away. Fortunately, a patch was released before the game’s launch to improve the text size and hopefully meet the accessibility needs of most players. But with the music becoming too repetitive in some long scenes and the animations feeling wooden at times, the game isn’t always as engaging as it should be for a game that so faithfully depicts the life of a family.

But this game is still story-driven, and it works much better in that regard, though it’s still buggy. At the end of a game, the player will only see a few episodes out of the many possible, depending on his choices during the game. This is impressive for such a small project.

The story that each player will experience in their own adventure is probably still worth the price of admission. The characters are very well developed, and the investment in the lives of the children, parents, siblings, etc. comes naturally from spending so much time with each of them.

Decisions are rarely easy, and he also likes to insert himself into standard conversations. It’s not just when the game breaks down and suddenly asks you to make important decisions that will affect your ending. It’s the details that count, and I enjoyed those little stitches in Whit’s life.

We usually don’t know when we are going to make a decision that will change our lives forever. Sometimes we can be sure, like when I crossed the country in my own life. But in other cases, these monumental actions, reminiscent of chaos theory, begin with something unexpected. In my example, I never would have moved to the west coast if I hadn’t found my favorite band, which one day led me to my future wife, who lived in Portland.

Where The Heart Leads is the best at expressing the same futility. Sometimes the choices we make seem happy, sometimes they lead to tragedy or a different outcome. Where The Heart Leads is about life’s ever-changing paths, and whatever path you choose, by the time the credits roll, you’ll feel like you’ve earned it.

I would have liked the plot to be more dynamic. Some scenes take place in the same place for over an hour, while others take place in mere seconds, passing from one scene to the next, almost like a montage. In that sense, the game is a bit unbalanced, and probably regardless of who your version of Whit becomes, but thanks to the game’s use of metaphysical and magical-real concepts, these pacing problems are offset by some visually striking scenes, even if they sometimes appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.

Where the Heart Leads review – The Bottom Line

Professional

  • A well told story with seemingly countless ramifications.
  • Well written characters in every aspect
  • A new approach to video game storytelling that focuses on one family over the course of their lives.

Cons

  • Some persistent problems with the pace
  • Playback issues such as lumbering animations and repetitive music

Where The Heart Leads feels like a niche experience that will satisfy its target audience and alienate most others with its walls of text and subtle gameplay mechanics.

While the plot is far from flawless, the story stays true to the characters you meet. As you form your own version of Whit, you in turn form the people around you, leading to one of dozens of possible endings.

As in our own lives, even with the best of intentions, you can’t see where it will lead, but over the decades of Whit’s life, you will appreciate the time you spend with him.

[Note: Armature Studio provided a copy of Where the Heart Leads for the purposes of this review].

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