Outside of Next Fest, as a rule, I really don’t cover demos on Buried Treasure. But The Dark Egg is such a fantastic creation, and this free demo version is so long and detailed, that after completing all that’s currently on offer I’ve had the most satisfying time, and want you to too. This is part text adventure, part RPG, and all completely intriguing.
The current opening story cards for The Dark Egg don’t do a great job of setting the scene, but thankfully that’s the last time a great job is not done here. There was a city, and some weird sky creatures came down and were worshipped, something about a magic egg, and then – uh – it all fell to ruin. You are an explorer from outside, compelled by the legend of this all-powerful Dark Egg, who arrives to discover a cold, bleak and devastated island.
For the most part, this plays out as an interactive fiction, with word choices rather than text input. You can talk to the few locals, perhaps buy some things in a small shop, and ignore everyone’s advice to get away and ignore the damned egg. This sense of preparation before a journey reminds me of what I believe is one of the best games ever (as a full run), Inkle’s Sorcery! series. Then you’re off, into the frigid remains, to seek your goal, but also piece together the incidents that took place here.
The writing is splendid (and in many thousands of words, I only spotted a couple of typos), and for a good long while this feels like the entirety of the game, and it’s more than enough. And then it reveals its RPG chops, as it introduces a novel turn-based combat system, in which the screen’s map portion becomes a battleground in which you can directly move your character, and click on enemies to launch attacks. With this comes a need to care about XP, weapons, potions and so on, and then the most superbly elaborate skill tree, that allows you to focus your approach. Do you want to be all strength and action, or opt for more awareness and agility? Or, as I would advise, a healthy mix of the lot.
The game allows you to respec at any point, letting you reassign your limited skill points to rebalance your character as you prefer, as well as unlock new special abilities at the tips of various branches. But despite so much detail going into this area, the emphasis here really is on the narrative.
This is all presented so very cleverly. It’s in grey and black, very low-key, but every simple word choice you’re given to click on is elaborated on when you mouse-over, the same working for descriptions within your inventory. Items discovered in a location appear on the map in the bottom half of the screen, that you then click on to pick up. Everything feels detailed and multi-layered.
Even in this demo, there are some significant decisions to make, and a real sense of world-building. There’s a sadness that permeates the game, beyond simply the devastation of a lost town, and indeed the hundreds of frozen bodies you find amongst it. It’s deeper than that, and it’s so interesting to explore. The Dark Egg is about desolation and degeneration, more starkly revealed by your character’s blindly driven desire to profit within all this atrophy.
Obviously it stops rather than ends, but there are good few hours in here already, something I was surprised not to see marked as Early Access, rather than a demo. Oh, and it has fantastic music! And given it’s free, you’d be a dangerous fool not to get hold of it and give it a try. Not since Sorcery! has an IF-RPG grabbed me so much, and I can’t wait to see more of it.