Ever since Harvest Moon established the genre, new pretenders to the life sim crown have regularly popped up. Most recently, Stardew Valley has been the undisputed monarch of the genre, combining its retro 2D graphics with oodles of options and customisation potential. Now, after a lengthy period spent in Early Access, My Time at Portia is ready to take on all comers as it attempts to become the new king of the life sim.
The first thing that strikes you about the world of Portia is how wonderfully vibrant and colourful everything is. It is a joyful place to visit and a far cry from the drab environments of so many games. This bright palette fits perfectly with the tone of the game itself and its cast of colourful cartoony characters. The art design on the residents of Portia is great, with each distinctive enough to recognise from a distance, but all fitting within a coherent style. This quality of design extends to the cute animals and monsters that inhabit the more remote areas of Portia, to the point where my daughter became upset that I had just massacred a herd of colourful llamas so that I could harvest their skin for leather making.
You begin your new life in Portia when you inherit a rundown farmstead from your missing father. At first you have nothing but a bed and a house with missing floorboards and gaps in the walls, and so your first steps are based around introducing yourself to the neighbours and fixing up your home. To do so you can craft a vast amount of tools, materials, furniture and ornaments to make, fix, adorn, and eventually sell. At first this range is relatively basic, but as you build more equipment your repertoire increases and you are soon able to fulfil a wide range of commissions. It’s completing these commissions that form the main body of your daily routine and they are the way to increase your reputation, which leads to bigger and better jobs.
The endless cycle of capitalist gain and progress is the main gameplay loop to start with and you can (and probably will) spend most of the initial hours breaking rocks and cutting down trees. The basic resources soon balloon out to include animal parts (in a cutesy Monster Hunter fashion), various ores, plants, and strange relics of the pre-apocalypse world. Oh, did I forget to mention that this colourful and happy world is what remains after an unspecified world shattering event?
The strange mix of futuristic architecture and nostalgic crafts gives Portia a fascinatingly odd sense of place. This clash of civilizations is also made manifest in the two main power groups within the game world. On the one hand you have a religious sect that rails against any attempt to recover the relics of this bygone era, but on the other you have a burgeoning scientific interest in the technology of the past. This often boils down to which side you hand said relics over to, but there is clearly the potential for more drama to develop.
Aside from the hunting, gathering, building, crafting, planting, and farming (which takes a while to build up to in terms of initial outlay and land space) the main activity you’ll be involved in is exploring ruins for the aforementioned relics. The first handful of ruins are safe spaces with no dangerous monsters in residence, so you can happily use your treasure locator, rocket pack and pickaxe to mine for valuable materials undisturbed. The locator can take some getting used to and the instructions aren’t particularly clear, and if you’re wondering why a rocket pack is needed, it soon becomes pretty obvious when you want to head back home!
Until you level up your character and equipment, you will lack the stamina to make much progress in the ruins. It takes a while for your character stats to allow you to really investigate this side of the game, but there is still plenty to do before then. Experience is gained through all activities and you’ll often find yourself levelling up just from chopping down a tree or bashing a rock.
It takes a while to come to terms with just how much there is to do in Portia and the game could easily have descended into relentless busywork. However, between the well-handled narrative and the regular upgrades, the game successfully manages to keep you hooked. There is always a new item to craft or a new piece of equipment to construct, but it took me a bit too long to realise that you can make your life far easier by crafting multiple pieces of equipment. This prevents the slow passage of time and grind whilst one forge is melting ore or one saw is carving planks. In the early stages, building several of each of the initial constructs will save you many days of waiting. As saving is only possible when you sleep, balancing progress with waiting on specific materials becomes second nature.
It is safe to say that even after a couple dozen hours of play, I only scratched the surface of what there is to do in My Time At Portia. Combine hunting, mining, building and romancing with a fascinating setting and an involved narrative, and I can see myself continuing to go back to play more. My Time at Portia is more than a worthy alternative to Stardew Valley and one of the first must have games of 2019. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some more mining to do.
Version tested: PC – Coming to PS4, Xbox One & Switch this Spring.