Through The Woods offers the opportunity to take a walk through a land of trolls and other beasts, a world inspired by Norse mythology. The third person horror adventure, by small indie studio Antagonist, is peppered with creative environments and fascinating concepts. The gameplay, though, is where it falls down.
Rarely have I been so interested in the concept of a game. Set in Western Norway – at the beginning, at least – Through The Woods begins with the simple story of a mother and her son, Espen. Domestic difficulties and strained relationships are hinted at in the first part of the game, which really sets the tone for how the plot develops. Very soon, tragedy strikes; Espen disappears, and his frantic mother sets off to find him.
This is where it gets interesting. The mother-son relationship (and the reveals that come later on about it) is OK as something to relate to, to anchor the experience to the reality of modern life; but I’m here for the Norse folklore. I’m here for the trolls!
Chasing after your son, you splash across a misty expanse of water, following what looks like a Viking canoe of some kind. When you reach the other side, you’re no longer in the world as we know it. Exploring the new and strange terrain, you find abandoned huts and begin to learn about the odd goings-on here. You read about – and later see – the Nokken lurking in the water, a horror made of creeping tendrils. You learn about the trolls and the wargs (a particularly nasty type of wolf)… and Old Erik. Old Erik steals children to sate the hunger of a gigantic wolf, and suddenly you’re even more anxious about the fate of Espen.
Curious to play it now? The story certainly lived up to my expectations, particularly as I have a penchant for old Norse legends.
The environments are quite stunning in places, with plenty of incredibly scenic views to be seen from the hilltops. The settings are lush and packed with flora, really bringing the world to life. Indeed in places, they’re quite surprising and creative; at one point for example, you stroll through a troll’s rib cage. The screenshots I’ve added here no doubt don’t do it justice, as I had to play the game on minimal graphical settings – more on that later.
There are a few oddities. During the scene where you’re supposed to be swimming after the canoe, it looks an awful lot like you’re just standing up and waving your arms through the mist.
There’s also a fair amount of clipping through things; here I am having fun standing in a traditional Norse shield.
All in all though, it’s hard to complain. The game is visually very interesting, and jam-packed with Norse imagery.
Through The Woods focuses more on atmospheric sounds than on music. The ambient sounds, it does very well. It also means that when the music does start up – to warn of a nearby creature, for example – it has much more impact. Expect evil sounding chords of warning, and beastly moans and wails.
It’s voiced, and for the most part the (I’m assuming) Norwegian actors do a good job, if a little lacking in energy.
I will be very honest here – I did not complete this game. It ran on my PC about as well as an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping would run. Bonus points for anyone in the comments who recognizes that quote. A bit of hardware context, here – my PC meets the minimum spec stated on the Steam store page, but not the recommended spec. So, I played on low graphical settings. Unfortunately, although it was playable in places, in others it almost ground to a complete halt. This was not conducive to an immersive gameplay experience. For a point of reference, I can play The Witcher 3 on my PC just fine.
Some reviewers have called Through The Woods a walking simulator. On that, I beg to differ. There’s definitely a lot of walking around looking at the environment, picking up various notes and collectibles, but there’s more to it than that. You don’t just read about the creatures of Norse myths and legends, you encounter them. Some are easy to bypass, others require stealth and a healthy dose of luck. I really struggled to get past some of them and with the framerate as poor as it was, and a dark environment with plenty of blind alleys, it eventually became too frustrating to continue.
I truly think this is a shame, because this game does so much right. Unfortunately I spent too much time feeling completely disoriented and lost, which along with the terrible performance meant that I was dying again and again. It was quite a while before I even knew that stealth was an option, let alone how to do it, since the in-game prompt never appeared for me. Clearer paths, more predictable enemies and better optimization would have made for a far better experience, in my eyes.
Overall, Through The Woods could have a been an immersive, beautiful and unique experience, but I feel the issues with gameplay really let it down. That said, the story and setting are really wonderful, so if you have a decent rig – and ample patience – consider giving it a whirl.
This game was reviewed using a key provided by the developers.
Questions about the game? Ask away in the comments below.