Casey Beaumaris, a 14-year-old aspiring journalist, is spending her three-day holiday from school aboard the unique hospital airship where her mother works. Due to her mother’s busy schedule, Casey is charged with spending time with the elderly patients and providing company and a listening ear. How Casey will spend her days aboard the ship is up to you, the player. Will she focus on the story of a single patient, building a deep connection and learning everything she can about their past? Will she use her time as efficiently as possible to get to know every patient in just three days? Alternately, will she instead focus on learning the bizarre history of the ship itself, shadowing the staff, or simply annoying the cook by ordering bowl after bowl of soup? The choice is yours – and no matter what choice you make, a rich, emotional story awaits you.

Wayward Strand, developed by Australian indie studio Ghost Pattern, is a beautiful, touching, fully voice acted interactive narrative focusing on themes such as the value of history and the stories of the elderly. It is a slow burn – something I never thought I’d say for a game that runs on a strict time schedule. Although Casey has only three days aboard the ship, she is not assigned any particular series of tasks or quests. Instead, the player may use her time as they want, with almost no restrictions. Even Wayward Strand‘s clock system primarily exists so that the player will know when things like mealtimes or bedtimes happen. It is truly a “play at your own pace” game, and I found it one of the most relaxing gaming experiences I have had in recent memory.

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Casey’s journal helps you keep track of who you’ve met and spoken to

The heart of Wayward Strand is its characters. Each resident of the ship is fully fleshed out, with a backstory that Casey can discover the more time she spends with them. Options range from Ida Vaughan, the “traditional” kindly grandmother, to popular author Neil Avery, gossip-loving Esther Fitzgerald, and mysterious Tomi Hummel. The decision to have each character be fully voice acted was definitely a good one, as it makes them feel even more rich and unique. During my first play-through of the game, I became utterly engrossed in spending time with Henirich Pruess, an Austrian patient who has a collection of gorgeous antiques and deep knowledge of the ship’s past. Before I knew it I had spent nearly the entire three days just listening to him. Realizing that I still had so much to discover about the world of Wayward Strand and its inhabitants, I immediately booted the game right back up and started all over again!

This is another of Wayward Strand’s greatest strengths: you simply cannot experience everything the game has to offer in a single play-through. Its replayability value is amazingly high, and it can offer any kind of experience you want. Don’t feel up to anything beyond a short play-through where you check in on all the residents briefly? That’s fine! Want to sink hours into the game repeating your three days and getting to know absolutely everybody aboard the ship? Also fine! The rich world of Wayward Strand has so much to discover that players will definitely find themselves being drawn in over and over again. Even now, several weeks after I first received my copy of the game, I am nowhere near done learning every secret and story that Wayward Strand has to offer.

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I spent my first play-through with Mr. Pruess, and he remains an overall favorite character.

Much of this immersion and replayability comes from the fact that Wayward Strand’s characters exist in a truly dynamic, living world. The patients and staff aboard the airship do not simply sit around and wait for Casey to come talk to them whenever she likes. Instead, each has a schedule they follow – characters will eat meals, take naps, and visit one another regardless of whether or not Casey is present. On one play-through, I simply happened to be in the right place at the right time to overhear a conversation between Esther and Heinrich about another patient who had died recently. This chance encounter led to me following this thread for the entire three days, talking to everyone I could about the deceased patient and learning about them through the stories of those left behind. You truly feel like a visitor in the world of Wayward Strand, being given the honor of a brief window into these characters’ very real, dynamic lives.

Unfortunately, Wayward Strand will not be for everyone. Personally, I found it one of the best games – and definitely one of the strongest narratives – I experienced in 2022, but I am already a well-established fan of narrative-based games, text-heavy games, visual novels, and slower-paced games. Those looking for epic action, combat, or elaborate gameplay will not find what they are looking for in Wayward Strand. However, I encourage everyone who wants to experience a deep, heartwarming, beautifully written tapestry of stories to take some time, relax, and sit down with Wayward Strand for a few hours. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn this time around. Remember – everyone has a story to tell, and sometimes, all you have to do is listen.

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Each patient has a beautifully designed room that reflects their personality and history.

Wayward Strand is currently available for Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Kate played Wayward Strand on Nintendo Switch with a review copy.

 

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