Wot I Think: The Long Journey Home

It’s not all that long, the journey, but it is very busy. About six hours might do the trick, but you’re likely to get distracted along the way. Part Star Trek Voyager and part The Odyssey, The Long Journey Home [official site] puts you in charge of a small crew who have been stranded far from Earth due to a tech malfunction, and must make their way home, making friends and enemies along the way. Though it’s clearly inspired by the likes of Star Control and Captain Blood, I’ve found myself thinking of No Man’s Sky as I play. Here’s wot I think.

TLJH is one of those games that feels like lots of mini-games stitched together. There’s some basic resource management, Thrust-like planetary landings, conversations with alien races, combat, and star system navigation. It’s a game that could easily end up being less than the sum of its parts, but the structure of the journey itself ties everything together and makes each decision and challenge important. Whether you’re figuring out if a diversion to save a plague-ridden planet is worthwhile or even a realistic possibility given how limited the essential resources needed to keep your ship running might be.

There are four things to consider. Your crew are a primary resource and as they pick up injuries, your journey becomes more perilous. Those injuries come from rough landings, risky flying, certain encounters and ship-to-ship combat. People are your most precious resource, and are irreplaceable, though they can be healed if you find the appropriate items.

The other three resources you’ll need to trek across the stars can all be picked up along the way and the core loop of the game involves ensuring you gather enough of each at each stop along the route.

First of all, you’ll need fuel to move within systems, and to send your single-seater lander craft down to the surface of planets. It’s planetside where you’ll find the gases, metals and minerals that are used for refuelling and repair, but you might also want to visit some planets as part of a quest chain, or on the off-chance there’ll be some mystery to uncover. But, yes, fuel is of vital importance, and you’ll use it to move between planets and find it on planets.

And then there’s a second kind of fuel that lets you jump between systems. The ingredients for that are found on planets as well, and you’ll always have a fairly good idea what you’re going to find once you settle into orbit. A scan tells you what kind of resources to expect, and what quantities they might be found in, and information about inhabitants, atmosphere, weather and overall threat level.

If a planet has firestorms, high winds and scarce supplies, it’s probably not worth risking your lander and crew. You can repair both your ship and lander, and that’s where the third resource, metal, comes into play.

On one level, that’s how The Long Journey Home works; you travel from place to place, gathering enough resources to ensure you can make the next jump, or survive the next tricky landing in order to get the fuel to make the jump. That’s where it reminds me of my hours with No Man’s Sky, a game in which I never cared for the journey so much as the destination. The lure of discovering new species and biomes was powerful, for a few days, and part of the attraction was knowing that everything I saw mine and mine alone. Discoveries born of code and procedural design.

There is randomisation in The Long Journey Home as well, but it affects the order of things rather than the things themselves. The systems you’ll pass through on your way back to our solar system are different each time, but the things within them are hand-crafted. There are several species to encounter, all with their own stories, dialogues and quest chains. Those quests range from delightfully silly interstellar quiz shows and tests of strength to genocide and flirtations with transcendental beings. What they all have in common is a sense of mischievous wit in the writing, which is courtesy of RPS columnist Richard Cobbett, a man who has forgotten more about RPGs and their tropes than most of us have ever known.

The combination of resource-gathering and wordy adventures is an odd one, but it’s mostly successful. At worst, the actual business of scooping up fuel and minerals becomes busywork, interrupting the flow of a quest, and the limited number of encounters means that you’ll start to see repetition after a few playthroughs. Thankfully, running into aliens you’ve already met on a previous journey doesn’t mean you’re in for an identical story – some encounters have fairly predictable outcomes, but some branch and twist, and there are even emergent qualities to some stories, which can be derailed or unexpectedly collide with one another.

There’s a lot to like in those encounters but it’s hard to escape from the feeling that the actual machinery driving the game is simpler than I’d like it to be. If you come for the stories, you still have to do the work in between them, as if visiting a library with a byzantine membership system that requires you to sign up again every time you want to borrow a book.

Take the lander sections: they’re beautiful and simple enough, rarely taking more than five minutes to complete, even if you actually explore the surface and have a mini text adventure rather than just scooping up resources before jetting away. But they’re also repetitive and a couple of mistakes can make the cost of landing heavier than rewards. I’d describe The Long Journey Home as a difficult game, given how hard it is to get home, but it’s an oddly pitched difficulty. I’m more likely to peter out than to explode in a blaze of glory or perish in a calamitous misadventure.

Simply put, getting home is hard work and even though there are loads of amazing adventures to be had along the way, you’ll also be carrying out a lot of maintenance. Think of this more as a warning than a condemnation because I’m still enjoying the game after thirty-five hours of playing. There’s something quite soothing about the repetition that puts Long Journey Home into my Podcast Pile – which is to say, the pile of games that I play while listening to podcasts. That’s not a bad pile to be in given how many podcasts I listen to every day.

And, yes, it still reminds me of No Man’s Sky, but with these discrete mini-games instead of the arduous walking and gathering and crafting and inventory juggling. It also feels like a successor to Digital Eel’s Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space, and a stronger one than the actual sequel. There’s not quite enough here to win me over completely, but there’s more than enough to make the numerous trips I’ve made worthwhile, and part of the charm is in never knowing if there’s anything left to discover. The stars are strange and home to many mysteries and it’s tempting to stick around until I’ve seen them all. But keep in mind that there’s lots of work to do along the way.

The Long Journey Home is available now for Windows, via Steam and GOG.

Disclosure: Richard Cobbett wrote the words and has a regular column on RPS that I edit most weeks. The fact that I have to look at so many of his words as part of my day-job and actually enjoyed playing a game that was stuffed with even more of them could probably be seen as a compliment.

38 Comments

  1. tikey says:

    I’ve played a few hours. I really like it in spite of getting really anoyed by it sometimes. It’s very punishing on new players and it’s not a forgiving game. It really needs a better introduction as it’s fairly easy to miss stuff or to misunderstand how a mechanic works.
    At times it feels like it’s a game that’s been balanced only by people that are extremely proficient at the game.
    I think that it’s a game that will get better in a few weeks, after a bit of feedback.
    It’s a credit to the game that I can’t wait to get back to it even though it really exasperates me at times.

  2. TheGamerDad says:

    Damn. Considering that it’s from Daedalic, I was hoping that it would lean more towards their point-and-click games and be more story-focused. I didn’t expect it to have so much resource gathering or survival because I really don’t like those kinds of games. *sigh* I guess this one comes off the wish list.

  3. Minglefingler says:

    I was going to buy this as soon as it was released, the idea trying to navigate through unknown areas of space, the sense of discovery and the fact that Richard Cobbet has written for it are all big draws.
    But, it’s thirty quid currently, that’s with a launch discount. I’m not going to call it overpriced, I haven’t played it, although from reading Adam’s review I get the impression that it’s something I would expect to see priced a bit lower. Especially if you’re going to see repetition after a few playthroughs. Could be wrong though.
    My concern is that it’s not going to find an audience, I usually think that if a game is good enough then it’s priced fairly and I often impulse buy games in the spirit of taking a chance on a relatively unknown quantity. So I wonder that if I’m hesitating to buy it does that bode ill for the game’s sales? Interestingly the No Man’s Sky comparison is relevant here as that was one of the few times I bought a game that I truly felt was overpriced. I hope I’m wrong and it does well. I know I will play it at some point, I just think a lot of people will be put off by the launch price.

    • Riaktion says:

      Funnily enough, your story there pretty much echoes my own.

      • phlipy says:

        I’m in the same boat. I felt a little cheated by NMS though enjoying it – the first 3-4 hours. But I really like TLJH: Sure it is repetetive after some hours with it. But which game is not? To my mind it respects the players time; it is playable in an reasonable amount of time; it is varied enough not to bore; challenges me enough; offers interesting entertaining stories; and most importantly has a heart!

        I think it is a fair assumption that if you like any of the games mentioned in context of TLJH, e. g. Space Rangers, FTL, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, Starship Traveller you will probably like this one.

    • LexW1 says:

      What it comes down to for me is that, once you get above about £20-25, you’re in that price range where I’m not really willing to “take a risk” on you. Had this game been, say £22, I would probably have bought it when Steam told me it was out today. However, I clicked through and it was £33.99.

      I agree, that’s not “overpriced” in the sense that they’re literally asking an unreasonable amount of money, it’s just more than I – or I suspect most people – are willing to risk on a game that is kind of experimental but not in a technically exciting way, and that might or might not be really one’s sort of thing.

      Certainly a place where a demo might help.

  4. JustAPigeon says:

    I was excited for this. Definitely sounds like my cup of tea but £34 seems way too much money for what it is. I think they’re a bit bonkers going for that price bracket.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    People are talking about the price. I agree it sounds way too high. This game has the look of cheap indie title and I don’t think that price point was the right way to go.

    I still want to get it. It’s looked interesting during Mr. Cobbett’s references and explanations of it.

    Have to admit I didn’t expect so much NMS/Minecraft resource collecting. But that can be fine too.

    Here’s hoping it’ll go on sale and be reasonable sometime soon.

  6. poliovaccine says:

    I, for one, am still super curious how the thing actually feels to play. The review tells me everything I would ask but I still have no clear sense really – never played NMS nor Captain Blood – but to me it sounds like a more adventure-styled Mass Effect… is ME such a wrong-headed comparison, in terms of structure, if not tone? Then again, some parts of the review’s description remind me of FTL. All flattering comparisons in my book, btw.

    Review seems restrained, and indeed there’s no Recommended sticker, tho I feel that’s as much a concession to the site’s involvement w Richard Cobbett as anything (who should know he’s brilliant without a silly sticker). Still gonna pick it up, in American dollars no less. It is such a rare and welcome feeling to be genuinely in wonder at what a new game will be like – hasnt happened in a long time..!

    • Premium User Badge

      basilisk says:

      Well, as the review says, most of the time you fly the ship, which requires some skill, sometimes the lander, which also requires some skill, and when you’re not doing either of those things, you click on stuff in a menu, either in a conversation window or on an inventory screen. That’s the gameplay loop in a nutshell.

      Imagine, if you will, that you take FTL, reduce the number and complexity of combat encounters to about fifteen percent and fill the rest with equal parts of directly controlling a spaceship and doing RPG-style sidequests that are, yes, not entirely unlike Mass Effect’s. That’s more or less where TLJH is. A bit of a strange beast to describe.

      But it’s fun and it’s packed full of content, so I honestly think the price is justified, even though I absolutely can see why people would be sceptical.

      • LexW1 says:

        The “most of the time you’re flying a ship” is what makes me particularly skeptical. I haven’t actually seen a computer game make flying a spaceship particularly fun since, well, certainly the 2000s (as opposed to 2010s).

        And if that’s most of the game, well, I dunno.

        I would also say I am a little disappointed with this review. I mean, I’ve been reading reviews of hard-to-describe games since the 1980s, and this review singularly fails to give me any kind of feel for what the game is actually like – very much unlike most of RPS’ reviews. I suppose I am required to go on Youtube and watch spoiler-filled videos where shrieking men-children shriek if I want to know what the game is actually like.

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          basilisk says:

          I enjoy the flying. It’s leaning towards the “physics simulation” rather than “arcade” part of the spectrum, and while it has a bit of a learning curve, it’s neat once you get the hang of it.

          • phlipy says:

            Yeah, sometimes the RNG screws you over and hours of gametime are lost without any fault. Not THAT fun I have to admit

        • Ragnar says:

          To save you from the shrieking, allow me to try to explain what it’s like to play.

          You select a ship (1/3), a lander (1/3), and a crew (4/8), and are catapulted to a distant part of space. You then beginning your Long Journey Home.

          You jump from star system to star system, suffering some ship damage with every jump. You fly within each system in a physics based manner where you apply thrust in a given direction to alter your trajectory, which is affected by the systems gravity, in order to explore the planets. You orbit a planet by steering your ship’s trajectory towards the planet and slowing down sufficiently to make orbit. I played with a controller, and the flying is skill based, relaxing (particularly if you conserve fuel), but slower and more time consuming than I would have liked.

          Once you orbit a planet you get an overview of what resources exist, and what the conditions are like, and may choose to deploy the lander. Piloting the lander is also physics based, skill based, and harder than I expected. You apply thrust and steer to overcome gravity and fly from place to place, gathering resources and exploring ruins. On high gravity planets you crash, suffer damage, and struggle to make it back out to your ship (don’t land on high gravity planets if you can avoid it). The lander sequences are often legitimately difficult, and the Devs put out training videos to help newcomers (which I have not yet seen). The lander sequences also have the strongest resemblance to No Man’s Sky in that each planet is different, often beautiful. Some planets may have ruins to explore, others may be gas giants where you fly between strong air currents to gather up gas. I would enjoy these sequences more if it wasn’t so easy to damage the lander.

          When you encounter ruins on a planet, you may choose to explore them, which takes the form of a text adventure. You choose to go inside or not, to proceed further or turn around, to press the button or leave it alone, etc, and read about what happens to the crew member carrying out your orders. The writing is really good, and I enjoyed the mystery and uncertainness of these portions.

          Last but not least, while flying around the star systems you will encounter aliens. They may choose to talk to you, or you may hail them, and these dialogs take place like RPG conversations. You may talk to discover more about them, or other aliens, or the ruins you just found. You may trade, or accept missions. You may insult them, or even fight them. Each alien race has their own personality, motivations, and style of speech, and are well written. There’s a story, or many stories, for every race, and meeting and talking with the aliens was my favorite part.

          Unlike Mass Effect, where you’re the savior of everyone, TLJH goes for insignificant humans in foreign land surrounded by more powerful aliens. You may be given quests that you can’t, or shouldn’t try to, complete. For example, trying to rescue an alien ship on a high gravity planet is likely to just cost you your lander.

          I haven’t played Star Control or Captain Blood. The influences that I associate with TLJH are FTL and Farscape.

    • Ragnar says:

      Allow me to try to explain what it’s like to play.

      You select a ship (1/3), a lander (1/3), and a crew (4/8), and are catapulted to a distant part of space. You then beginning your Long Journey Home.

      You jump from star system to star system, suffering some ship damage with every jump. You fly within each system in a physics based manner where you apply thrust in a given direction to alter your trajectory, which is affected by the systems gravity, in order to explore the planets. You orbit a planet by steering your ship’s trajectory towards the planet and slowing down sufficiently to make orbit. I played with a controller, and the flying is skill based, relaxing (particularly if you conserve fuel), but slower and more time consuming than I would have liked.

      Once you orbit a planet you get an overview of what resources exist, and what the conditions are like, and may choose to deploy the lander. Piloting the lander is also physics based, skill based, and harder than I expected. You apply thrust and steer to overcome gravity and fly from place to place, gathering resources and exploring ruins. On high gravity planets you crash, suffer damage, and struggle to make it back out to your ship (don’t land on high gravity planets if you can avoid it). The lander sequences are often legitimately difficult, and the Devs put out training videos to help newcomers (which I have not yet seen). The lander sequences also have the strongest resemblance to No Man’s Sky in that each planet is different, often beautiful. Some planets may have ruins to explore, others may be gas giants where you fly between strong air currents to gather up gas. I would enjoy these sequences more if it wasn’t so easy to damage the lander.

      When you encounter ruins on a planet, you may choose to explore them, which takes the form of a text adventure. You choose to go inside or not, to proceed further or turn around, to press the button or leave it alone, etc, and read about what happens to the crew member carrying out your orders. The writing is really good, and I enjoyed the mystery and uncertainness of these portions.

      Last but not least, while flying around the star systems you will encounter aliens. They may choose to talk to you, or you may hail them, and these dialogs take place like RPG conversations. You may talk to discover more about them, or other aliens, or the ruins you just found. You may trade, or accept missions. You may insult them, or even fight them. Each alien race has their own personality, motivations, and style of speech, and are well written. There’s a story, or many stories, for every race, and meeting and talking with the aliens was my favorite part.

      Unlike Mass Effect, where you’re the savior of everyone, TLJH goes for insignificant humans in foreign land surrounded by more powerful aliens. You may be given quests that you can’t, or shouldn’t try to, complete. For example, trying to rescue an alien ship on a high gravity planet is likely to just cost you your lander.

      I haven’t played Star Control or Captain Blood. The influences that I associate with TLJH are FTL and Farscape.

  7. tikey says:

    As someone who didn’t have to pay for it I don’t think the price is that much of a strech. There might be a bit of repetition in further playthroughs but it’s randomized a lot too. You’ll never meet all the alien races in a single playthrough for example.
    While it’s an indie title the production values are quite good.
    Still, cost is subjective and it’s up to each one of us how much are we willing to spend.

  8. OmNomNom says:

    Huge FTL fan so this was an insta-buy for me on release today. Enjoying it so far. I think just like FTL it’ll take practive and some tactics to make the most of and just like FTL, people will grate on it a little before they get over the difficulty curve – which is a little higher than default than most are used to or comfortable with.

    • LexW1 says:

      My problem with FTL was that it didn’t have any kind of real difficulty curve because the RNG was such a big factor – and I know I’m very far from the only person to think that, as it was a fairly common complaint. I mean, the first time I played it, having little idea what I was doing initially, but rapidly understood (the “tactics” and “practice” are no particularly huge), I got nearly to the very end of the game, because I kept getting lucky breaks. The next ten times or more, I could barely get anywhere, because I kept getting bad breaks, no matter how carefully I played, and there wasn’t even much to learn in most cases, apart from “pray that doesn’t happen again”. Then boom, back on the luck train and finished the game.

      I sincerely hope TLJH is far, far, less RNG-based than FTL.

      • Premium User Badge

        basilisk says:

        “I sincerely hope TLJH is far, far, less RNG-based than FTL.”

        It is, yes.

      • phlipy says:

        My experience with FTL are very similar. As often it al depends on your taste. If you you do not like being without a chance of completing the game just because of the RNG you have to stay away from FTL. – some of this is true also true for TLJH in certain landing-situatian causing losing your lander.

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          basilisk says:

          That’s not quite true in TLJH; you’ll only lose the lander if you’re doing something very risky with the lander, and you’re not supposed to do that. The lander is an essential piece of equipment and you don’t want to jeopardise it unless you really have to. Most planets are not worth landing on, and it’s quite easy to tell in advance.

          If you see extreme gravity and/or extreme temperatures, don’t try to fly there. Nothing good will come out of it.

          • phlipy says:

            You are right in most of these cases you can blame the player to have taken too high risks. On the other hand you are a least at the mercy of the RNG if it puts quest locations on those high risc planets. Sure you could easily abandon the quest. But where is the fun in that? In the end I do not like being given unsolvable quests.

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        MajorLag says:

        I find your experience was almost the opposite of mine. It felt too random at first, but after becoming familiar with the mechanics FTL was was all about finding a way to win with the equipment you’ve been given, and you could almost always do it. I’ve won with every ship on hard, usually multiple times. Despite the claims of some, there are multiple ways to counter each of the final bosses threats.

        In that way, the game is a lot like poker. Any poker player will tell you they’d rather be lucky than good, yet the final table at tournaments is mostly familiar faces. They’re both games where the skill lies in knowing how to play the hand you’re dealt.

        • phlipy says:

          I agree that maybe I am just too stupid to win certain FTL games, but also having won on hard with every ship and able to win most of the times. I am pretty sure that there are constellations which are barely winable. And realizing this after some certain playtime is not that entertaing more a feeling of being cheated. Anyway FTL is a fine game.

        • twaitsfan says:

          Really? You can beat the last boss with a cloaking stealth approach? That’s impressive. I couldn’t come close without boarding tech.

          The end of that game left a bad taste in my mouth. Especially the final phase of the boss. And how enemies in the ship would somehow respawn even if you killed them all.

  9. April March says:

    I think I’ll like it anyway, but I appreciate the warning about the repetitive bits. I might end up finding it jarring but everything else in the game I find alluring enough that I’ll risk it.

    Frankly, if the review was only “It’s Weird Worlds except it’s harder and lasts a few hours” it’d be an instabuy, and that’s whithout even mentioning Cobbett.

  10. brucethemoose says:

    If there’s one thing I know, it’s that the RNG ALWAYS hides something from you. Rest assured, no matter how many times you play, there’s at least 1 major branch you haven’t and might not ever see.

  11. Son_of_Georg says:

    No Man’s Sky, a game in which I never cared for the journey so much as the destination.

    I think you meant this the other way around. It doesn’t sound like you cared about the destination much at all.

  12. Hoot says:

    Mentioning No Man’s Sky has kinda put me off, if I’m honest. Biggest gaming disappointment I’ve suffered in over 2 decades of gaming.

    I mean I know this game isn’t similar but it sounds like the gameplay loop is more repetitive and less fun than I originally thought.

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    Sihoiba says:

    How does it compare to Outhere? link to rockpapershotgun.com

    • lglethal says:

      I had the same question. I never really clicked with outh There but then i dont click with any game where you basically start at the start each time (roguelike? roguelike-like?), without keeping at least some knowledge. Especially when its all down to RNG.

      So will i click with this game do you think?

      • BadCatWillum says:

        It’s a lot like Out There but not quite so punishing and PG, not RNG. If you re-use the same seed you will get the same galaxy, so no RNG. Hint: seed ‘IAINMBANKS’ is tough. The progression from run to run is knowledge about what planets and systems are survivable and which you should steer clear of.

  14. haldolium says:

    This is INTO THE STARS all over again. Which I think is the best comparison here, no NMS, not FTL. Both derivate from the idea behind FTL, trying to take it into another level with 3D, real-time while kind of ignoring that RNG and running out of fuel weren’t really the core fun things in FTL.

    Interesting ideas and mechanics that aren’t quite there yet for a final game. I like the aspect of physical ship control, but actual controlling the ship (and the lander) can be painful and annoying. I also miss a better atmosphere for being “lost” at the end of the universe. The interface is “meh”, chromatic abberation all over the screen…

    I’d wish this would’ve given some extra thoughts and development time. Conversations/writing seemed interesting enough at least, making encounters with aliens fun.

  15. Zantium says:

    I was in on the beta and really wanted to like the game but I just didn’t enjoy my time with it. I gave up after 6-8 hours of getting nowhere.
    Most of the frustration came with suddenly dying for no indicated reason while flying around in the systems. I think I re-started 4 times in total after death and ended my run each time not knowing what just happened. On one of the runs, I did get a radiation warning that was rapidly damaging the ship but I wasn’t anywhere near anything producing radiation and the map said radiation was low in the system I’d jumped into.

    After the last go I decided as much as I wanted it to grab me as it had others, there were far more interesting ways I could spend my time.

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    Captain Narol says:

    I am a big fan of both No Man’s Sky and Out There, but FTL never clicked at all for me.

    I was hooked for this game, but between the roguelike aspects and the difficult flight controls, I’m not so sure by now that it will work for me…

    I’ll probably wait for more reviews and feeback before taking a decision, anyway I haven’t 16 GB free on my HD right now.

  17. Thirdrail says:

    If you think this game is overpriced, you are correct. By no stretch of the imagination is this a $40 game. A $20 game? Yes, absolutely, but $40 makes me wonder if the devs know they’re going under and are going for the biggest cash grab they can finagle before they disappear forever.

    The story parts are well written and the aliens are fun to interact with, but the controls are bloody awful. (I say that as someone who is very, very good at flying both ships.) I remember playing a game twenty or so years ago called Subterrania on the Genesis that had a lot of similar game mechanics, but controls far superior to The Long Journey Home. If you can’t improve on the game mechanics from an early 90s console game, with your 2017 pc game, you are really phoning it in. Which is exactly how TLJH feels 60% of the time. Phoned in. The parts that are done well, like the script and the aliens, are excellent, but anything that’s not excellent is firmly planted in the suck zone.

    If you are interested, your best move would be to put it on your wishlist and then buy it later when it’s $20 or less. FTL was ten times the game and a hundred times the quality control of TLJH, and that launched, correctly, at $15 or $20.

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