Magic in Veil Of Dust doesn't make life easy, just slightly less hard
Turns out there's a big difference between a homesteading sim and a life sim
Hot diggedy daffodil, am I glad I picked Casual difficulty in Veil Of Dust. Unlike some games, Veil Of Dust doesn't make it sound like any sort of concession; the middle difficulty is called Challenge, and says "it's pretty tough - you've been warned". I took the warning seriously, and thank God, because even the easiest difficulty had me pouring dandelion tea down my brother's throat like he was doing a kegstand (and in the game).
Áine and Shane are a pair of Irish siblings who've moved to Oregon to start a new life, which, in the main story, involves eating potatoes and trying not to get depressed. It's difficult enough that I didn't think I would like it at first, as even basic tasks deplete your stamina and sleeping in your 1860s hovel with a hole in the roof doesn't restore very much per night. Áine can do spells, but they're simple and only really take the edge off what is a very hard life. Magic isn't a cure-all in Veil Of Dust, and using it has to be weighed up, just like everything else.
Veil Of Dust is a survival crafting game that throws a morale meter up alongside your health, hunger and stamina. You can most easily increase your morale by having a chat with someone you like, but that process is different for each of the siblings. Áine can talk to animals and see spirits, but she can't risk going into town in case the locals, you know, take against the whole witch thing. Shane can go into town and do odd jobs and make human friends. You get quite a different view of the game depending on which sibling you choose to play as, but at the start you really only have each other. Your morale need is woven in with your other needs, too. Eating boiled beans and potatoes makes you sad, whereas a hearty stew or a bone broth makes you happy and healthier - but you have to weigh that against how much effort it'll be to successfully hunt a hare.
Unusually for a game like this, you can also sort of control your sibling, assigning them chores for the day like watering plants, searching for building materials or hunting - but you also become responsible for their needs, too. They won't eat unless you give them food, hence how much stamina-boosting dandelion tea Shane was forced to guzzle. It's a pretty brutal life to live.
But then I realised: just try and do one productive thing a day. You slept for 12 hours and only have half stamina, but you can do two good things a day. Maybe you collect some stones and lime from the butte to the north. Or you plant a load of potatoes and use a spell to boost the growth. I sent Shane out to catch hares, and pretty soon I had enough for a fur blanket. After that I was able to do three good things a day. I made friends with a coyote and gave a lilly to a water nymph by the river to the east. We had enough stone to build a chimney. Soon: a beehive. Later: some cows.
Veil Of Dust is in early access now, and while the mid-19th century is a punishing place, the act of playing the game could be made easier, mostly UI stuff. You don't know what nutritional value meals have, for example, until they're in your inventory, which makes cooking a bit of a shot in the dark unless you have a brilliant memory. But I like this kind of magical world. It's hard rather than a lush fantasy, and your spells are from the earth rather than flashy fireworks or ice storms. It feels honest. Feels like an honest day's work. On my computer.