The Bonfire 2: Uncharted Shores is one of those titles that was clearly designed with both mobile and PC play in mind. Unfortunately, in this game of compromise, it’s the player that loses.
There are certain things that mobile games do well. These are things like a casual pace, ability to pick up where you left off at any time, streamlined graphics etc. There are also things that PC and console games do well; things like complex systems, amped up graphics, and deep immersion. Xigma Games has clearly tried to compromise between the two. Unfortunately, as is often the case, this compromise short-changes all sides.
Like a mobile game, The Bonfire 2: Uncharted Shores has streamlined graphics and a slow pace. However, it doesn’t hit that same casual, pick-up-put-down feel that great mobile games do. Like many PC games, Bonfire features somewhat complex systems of leveling, AI, and strategy building. Howbeit, it does not have the immersive quality, depth, or replayability of much of the PC gaming market.
Xigma Games have a clear and relatively well executed aesthetic with this title. Regrettably, The Bonfire 2: Uncharted Shores feels like it doesn’t know where it belongs. I’m going to deliver this review in the traditional manner of someone giving bad news: the s**t sandwich.
Gameplay in The Bonfire 2: Uncharted Shores
If you’ve ever played a real-time base building game, you’ve played Bonfire. You order the construction of buildings, your little minions busy themselves with erecting them. Certain buildings enable you to gather resources, which you need to construct more buildings. Repeat ad nauseam. There’s a certain meditative quality in this, a sort of repetitive calm – however, Bonfire ultimately does nothing special with its main gameplay loop.
Once you have constructed some buildings, they need people assigned to them to work. This includes the titular bonfire itself – anyone assigned to that becomes a guard. Each character has a mix of Strength, Agility and Intelligence skills, which make them more or less suited for certain tasks, as well as a personality trait. While the game’s Steam page claims that “Every character has unique personality skills”, realistically there are only a handful of traits. By the time you have 20 population or so, you will have seen them all multiple times. The characters are all more or less interchangeable, with equipment being far more impactful than skills or traits.
Bonfire After Dark
At night, everyone but the guards go to sleep, and a random assortment of monsters attack your village. Your guards and the monsters meet and whale on each other. There are no tactics or strategy involved whatsoever. If you have enough guards, with good enough equipment, you’ll win.
Personally, I found the best strategy to be just not to assign guards 80% of the time. Most monsters just arrive, nick some of your stuff (a handful of iron, a few portions of food), and feck off. The risk of losing some of your population just isn’t worth it. The two enemy types that actually attack your buildings (“Minions” and spiders) warrant an armed response, but it’s completely feasible just to assign guards when needed and otherwise keep workers free for more useful things.
The Good: Aesthetics, Atmosphere, Polish
That said, The Bonfire 2: Uncharted Shores isn’t all bad. The minimal, streamlined art style is gorgeous and distinctive. The buildings mesh well with one another, but each has enough to set it apart that you can easily tell them from one another. Furthermore, the sound design is lovely. The music, SFX and UI sounds blend together in a very pleasing way. Kudos to their art director – they hit the nail on the head with this one.
Moreover, Bonfire in general feels quite polished in most respects. Firstly, The UI, mechanics and atmosphere of the game all tie together very well. Secondly, the tutorials and in-game tips are clear, making Bonfire quite easy to get into. Thirdly, the progression of building unlocks is well-paced and sensible. You tend to unlock buildings as and when you need them, for example, and just as you’re getting bored with the same options. For what they set out to achieve, Xigma has crafted a fairly smooth experience.
The Bad: Shortcuts, Oversights and Mishaps
Unfortunately, The Bonfire 2: Uncharted Shores also has more than its fair share of shortcomings.
As I mentioned above, a small amount of micro-management of your guard assignments lets you avoid the bulk of danger and, subsequently, challenge in the game. If it’s not 100% necessary to endanger your people, why do it? Consequently, the game starts to feel slow, stale, and unchallenging.
Speaking of your guards – the AI pathfinding in this game is abysmal. Every in-game day, numerous workers get stuck on corners, inside of buildings, or simply stop in the middle of a field. It gets incredibly tiresome to have to go order 4 or 5 people a day to drop what they are carrying to coax them into continuing on their way. Furthermore, more than once my characters got stuck in the middle of structures. At that point, my only options were a) allow them to starve to death or b) destroy the building.
Building structures and gathering resources takes forever. That feels like a choice Xigma made in order to artificially inflate playtime – because once you’ve built everything, there’s nothing really left to do. Additionally, your population grows incredibly slowly, and you can’t control that growth at all – the only way to get new people is for randoms to come out of the forest and offer to join. It took me about 6 hours to get to the “endgame” of The Bonfire 2: Uncharted Shores, but it would have taken maybe two without these arbitrary timesinks.
Hiccups and Foibles
Additionally, there are a few needless oversights that any amount of QA should have caught. The WASD keys move your perspective, but they are tied to specific, objective directions. That means if you rotate your view, and then press W, you don’t move in the direction you’re looking – you move “north”. Consequently, it’s impractical to leave the camera in any view but the default. Characters assigned to sentry towers – 10 feet in the air up a ladder – can be attacked and damaged by animals on the ground. It’s things like these, for example, that make Bonfire a more frustrating experience than it needs to be. Perhaps Xigma will address these post-launch, but for the game to ship like this bodes poorly.
Above all, The Bonfire 2: Uncharted Shores feels shallow. If you enjoyed the original game, The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands, you’ll no doubt get a kick out of this, as it introduces numerous improvements. But for the price point, far higher than I’d expect to pay for a game this length and quality, I have to recommend giving Bonfire a miss. Just go replay Age of Empires instead.