by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Note: My Time at Portia is currently in Early Access.
Full disclosure: I’ve never played Stardew Valley. I own it, but I’ve just never had the time, or I make up an excuse. Either way, I haven’t really played it; but I did explore several of the Harvest Moon games. No matter how tedious actual chores and farming is, playing them in a digital setting just feels right. My Time at Portia is in that same family, where you play as a young boy or girl starting a new adventure, but it’s a lot less farming and more building. Portia is a town on the outskirts of civilization, and a long time ago, there was quite a bit more machinery. Now it’s all lost in ancient ruins, buried under rocks and dirt and ore. You can cook food, grow crops! There is so very much to do. Portia has several craftsmen, all vying to be the best at their trade, with the capacity to put together virtually anything. From bringing back motorized vehicles, making forges, skinners, workbenches, there’s nothing this plucky little person can’t accomplish.
My Time at Portia has a main story with several quests all built around, well, building. Your character inherited their father’s workshop, though it needs a bit of sprucing up. It has no major facilities outside of a workbench, but with time you will fix that right up. You can also go fishing, go digging for ore/minerals/artifacts, fight monsters, perhaps even fall in love. Virtually every character in the game has a friendship meter, and if that’s the route you want to go, I noticed that it’s a particularly long grind. Giving them gifts that they’ll like, playing Rock Paper Scissors, talking with them, fulfilling their requests (which have timers attached) all contribute to building your relationship. The game of love is the hardest part of Portia, in my estimation. It’s far too tedious and time-consuming for me. In several in-game months of play, I am nowhere near even one star with any character in the game. That’s just one tiny aspect of this game though.
The primary portion of the game is building. There are three other crafters in town, and each of them is desperate to be the best. They don’t go around ruining your work, but they will claim some of the required missions should you not go and do them yourself. For example, the Dee-Dee Transports (basically motorized vehicles) are part of a quest, and the town is looking for five of them. I did not realize that it would actually be a race to complete them. Hell, I still haven’t completed one, and I’m about 20 hours in at this point. I think it’s important, but I’m not really in this world to “be the best”. I grabbed one of the quests, which thankfully has no expiration date, and moved on with what I enjoy about this game. I’ll get to it when I’m happy with my home. Speaking of these relationships, you can also spar with them (you’ll start the game with a pair of boxing gloves). I will warn you that almost every character in this town starts off a lot stronger than you. Without mastery of the dodge and attack system, you will fail every duel.
In order to do all this important building, you need tools. You start off with just your wits and an axe, but you’ll swiftly get a pickaxe and a wooden sword to go along with it. Between these, your workstation, and your little assembly station, you will do much of your work. That assembly station is where you’ll craft your other tools of the trade: Forges, Skinners, Grinder, Civil Cutter, and so on. This will also be where your major quest objectives are. The first major quest, for example, is to build a bridge to another island. So you’ll spend a lot of your time building the tools you’ll need and farming up the resources required to build these, and put them into place. Here’s where my first serious worry came into play. When you use these workstations to turn materials into new items (pipes, leather, bars of ore, et cetera), there’s a timer on them.
These stations also require fuel (wood, power stones) and take time in order to create what you need. It’s usually in in-game hours, which tick down a minute per real-time second. You’re in a constant cycle of farming up minerals, fuel for them, rinse and repeat. There were times when I didn’t want to wait, and would just sleep it off, come back in the morning, put more fuel in, get my items, and move forward. I was afraid that there was going to be some kind of dreadful microtransaction system, but there wasn’t! If this were a free game on mobile, I could see that happening. Instead, what I began doing is picking up contract in town from the Commerce Guild, coming back to the homestead, setting all my machines into motion, and go exploring/farming for whatever I need. At first, you’re going to need several (at least two to four) chests to put stuff in. You can, however, customize their colors and organize them the way you need them, to make finding what you require at least a little easier.
Your first few in-game weeks are going to be very difficult. A few months in, things are easy. I can farm whatever I need, upgrade what’s needed, and explore anywhere I see fit, now that I have a system in place. However, most of the ore/sand/minerals are in the Hidden Ruins. Those cost money (Gols) to enter, and money is hard to come by. Your main source of it will be completing work requests (from the Commerce Guild) or completing quests. Compound that low stamina amounts (until you level up, get new skill points, and equipment), and the fact that every single swing you take lowers your stamina, you are going to be in for a very long haul. And by that I do mean, every single swing, even if you miss, even if you swing your weapon or axe at something that can’t be broken, you lose stamina. Food is scarce, and you won’t have a lot of stamina-increasing items just yet. This includes physical equipment, furniture in the home, et cetera. So you have to fulfill a few building projects (you can only take one a day), make certain you have inventory room and the money. You can reset these digs with Gol also. So you need even more money to reset them when you have what you need.
Speaking of these digs, they’re very important. They can be incredibly time-saving. When you’re in a Ruin, you gain a set of goggles and a jetpack. Pressing F/LB will let you scan the nearby area for artifacts. This can include Discs (turn them in for new technology), Power Stones for your workstations, and old technology that you can craft now (seats, power coils, et cetera), but you can find them there far before you can make them. So these digs are incredibly important. It’s also important to know what color rock/what pattern will give you what mineral, because the ore for Iron will appear in different rocky areas compared to sand, stone, and copper. This is one of the more important things to be aware of, so you don’t waste time digging helplessly for something you don’t need, or have no room for. You can only sell so much back in town per day (the villagers only have but so much to buy and so much to sell each day, even on important items).
Fighting, digging, building: all of this gives you experience points. When you level, your Attack and Stamina both go up, and you get a Skill Point. You have three specialization trees, which will remind you certainly of games like World of Warcraft. Put them wherever you see fit, but do take time to read what each tree offers. Personally, I put mine into the Stamina/Mining stuff first, because I want that process to be as fast as possible. I wanted better tools and better stations. You can upgrade your House, Workbench, and Assembly Station, but they are incredibly expensive. You must decide which is more important to you and focus on it. That’s the name of this game: focus. You must pick a goal, and work towards it. But in that, I found tranquillity and peace. That’s what I love about My Time at Portia. It’s a grind, and everything takes time and takes work. But it all feels worth it. I never felt like I was in a particular grindy world, I never felt like I was racing. Sure, you want to do stuff before the others do in order to be rated higher than them and make more money, but I found joy in the simple things. Punching adorable llamas, exploring ruins and destroying a gang of thieving rats. It’s the little things that certainly make it worthwhile.
The Builder’s Life for Me: 5/5
If you enjoy Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, or any of those games, My Time at Portia will, without a doubt, be fun for you. Some of the dialogue can become tedious if you’re in the game for relationships, but everything about it is still enjoyable. Your character can make a profit without ruling over the town with an iron fist. Though I’m sure there will be someone that will break it, that was not my goal. One of the things that makes this such a wonderful experience is that the game rewards you for playing your way. You can do what you want when you want not feel like you’re being funneled down an unwanted path. It teaches you everything you need to know and rewards you accordingly. I’m glad the camera turning feels better than it did in pre-Early Access though. I can also see the controller layout on Steam, which is good because it’s going to consoles soon. I play with a hybrid though, preferring some buttons on a controller, some on my keyboard, and it does not slow me down. Plus you can befriend an adorable pig and a huge bear! Come on, who doesn’t like that?
The music is subdued, the graphics are beautiful and bright, there’s always something to do in this world. I don’t feel terribly limited, except perhaps running out of storage space. There’s a lot going on under the surface too. A fine example of that is the split between the Church of Light and the Research Council. The Church of the Light wants to get rid of this powerful technology from the past, and the Research Council wants to explore its uses, of course. So you have to decide which of these you want to help more. It might seem obvious to just go with Research since you can use those fun discs to learn more stuff to craft. But the Church also gives you money for the items you return to them. You don’t have to rush anywhere, but it feels like I spend each in-game day trying to maximize the day, to get the most out of every minute, every bit of stamina. The grind for relationships is frustrating, the start is a little slow, and it’s not always clear where people are to find them for a quest or mission. Even with those minor complaints, the game has been an absolute joy. There are still minor bugs to work out, and it’s not perfect, but I absolutely loved My Time at Portia.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.