The power of love is a tricky concept to pull off in storytelling. We all know that having that special someone at your side can bolster you through the toughest of times. But that feeling is indescribable at best, often leading to speedy conclusions where things work out because love. Sometimes that’s enough, sometimes we just want a good ol’ fashioned romantic comedy to uplift us. But when used in other genres, the power of love can quickly become cheap Deus ex Machina. Haven sidesteps this by showing the more mundane side of love, and is all the more beautiful for it.
Two lovers, Yu and Kay, have escaped from an oppressive futuristic society that forces citizens into arranged marriages. They’re apparently the first to do so, thanks to a combination of luck, Yu’s piloting skills, and an odd planet that’s off the grid. This planet consists of floating islets, friendly animal life, and a limited selection of fruits that are making mealtime a bore. But sudden earthquakes (or whatever the floating island equivalent is) damage their ship and force the pair to explore in search of resources. This leads to the most chill survival game I’ve ever played.
Yu and Kay need to eat, so you need to make sure they cook. That, however, is the only real survival element with any impact on your success. Even then, empty stomachs just make it harder for the two to perform certain actions in combat. Most of your time will be spent gliding around the islets on jet boots, collecting resources as you drift to the sweet sounds of French electronic musician Danger. Fearsome creatures stalk the night, and a sinister mystery enshrouds the island, but there’s always the feeling that everything will be okay.
A large part of that forever chill vibe is the game’s other major activity – the ship serves as both crafting hub and window into Yu and Kay’s everyday life. There is a lot of conversation, all fully voiced with charming performances by Janine Harouni and Chris Lew Kum Hoi. I adored how these moments intertwined with the gameplay. When you discover new fruits, Kay will present a new dish much to Yu’s excitement. Taming a wild beast gives the pair a pet that unlocks fast travel. And, my favorite, leaving the characters idle will trigger an HP-restoring hug.
Yes, the power of love is on full display in Haven. The narrative makes full use of it with the whole “us against the world” theme, but it’s also baked into the gameplay. Combat has you filling meters to deploy shields or hit foes. Having both characters do the same thing will form a duo attack, and there are some enemies that won’t go down for anything less. Likewise, when one character is incapacitated, they can only be revived by the other picking them up.
What keeps it endearing, and stops it from being too much, is that almost everything is treated with this gentle touch. Enemy forces are not monsters out to kill you – the poor local animals have just been corrupted. Battles are won by purifying them, and they’re all up for being pets afterwards. I’ll get a little into spoiler territory here – Yu and Kay’s quest is centered on staying together. You’re not out to conquer the planet or take on the Apiary, you’re just trying to help these two crazy kids make a life for themselves. The fact that everything is grounded in creation over destruction allows Haven to slowly work its way into your heart and take root.
And take root it did, at least for me. Haven is one of the rare games that had me reflecting when I wasn’t playing. I don’t mean in the sense of, “Man, I gotta go back and get that boss,” or, “Better make note to collect more food on my next run.” I actively thought about the characters and ideas – were they actually in the right? What compels a person to do that? Would I be able to do the same in their jet-powered shoes? That’s all thanks to the engaging character writing, and the way the gameplay fed into it.
No game is perfect, however, and there is one major flaw in Haven. The pacing on both the technical and narrative fronts threatens to undermine the experience. On the technical front, Haven prompts a loading screen every time you travel to a different islet. Given that exploration and resource-gathering are core activities, you’ll be seeing plenty. To the developers’ credit, there is art highlighting special, silly, and emotional moments from Yu and Kay’s relationship in every loading screen. And you unlock more as you progress. Also, the Xbox Series S version loads quickly. Despite these efforts to quell the issue, the constant loading screens become a real drag by the endgame.
Haven is also a game that takes time to get going. The beginning of the game gives you the power to glide and collect fruit. Neither is particularly challenging, leaving you with a “That’s it?” sensation. Granted, not everyone wants their games to punish them, but the issue here is that the story matches this relaxed pace. Even after problems are introduced, Haven is content to dole out new abilities and developments slowly. This results in some urgent threats losing their urgency as the “chill gliding game” identity stays at the forefront.
A more mixed part of the puzzle is co-op. Haven features drop-in, drop-out co-op. My initial goal was to review the game as a couple, so I had my girlfriend start it out with me. How it works is that each player takes one character, one controls the gliding while the other moves a circle to collect resources. Combat is naturally also done by one character each, as are crafting activities like cooking. In conversations, the players have to agree on a dialogue option to advance. I found this genius, but the game’s slow start made it a hard sell for my girlfriend.
What I found is that the co-op systems made you play as a couple. Anyone can take over gliding at any time, so you’re supposed to share the responsibility. Likewise, picking dialogue options being a shared effort demands compromise. You know, like being in a real relationship. Again, I found Haven’s marriage of gameplay and theme to be spot-on. However, the limited mechanics of the opening hours made gliding as a team a little boring. That second player only being able to farm resources as a passenger has serious “Mario Galaxy little brother mode” vibes.
That said, my girlfriend didn’t bow out because of this. It simply came down to me needing to finish faster to get this review up. She did comment on the slow opening, but also came to praise the story and characters from the later bits she saw me play. We also had several moments where we said, “That’s how you would react,” a testament to this game’s depiction of an adult relationship.
Part of me wants to say Haven is my game of the year, but I should probably let the post-play buzz die down first. What I do know is that Yu and Kay will stick with me for a long time. Their journey has the elements of an uplifting “love conquers all” story, but doesn’t forget that love is also about the arguments over who does laundry, putting up with each other’s gross bathroom habits, and sorting out the differences in your upbringings. It’s also one of the best weavings of gameplay and story I’ve seen in a long time. It takes some time to get invested, but I urge you to stick with it. True love is worth it.
An Xbox Series X|S code was provided for this review. Haven is available now on PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S and One with Game Pass.
NEXT: The Witcher 3: Why I Love Bart, The Troll Guarding Count Reuven’s Treasure
- Game Reviews
- Xbox Series X
- Xbox Series S
Sergio is the Lead News Editor for TheGamer. But usually he asks people to call him “Serg” because he wants to sound cool like the guy from System of a Down. He began as a convention reporter for FLiP Magazine and Albany Radio’s The Shaw Report to get free badges to Comic-Con. Eventually he realized he liked talking to game developers and discovering weird new indie games. Now he brings that love of weird games to TheGamer, where he tries to talk about them in clickable ways so you grow to love them too. When he’s not stressing over how to do that, he’s a DM, Cleric of Bahamut, cosplay boyfriend, and occasional actor.
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