Comments on the game after the cut.
Varkana opens with a detailed fantasy introduction and an illustration of the current action — a combination that led me to expect a) that the game would be meticulously produced (illustrations are difficult!) but that b) it might be a long, ambitious fantasy-quest game, taking time to get through.
That first impression isn’t quite right. Varkana is pretty well assembled: puzzles have multiple solutions, the game comes with a built-in map to help navigate, and the illustrations continue (though sparsely) later in the game. There is an odd issue with the conversation system, which the author warns us of up front, such that it doesn’t always work to talk to people unless we first ask them a nonsense question; this is annoying, and I wonder what code problem lies behind it, but at least we go in forearmed.
The story is not overpoweringly long and intricate, though. At the outset it can feel as though there’s quite a lot to take in, but the player’s day is fairly well scripted, so that there are always some clear tasks to do; the sense that there’s too much exposition coming in from all sides wears off quickly.
If Varkana has a major deficiency, in fact, it’s that it doesn’t go on long enough. The game begins at a leisurely pace, letting the player explore the environment and learn about the local religion, social system, and customs; then there are a few gentle puzzles, a few twists and turns, …
…and then the plot turns left and steps on the gas, hurtling us into a sudden and unexpected ending. Gone are the explorations, the opportunities to learn more: in the later plot, many things are revealed, but there is no time to let them sink in or to explore the backstory that led up to them.
Still, on the balance I enjoyed this. Recommended especially if you like big-setting fantasy IF with light puzzles and emphasis predominantly on story. This hasn’t the scope of something like Worlds Apart, but it does have a little of the ambition, and — like Worlds Apart — it takes its time over the small pleasures of its chosen environment.
Nothing really to add of a spoilery nature, so I will leave it there.