As a fan of folktales, mythology, and lore, Through the Woods was right up my alley. I’m happy to say that if that’s the sort of thing you are into you will definitely find something to enjoy with this game. It takes an engaging dive into the world of Norse mythology and tells an old tale that rears its head in modern times. That is if you can get past some questionable acting and mediocre graphics. All things considered, Through the Woods is a tale I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
The Shores of Norway
You play as Karen who lives in a cabin with her son Espen. It doesn’t take long before the inevitable happens and Espen is stolen into the night by a man in a boat. Karen takes a leap into the lake and swims after them in vain. The boat, and her son, slip away into the mist.
As Karen makes it to other side and pulls herself onto the beach, you may notice the world looks a little different. Those are some awfully old looking building. Then it gets dark. The moon is broken, bodies are hanging in various places, empty houses hold skeletons, and there are creatures in the woods. All wrapped in a cloak of a completely different time period. It’s like Karen took a step back in time. And not to a good time either. When the sun goes down, the island looks very bleak all of sudden.
Not the Best Looking
Let’s get this out of the way real quick, if graphics are a benchmark for a good game to you, you may have a hard time getting through this game. At the very least because of the human characters. Karen and Espen have especially wooden, even plastic like faces will little expression to speak of. You’ll find some textures that look low quality and pop in from the background is pretty common. Even some interesting cases like this if you feel like messing around:
As distracting as this was at times (for example at one point, Karen was upset and screaming in the game but her lack of expression made it hard to get into the moment) I didn’t let it ruin the experience. Despite graphical glitches, Through the Woods manages to pull off a compelling environment. It still manages to create an atmosphere that is both foreboding and beautiful, graphical issues or not. The atmosphere and interesting story were enough for me to make it through the game despite the mediocre graphics. I’m hoping it’s the same for you but your personal preference will vary on this front.
Not a Likable Protagonist
Speaking of our would-be hero Karen, here’s an interesting twist on a typical story: I don’t like Karen. I don’t mean she’s not likable as a character or her performance. It’s that she’s not the greatest person in the world. As you find out later in the game, she has made some really bad decisions earlier in life and they have definitely come back to haunt her.
It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for this character and that’s not something you see very often these days. Especially for a protagonist. I found it at a little more interesting than having a typical hero of the story. It was a different take on a character that I appreciated.
Through the Woods We Go
Through the Woods is a typical adventure game with no combat. It’s all about exploration interspersed with stealth and bypassing enemies. The gameplay is pretty familiar to anyone that has played this type of horror game. Explore the world, avoid the enemies.
You’re only tool is a flashlight. This valuable object will help you navigate your environment and can also be used, in certain circumstances, against your enemies. Speaking of which, there is a decent variety of interesting creatures in the woods and probably one the more favorable aspects of the game.
Creatures of the Night
One of the best parts of Through the Woods are the monsters that inhabit each area. All the creatures are distinct and interesting and take a different strategy to get passed. And they divide the game into nice, digestible chunks as well. They are also all creatures from Norse mythology. In fact one of the first enemies you come across is a troll that towers over you and wastes no time chasing you down if it notices you moving around. You have to sneak quietly passsed it without being seen. It’s one of those times when you do not want your flashlight on.
Later you will come across more obscure creatures such as Huldra, draugr, a witch, and included in one of my favorite sections of the game, a pair of ravenous, talking wolves. I really enjoyed the variety of creatures included in Through the Woods and although my interaction with them was usually brief, they added to the atmosphere of the game and helped bring the story to life.
Exploration is Key
As mentioned before a major part of Through the Woods is exploration. The environments are fairly large and I even managed to get turned around a few times (temporarily of course). There are plenty of crevices, caves, and rundown houses to explore throughout the game.
Most of what you find are notes and letters that flesh out the lore and back story of the game. These letters and journal entries will give you a mythological history lesson and explain what is happening to Karen all at the same time. The notes do most of the heavy lifting of the story and encouraged me to explore. There are also collectibles to collecte if you’re into that kind of thing. These are usually off the beaten path and may take some searching to find.
Well, That Was Quick
Unfortunately if you aren’t exploring and you’re going straight through the storyline it won’t take long at all to get through the game. It was over before I was ready and I did do a lot of exploration. I wanted to keep seeing new areas and new creatures. There was plenty of potential for an alternative ending as well.
Because of this some may consider the game to be very light on content which is true in part. The story is fairly strong though. It has a nice twist and a pretty exciting climax even if it’s not delivered all that well. But a strong atmosphere can work wonders.
The creatures, environment, music, and sound effects all work together to create a great atmosphere for Through the Woods. This isn’t your typical horror game that throws jump scares in your face. In fact I don’t think I really experienced a straight up jump scare in my playthrough. A slight panic while trying to run away from something maybe, but not your typical “boo” horror fare.
Which is a big plus in my book. Walking through the woods in search of Karen’s son was a fun experience (if you’re into that kind of thing). As soon as Karen made landfall at the beginning of the game, I could almost sense something wasn’t right. It was more obvious when night fell shortly after. I looked up and found the broken moon in the sky and ahead of me was a looming island full of caves and trees. Not to mention who knows what lurking in the woods. This subtle mixture created an atmosphere that kept me on my toes for most of the game. In addition, it drew me into the world of Norse lore and mythology.
I enjoyed Through the Woods even though I’m sure there are quite a few people who won’t. This short adventure is driven by a neat narrative and great atmosphere even if the delivery isn’t always perfect and the graphics could use improvement. But the inclusion of Norse lore and interesting creatures made for a game that is very unique in its own right. Hopefully if there are more games based in this type of pantheon they’ll only get better from here. Through the Woods might not be for everybody but if Norse mythology is something you are into, I would recommend you give it a try.