Usually in games you run into the distinction between player knowledge and character knowledge. You, as you start playing the game, are new to the world, and therefore don’t know a lot of basic stuff about it. Your character, on the other hand, has (in most cases) been living in it for a while, so they know a bunch of stuff already, but they also don’t know what the player knows about the game. The challenge for a dev is working the exchange of knowledge between the two, without making it stupid and obvious and ruining the game.
This is best exemplified by the conflict that occurs when I play Dungeons and Dragons with my friend Dean, and we’ve made new characters: I already know that Dean is an asshole player who plays asshole rogues, but my new character does not know this, and so I can’t make her do the wisest, easiest thing, which would be to immediately stab Dean’s character in the face before he does something intentionally ruinous. This would be stupid and obvious and ruining the game, apparently.
Leaving Lyndow removes this challenge by, one imagines, looking in a calculating way at the player for a few moments and then going ‘You should be smart enough to figure this out without my help.’
Clara, the girl you’re playing as, has been living on this island her whole life. She has established relationships with friends and family, and as such they talk to each other without giving a damn if you have the full context or not. It’s frankly none of your business. There’s no ‘Ah, there you are Clara, my oldest friend whom I have known since childhood!’. Instead you get a little context from letters about you that are left lying around by your family, objects you find, or memories that Clara recalls (again, mostly divorced from their full context, because Clara doesn’t need them).
Rather than being frustrating it’s actually quite refreshing. The characters in Leaving Lyndow have conversations like actual real people. Clara runs into a guy who you’re pretty sure she recently broke up with, but they never actually say so (because if you’re going out with someone both parties are aware of the situation and don’t need to voice it out loud), and instead have a wistful talk about the last time they spoke.
I was in Clara’s uncle’s home, a one room cottage on a farm for fantastical seedpods that look a bit like hench dandelions, when he walked in on me reading a letter about Clara from her mother. He asked if I’d found anything interesting and I lied, expecting him to shrug and believe me as would happen in a lot of games. He immediately called me out because he had literally seen me reading it and wasn’t having any of my shit.
Getting to figure out the shape of Clara’s life and how she knows the people around her was great, because it made Leaving Lyndow feel real. But it also made the game feel a little incomplete: here is a life, which you may have an hour of, but no more. If this is an example of how characterisation and dialogue will work in Eastshade, the larger game Leaving Lyndow is an offshoot from, then colour me interested, but while the characters in Leaving Lyndow work divorced from their context, the game itself doesn’t quite manage to.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy being an observer on the fringe of Clara’s life, though. I think she has a rather good life. I hope it carries on that way without me.