Evertree Inn is a mystery text adventure from Choice of Games‘ Hosted Games label, featuring an amateur detective untangling a cobweb of clues and secrets, but set in a by-the-book fantasy role-playing world, complete with elves and dwarves, mages and rogues, and all the rest. Sordwin is the sequel to Evertree, which can continue the adventure with a character from Evertree, or be played independently.
The premise of Evertree Inn is bare-bones. The game has a vested interest in speeding through the niceties of character generation, and dropping the player right in the middle of “and then the murders began”. This is just what a good detective mystery ought to do, in my opinion, and it contributed a lot to how readily the game drew me in, even in a time when I had found myself stuck in the middle of several other — otherwise excellent — games. You play a young adventurer, recently come of age and out to seek their fortune in the world. Much of the customization revolves around preset RPG concepts of race and class, though space is given for gender and sexuality, to propel the optional romantic side plot.
The great advantage of Evertree is that it combines the merits of a casual point-and-click adventure game, with those of a paperback page-turner. The gameplay is fairly intuitive to anyone familiar with the conventions of modern fantasy, and available options are clearly telegraphed. Every problem can be solved more than one way. You might not get the exact result you hoped for, but you won’t face abject failure for failing to strategize forty gameplay hours in advance. As for the story, the whodunit aspect of the mystery is compelling enough to keep you playing without being too difficult to nail, with an appropriate number of red herrings and side mysteries.
Dramatic situations and dark character moments are present, but they are handled with a light touch that allows them to blend well without slowing down the plot’s snappy pace, where they might have been overwritten to the point of being tedious and depressing. Evertree and Sordwin are both comedies, though the humor again is very light and subtle. Characterization is driven by backstory and secrets, as is appropriate for the mystery genre, and also worldbuilding and magic, as is appropriate for fantasy. A surprisingly able blend of two genres that don’t seem to intuitively fit together, and without even resorting to a pseudo-historical low fantasy setting.
Sordwin takes the initial formula of Evertree and expands it in a very literal sense. The story is longer and more complex. The setting and cast are both larger. The skills that the player character relies on are more nuanced and better able to support the elaborate sixteen (!) class system baked into the main character’s back story. The love stories that appear as optional side plots in Sordwin are also more nuanced. Instead of a one-and-done that involves meeting, falling in love, and forming a lifelong bond in the course of one day, the romances initiated in Sordwin each feature their own obstacles and complexities, that prevent them from forming an immediate, tangible bond. Instead characters are left to stew in their conflicting feelings, and the contradictions between their desires and their greater goals.
Another complexity that Sordwin introduces is one of religion. Without spoiling too much, the game enhances Evertree‘s worldbuilding with an economical polytheistic pantheon. The symbolism behind the different cults is yet relatively simplistic, and strongly tied to the role-playing class and skill system, but it lays the groundwork for something potentially more challenging. It is, however, slightly disappointing that, despite being given the option to be atheistic or simply irreligious, the player character takes a small but significant stat hit over this characterization choice, with no attendant benefit. Maybe this is something to look forward to, for the future. After all, social balance through subculture is a mainstay of the genre.
After playing Evertree twice and Sordwin three times, I ended up forming a surprisingly strong attachment to my characters, especially considering how skeletal and utilitarian the main character’s back story by necessity is. I quite look forward to playing their continued adventures with the already-announced third installment, Lux: City of Secrets. I also look forward to seeing what additional complexities the third game introduces, and how it changes the way I see the first two. All in all, I would recommend these games to anyone looking for a light read or struggling to stay engaged with longer, more convoluted works. It’s a wonderful, light-hearted popcorn game that’s perfect to play on your commute or lunch break.