Preview: My Time At Sandrock

25 May 2022

My boyfriend often asks me why I am such a huge fan of life-simulation games. My response is usually something like, “they’re cute,” or “I find them relaxing.” While both of these answers are true, I think what I like most about this genre is how addicting it can be when done right. I actually could not tell you how many hours I’ve spent on games like Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons, Rune Factory, Stardew Valley, etc. There is just something special about the different emotions you feel when you achieve your goals, find the right materials, or get married.

All of this to say that my excitement was through the roof when I was offered the opportunity to play My Time at Sandrock before its official release. I am a HUGE fan of My Time at Portia and have been following Pathea’s progress with this “sequel” through its Kickstarter phase and beyond. 

My Time at Sandrock was published and developed by Pathea and officially releases for PC via Steam Early Access and the Epic Game Store on Thursday, May 26, 2022. 

My Time at Sandrock has a rather simplistic story premise. Your character is one of two newly arrived builders in the town of Sandrock, and the townsfolk desperately need their help with a bunch of miscellaneous tasks that can range from building a lift to taking a survey. This standard formula carries over from Sandrock’s predecessor Portia, but I didn’t necessarily find this to be a negative thing. The simplicity of it all gives you the perfect in to establish yourself as a town staple. 

That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t have lore or backstory. In fact, its because of the established setting that there are so many things you can do. Sandrock is set in the same world as Portia, so you are still 330 years into a dystopian future caused by nuclear fallout. 

Despite its basic storytelling, Sandrock has a rather large (more than 30 NPCs) and diverse cast. Pathea has talked a lot about wanting to add more depth to their characters this time around, and from the interactions I was able to have, I’d say they succeeded. Every character feels real, perhaps because they each have a schedule and move around the town accordingly, or maybe it’s because there isn’t much overlap in their personalities. Either way, it was refreshing to interact with them and learn about their lives. I was actually quite impressed with how well-thought-out everyone was, especially given how small the town is in terms of size.

Some of my favorite characters include Amirah, her brother Arvio, Fang, and his bird X. The former because of their hilarious brother and sister dynamic (some of Amirah’s dialogue is meant to warn you about what a player her brother is, but really she just proceeds to roast him for no reason), and the latter because of the lengths X goes to cover for Fang. There’s a cutscene involving the two where X pretends to have a bad back to convince some customers that Fang’s medicine actually works, and not a single person inquires why a crow is complaining about back problems. It was all very entertaining.

I actually haven’t met the entire cast yet (some don’t show up till later in the story), but from what I have experienced so far, I’m truly excited to continue playing. 

I have to admit that I have not felt this overwhelmed playing a game in a while. My Time at Sandrock has a lot to do. Seriously, IT NEVER STOPS. You’re a forager, a cook, a carpenter, a scavenger, a farmer, a fighter, an environmentalist, an interior decorator; it’s all a blur and it changes by the hour! The game does do a good job of slowly rolling out all of these responsibilities and teaching you the ropes, but every time they introduced yet another thing I could do, I felt myself getting anxious.

The actual controls and mechanics are pretty straightforward. A lot of them carry over from Portia (although I have to admit it all felt smoother in this iteration), maybe because Sandrock was originally intended as DLC and not its own game. Either way, you really are just meant to pick the right tool for the job from your hotbar when you want to craft or forage and button-mash your way to victory in a fight.

Sandrock brings back ruin exploration, something that’s not very surprising since it’s set in the same world where this was introduced for lore purposes. Progressing through each floor still entails chipping away at tunnels with your pickaxe until you find the entryway to the next floor, all while mining ore and fighting crazy dystopian robots. 

To its credit, Sandrock does try to make its large list of to-dos manageable. There is an internal calendar where you can set reminders about upcoming events and your crafting machines have timers that tick down in real-time, so you are able to collect materials or pick up quests while your stuff is building. Of course, the more you progress in the story the easier and harder everything becomes. Easier because you can do more at a time with better machinery, harder because everything requires better materials, which means more time invested in ruin exploration. 

When I got bored of the more tedious time-consuming tasks I took builder requests from the townsfolk or crafted stuff for my house or character. Building relationships with NPCs is the bread and butter of most life-sims and Sandrock is no exception. The fun part is you can either give them gifts or beat them (in a card game or literally) till they love you.

You can also play a few minigames at Sandrock’s arcade which I liked. They’re involved enough where it feels worth it and you can earn prizes with enough coins.

I won’t lie and say I didn’t get stressed out sometimes trying to keep tabs on everything I was doing or had to do, but if you’re familiar with this type of game you’ll find a lot of tools that are there to help keep you on track. 

Visually, My Time at Sandrock is a pretty game. It’s overtly colorful and a bit cartoonish but these traits make it feel lively, which is needed given that you’re supposed to be in a dystopian setting. The level of character customization was actually something that pleasantly surprised me as I didn’t expect it with how cutscene-heavy these games can be.

The music was also pretty solid, although I have to admit I turned it off after a while because it does get repetitive. Still, it’s worth turning your sound on from time to time to enjoy the tunes, especially during festivals because they all have different tracks.

Now, this is the early access version of Sandrock so of course, there are bound to be some bugs. There were some instances where I would be in a cutscene and the NPCs involved would not appear until minutes later so my character would just be frozen until they loaded in. There were also instances of my character appearing bald from certain angles. Other miscellaneous things included some of the text still not being fully translated and one of the minigames spazzing out for no reason. Overall these weren’t game-breaking issues, but I do hope to not have to deal with them in future patches.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed playing My Time at Sandrock. I have been wanting a high-quality life-sim for a while and given how much I love My Time at Portia, I am pleased that this is shaping up to be a worthwhile successor. To be honest, I’m kind of scared for the official release of this game because with how much there is to do and see in just early access, I don’t think I’ll be seen for days once the full version comes out. 

I will admit that I’m a little concerned about the overall polish of the game since it did have some glaring bugs, but Pathea has been clear about their intention to provide updates and patches for the next year of early access, so I look forward to seeing what changes they make, especially when they incorporate multiplayer mode. 

Preview copy provided by Pathea for PC. Screenshots taken by author. Featured image courtesy of Pathea.