Posted on 17 Jul 2017 by J. A. Kinghorn

Herald: An Interactive Period Drama – Book I & II

The Defence

Developer: Wispfire
Publisher: Wispfire
Genre: Adventure, Indie
Platform: PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 22 Feb 2017

The Prosecution

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Intel HD 4600
DirectX: 9
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: Unknown
CPU: Intel Core i5 2.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTS 450
AMD equivalent
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: Unknown

The Case

Herald is an episodic, point-and-click, choice-driven adventure title that takes place during a slightly alternate 19th century time period. You play as Devan Rensburg, a young man of mixed heritage, who finds himself upon the titular sea-faring vessel as it travels from the singular colonial overpower of the British Protectorate to its Indian Eastern Colonies. After more and more curious turns of events, the story’s sleeveful of literary influence, flapping in the breeze as it sails past, Devan ends up overboard. We’re not quite sure whether he fell, he jumped or he was pushed. The game opens as the young man is saved from the drink, as he recounts his current mishaps to the mysterious woman who may have saved him. Such a set-up lends itself well to exploring issues of race, gender and class… if the game chooses to broach them at all.

The Trial

As is the fashion these days with choice-driven titles, the game greets you with the words: “Herald’s story changes depending on how you choose to play, so choose wisely”. Whilst not quite as egregious a reminder of cause and effect as Life Is Strange, a game that tells you every… single… time when you make an impacting choice, this is a trend I tire of. Gone are the days of Silent Hill 2, a game that quietly took note of your in-game behaviour until the very end where you were left to mull over which actions lead you to the particular ending you were shown. These are the days of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, a game that included a goofy ‘Psychology Warning’ that left the choice-driven gameplay feeling gimmicky, rather than impactful.

When confronted by Herald’s cause and effect warning, it’s difficult not to wearily wonder whether my choices would carry real weight or would I simply be lead around a pretty garden, offered either tea or slightly-aesthetically-different-tea to sip? But let’s allow Herald a fighting chance. Environments, though few in number and each relatively small, are colourful and well-designed. A lot is done with small spaces and every area is strewn with objects to examine, working to make the area feel lived in but not cluttered. As a point-and-click protagonist, Devan is naturally always ready with a pithy remark about anything you interact with. This never feels like a desperate attempt at humour, always falling in-line with his character, with some of Devan’s comments even being genuinely smirk-worthy.

There’s enough to entice the explorer but not so much as to annoy the average player or leave them feeling daunted. In Herald’s first two episodes, the majority of the action takes place upon the narrow decks of the so-called ship. Here we find a microcosm of the game’s wider world, putting a spotlight on the smallest of interactions between characters. When the game’s world is so small and confined, every action is able to carry that much more weight. Even something as minor as what you do with a salt shaker is used to communicate a character’s attitudes to class and gender without feeling contrived or overly preachy. Small moments like this are something the game handles especially well, preferring to use a few words to say a lot.

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Characters are often archetypal and the game efficiently utilises this shorthand in order to keep the pacing on course. Additionally, the story makes use of common sea-faring literary tropes and a genre savvy audience to plot the most expedient route to the heart of the moment. When there is the need for a lengthy passage of exposition, the stories you’re told emerge organically from conversation choices, and never outstay their welcome. That said, it’s not all smooth sailing… and the fast pace can occasionally plot a crash course. There is at least one instance of a character pouring their heart out to you on one line, telling you about the brutal killing of the one they loved, only for that character to finish their tale with the line, “Well, I guess the soup is ready!

It’s clear to see the intention but the execution of the line is abrupt to say the least, and as a result, the tragic tale is not allowed the space it needs to breathe. This isn’t the only instance of an awkward shift. One or two characters do threaten to cross the line from archetypal to caricature. For example, towards the end of Book II, a politically prestigious passenger dances into “moustache twirling villain” territory, even as the story works to build upon earlier set foundations attempting to give him depth and dimension. It’s a jarring miss-step but thankfully far and few between.

Herald’s tone is largely consistent apart from these aforementioned wobbles. The game’s presentation works in tandem with the story, carrying the same design philosophy torch of doing a lot with very little. The character models’ faces are wholly inexpressive and the rest of their animation is far from fluid. A lot of the emotional heavy lifting is left to the beautifully rendered, animated character portraits, and the on-the-mark voice acting. This distracts from the stand-in nature of the character models, but also serves to give a “close-up-within-wide-shot” effect to the cutscenes.

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Herald seeks to serve the story’s best interests so much that it’s a shame the actual gameplay comes off as an afterthought in some places. There are a few puzzles… though none of them present any challenge whatsoever to anyone but the most dense of people. One only asks players to click on the right thing in the right order, which pretty much feels like little more than padding in the end. For a title so well put together everywhere else in many aspects, the “puzzle solving” segments stick out as a shocking lack of confidence. Otherwise, the game generally grapples with morally complicated characters and important issues with grace.

Within the confined physical spaces the characters occupy aboard the mighty vessel, we also get a sense of social confines; a ship at sea proves to be an appropriate metaphorical space for exploring identity. On the Herald, there’s a strict hierarchy, with only a few ascending the ranks and donning the blue coats of those at the top — agents of an oppressive, colonial entity. The blue coat becomes an emblematic motif for many of the games themes of intersecting identities and power. Later it becomes something of an enigma, as well when we realize exactly whose blue coat Devan is wearing when he was plucked from the briny sea.

The Verdict

I definitely want to stay the course to find out where the Herald ends up, whether it successfully pulls into port or ends up a beached wreck. The story competently dispenses twists and turns throughout these first two books. Book II has a last second reveal that intrigued me, though it remains to be seen whether Herald: An Interactive Period Drama will stick the landing going into Book III. This particular twist re-contextualizes a not-insignificant amount of the action that has gone before, leaving Book III with its fair share of questions to answer one could assume. The ending of this first half suggests a shift in focus to something of a much wider scope, and I’m certainly curious to see how developer Wispfire pulls that transition off. 

Case Review

  • Oh, Say It Again: The game is dialogue heavy and almost every line is well written and well acted.

  • About The Tea…: The game does not shy away from exploring issues of race, class or gender and handles the subject matter appropriately, seldom feeling heavy-handed.

  • We’ll Be Home For Tea: The game is well-paced; you’ll devour these first two books and be hankering for the third one before long.

  • But What Next?: The jury is still out on just how much your choices in the first half will affect the rest of the story… or when the last two Books will be released.

  • Smart Presentation: The game knows the limited materials it has to work with and makes the most of it.

  • About That Whole ‘Interactive’ Part: Whilst conversation is engaging, the actual ‘game-y’ parts of the game, such as puzzles, are a bit lacking in challenge.

4 Score: 4/5
An Interactive Period Drama that will talk your ear off... and you’ll be hanging on every word.


  • Audio: Several sliders. You can adjust the levels of the ambient sounds, music, sound effects and speech as well as everything overall.
  • Video: There’s a quality slider, anti-aliasing and resolution drop-down boxes with various choices, you can also choose to run the game in windowed mode.
  • Gameplay: You’ll be doing an awful lot of pointing and clicking in this game. So, here you can toggle between Object Inspection Zoom on or off. That’s all folks.
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