Haven was reviewed on the Xbox One.
In gaming, romantic relationships are often defined rather loosely. They are typically presented as a side story to the larger plot. Recently though, several games have tapped further into exploring relationships. Perhaps it’s because game designers are getting older, and romance in their real lives is more prevalent. During the time I spent playing Haven, it was clear to me that the relationship of the protagonists is the core focus. But sprinkle in some sci-fi, and there’s quite a bit to unpack.
Story & Gameplay
Firing up the game, I join the main characters Yu & Kay in the kitchen. They start engaging romantically until the lights cut out. They seem to understand why this has happened, and determine more ‘flow’ is needed for the ‘Nest.’ Lost yet? It’s okay, there’s plenty for players to learn in Haven.
Proceeding outside, you learn the basic controls of the game. Being able to switch between both Yu and Kay tag-team style allows you to play as your preferred character. Both have the same skills and abilities though, so its personal preference.
Without giving too much away about the plot, Haven is a ‘romance-sci-fi-rpg’ game. The planet they are on, Source, has strange energy on it called flow. This powers the aforementioned Nest (think space ship) which Yu and Kay live in. The Nest is about the size of a New York City apartment though, and needs some major repairs.
While collecting flow is not a main objective beyond the opening instruction, it does have a meaningful purpose. Source itself is a planet made up of many small land masses, connected by flow bridges. Gliding through flow strands across the many islands of Source will lead the couple to hidden or hard to reach places. It also unlocks new flow bridges to other parts of Source.
Outside of the mysterious flow energy, a substance called ‘rust’ also inhabits Source. Opposite of flow, this purple mud-like substance found on the ground of Source creates negative and even dangerous environments. There are many strange looking creatures living on Source. Until you clear an island of rust, any encounters lead to a Pokémon-style fight. Clearing rust is fairly easy though, as you glide through it like a Zamboni cleaning the ice.
So why is any of that important? Continuing to play through Haven, it quickly becomes evident that Yu and Kay are on the run. They have abandoned a colony called The Apiary. Their ship is stuck until parts are fixed or found. And to find the needed parts, they must clear the dozens of islands of rust. But how they do that, through teamwork and strengthening their relationship, is at the heart of the game.
Gameplay & Controls
Clearing the islands of rust is a fairly straightforward task. You glide through them, hitting larger masses of ‘crude rust.’ This is basically a blob of rust within the rust pools. Occasionally, there will be an animal close by which triggers a fight. The gliding mechanic is somewhat laborious at times, as trying to drift around a sharp corner can lead to a 180 instead.
Combat in Haven utilizes a unique mechanic, that allows for live action while in a turn-based setting. What I mean is, performing an attack or defense move is live, but the creatures you are fighting behave almost like a turn-based enemy. You control both Yu and Kay during the fights. This too is unique, as one character fights through the d-pad, while the other through the A/B/X/Y buttons.
The key to combat is teamwork. Finding the right rhythms of attacking, defending, and pacifying enemies is critical. Once a creature had enough, Yu or Kay must pacify it. This turns it from a rust-covered attacker to a clean and calm friend. Pacifying all the creatures in a fight successfully essentially levels up your relationship. The more combat the more XP potential, unlocking things like increased health and special moves.
But Haven isn’t all combat. Honestly, most of the game focuses on the relationship of Yu and Kay. Mundane activities like cooking, cleaning, showering, and talking with each other take up a lot of play time. You have deep conversations with each other, sometimes leading to heated arguments, while other times to extra curricular activities. But partaking in these conversation and selecting certain responses also helps level up the relationship.
Some of these conversations happen while out from the Nest too. Resource gathering is essential to progressing in the game. Yu and Kay must eat to survive, and resources they gather provide ingredients make dishes with. Unfortunately, this component of the game is very tedious. I did not enjoy getting hungry during my exploration and having to return to the Nest or a campsite just to cook up some food. While you can make extra to take with you, consumption only happens while at a campsite.
It should be noted that Haven is not an open world game. While there is plenty to explore on Source, the disjointed islands really create a wedge in the world. Once you clear each island of rust. you can fast travel to it. But even with the fast loading times on the Series X, it felt more like moving from stage-to-stage in a platformer versus exploring an open world.
Visuals & Sound
One of the things I adore most about Haven are the visuals. The colorful, cel-shaded environments are a pleasure to the eyes. And even though the world itself doesn’t offer much variety in terms things to see and do, each island does have unique geographies. Getting to the top of a mountain after following a flow strand often leads to a nice view. Looking over the edge of Source leads the eyes far in the the vast unknown of space. But this isn’t just black, dark space, it’s a more colorful depiction.
The music is also fairly enjoyable, albeit repetitive. The mix of calm ambient music with more upbeat and exciting tracks provides a good mix. The dialogue is voice acted, and the actors really did a nice job creating a believable sounding couple.
There is no competitive multiplayer in Haven, and this is by-and-large meant to be played single player. However, if you have a partner or friend with you, fire up another controller to experience the game in co-op. The control structure is designed for single player but still works with two players.
Haven is a unique game, which puts a relationship of two people at the front of the story. Sure it has some sci-fi elements to it, but it is for the most part a story of two lovers on the run, trying to survive. Each day they grow together, unraveling bits about their past.
The game is intuitive and easy for anyone to pick up. There are not crazy skill trees or hard to learn controls. The game developers really wanted to create a fun, enjoyable experience. That said, with the lack of customization, crafting, and choices, Haven often feels empty from a gameplay perspective. I enjoyed my time with it, but after about 8 hours I did not have much of a desire to keep playing. Some of this also came from a hard to track story.
If you are looking for a unique game that’s easy to play and wonderful to look at, Haven might be worth a try. It is currently available on Xbox Game Pass and through the Microsoft Store.