by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
In many ways, Lavaboots Studios Salt is a testament to what lengths we will go to in order to explore the unknown. Even if that exploration is routinely dull and uneventful. Gathering natural resources, roaming big, often empty islands and sailing across a vast and seemingly limitless ocean represent most of what you’ll spend your time doing. It’s an explorers’ world, that much is certain.
You start off a new game on an uninhabited island with only two items on your person: A book with basic crafting recipes and a journal from a stranger telling you of a chest on the island. Search the island, find the chest and maybe pick up a few logs and plants along the way. There’s no food on your first island, so you’ll have to build a raft and sail off to another island before you starve to death. In order to do so, it would be best to practice your squinting skills, as the user interface is ridiculously tiny for what it should be. Small text and even smaller icons for the menu turn any action involving the menu into an adventure in and of itself.
Despite the unhelpful UI, it’s remarkably satisfying crafting objects with little information to go on. The crafting book contains a few recipes to get you started, like how to build a pickaxe or a piece of cloth, but for the most part you’re on your own. Building and crafting your own tools with little else to go on is a very rewarding experience, one that encourages experimentation and outside-the-box thinking. My first boat was created this way, a dingy little raft with an oar for steering and a small tarp to catch the wind. Even though I couldn’t see where I was going while I steered, I loved her all the same.
Beautiful oceans, dull landfalls
Pushing off the beach and setting sail is one of the few genuinely enjoyable and exciting things to do. Even on my first boat sailing across the ocean was relaxing and filled with anticipation. Watching the waves roll next to you, carefully adjusting the steering to keep your course, walking across the deck while being careful not to fall overboard; that’s what makes it enjoyable. Once, I found an empty ship just floating by itself in the middle of a cloudless night. Exploring it was tense, but elicited a smile once I discovered I could repair it and claim it as my own. Looking out over the horizon, one can see many islands off in the distance, each with their own geography and promising resources that make them different from the one at your back. At least, that’s what would ideally happen. Once you make landfall, those dreams are crushed.
In comparison to the sailing, traversing the land is a bore. Frequently, the terrain looks exactly the same as it did on the previous island. Aside from some ruins found on islands far away from the starting location, there are no features to speak of. Besides, collecting resources is a rather bland task, though at the very least that serves a purpose compared to fighting pirates. Pirates can be found on the islands you explore, whereupon they will charge at you and strike you repeatedly until you are dead. Kill them, and you’ll often gain a key to open a chest on that specific island. The further out you sail, the better upgraded the pirates will be. The pirates lack anything beyond a desire to beat you to death and look visually poor compared to every other texture and creature in the game.
Should you happen to die from a pirate’s beatdown or some other action resulting in death, you will spawn at the last point you saved. With all of your inventory intact. There are no major consequences to dying as a result, apart from the potential to lose your boat if you died on another island without saving.
Repetitive with few bright moments
One of the best compliments that can be given for any piece of fiction, be that games or film or any other format, is that the world and setting feels lived in. Like it existed long before you stepped foot into it and will continue to exist years after you have finished playing it. Here, despite being procedurally generated, Salt looks and feels as though it came into being the moment you started a new game. And while you will eventually uncover ancient ruins and run down hideouts used by pirates, the feeling can’t be shaken that none of it has a reason for being there.
Salt is an explorer’s game. There are moments where the game truly comes into its own, breaking free from the many issues holding it back. But for every moment where you watch the sun set on the horizon on your raft, there are the moments where you explore an island that looks just like the other 10 you visited and has nothing on it besides rocks and one homicidal pirate. If you’re willing to search for it, then this may be a journey worth starting. Though only enthusiastic explorers should apply.
Fantastic sailing segments, Engaging crafting system
Bland land exploration, dull combat, poor user interface