Bigger isn’t always better. In the case of Far: Changing Tides, a sequel to 2018’s lovely and underappreciated Far: Lone Sails, bigger certainly means more to do and see, but it doesn’t necessarily mean those things are any more interesting. It’s still an absolutely gorgeous and at times almost meditative roadtrip across a world full of stunning vistas and clever puzzles – but developer Okomotive’s efforts to make it a more mechanically varied journey, while successful, also inadvertently tip the balance of the original’s formula from peaceful to tedious at times.
Far: Changing Tides puts you in control of an almost comically small person, at least compared to the large sailing vessel they are piloting all on their own. Like its predecessor, it tells a story with little-to-no words, communicating information through visuals to generally strong effect. Most of the time you may not know exactly what you’re doing in this apparently post-apocalyptic world, but you’ll never feel lost either, and never lose motivation to keep sailing toward the right in search of some salvation or another.
Propelling your ship is either done by unfurling a sail on top of it or by hopping around its innards to manually fuel and fan a giant engine. It’s a fun little dance to do, asking you to scavenge resources to burn from beneath the waves as you travel, make sure the engine doesn’t overheat, and perform other little tasks in order to keep you sailing smoothly – not to mention you’ll occasionally have to hop out entirely in order to address larger obstacles blocking your way, like massive closed gates or abandoned buildings. Once you get a specific upgrade, your ship even has the ability to dive below the water itself and basically become a submarine, cleverly allowing you to go under some roadblocks rather than through them.
But while that’s a flashy addition, the most impactful change from the original is that raising your sail isn’t quite as simple this time around. Rather than just pressing a button, you first have to raise a mast, then climb it, grab a rope to attach back down below, and finally adjust the position of the sails to match the frequently shifting wind for optimal speed. Additionally, there are obstacles in the background that your sails can run into and get damaged, as well as low overhangs that will knock down your mast. These additions do make the process of sailing without your engine more engaging, but unfortunately it’s mostly in the same way that you have to be “engaged” while trying to swat a fly.
While Changing Tides’ scenery is beautiful, the 2D perspective makes it annoyingly difficult to determine whether or not your sail is actually going to hit something. Additionally, unless you are already on the roof of your ship, you often have very little time to react between seeing an oncoming overhang and actually being able to do something about it, even when zoomed out. What that means is that some of my absolute favorite moments in Lone Sails – catching a breeze and simply enjoying its sights and music after a stressful stretch of powering the engine – are essentially gone, with those sections now occupied by the worries of sail management, threat assessment, and running inside to check your radar to make sure you’re not missing items hidden beneath the waves. These added tasks are still entertaining but make for a very different overall vibe, and it’s one I grew tired of more quickly.
Thankfully the areas you are sailing through are still a feast for the eyes and ears. The subtle score perfectly fits the terrain around it (even if it’s not as memorable as Lone Sails’ incredible soundtrack), and your path to the right is frequently full of moments you could screenshot, print out, and post on an art gallery wall without them looking out of place. The underwater sections can be particularly gorgeous, with one highlight being a cluster of fluorescent jellyfish that I swam through along the underside of my ship.
There are some cool scripted moments throughout the nearly five hours it took me to complete Changing Tides, too – none of which I would want to spoil. They are grandiose in both scope and scale, and they do a good job of adding jabs of adrenaline to an otherwise slow-paced game. In fact, they’re also the only real source of tension you’ll find, as it felt like there was very little risk of anything going terribly wrong unless it was explicitly designed to do so this time around – a far cry from memories of my vehicle in Lone Sails constantly catching on fire. That can make it feel like you’re just going through the motions rather than fighting to stay moving at all.