My Time At Portia Review (Switch)

Ever since the rise in popularity and massive success of open world crafting/simulation games, like Minecraft and Stardew Valley, it seems like everyone wants a taste of that same pie. Some of these games lean more into the free-form “sandbox” realm while others prefer a more structured, focused experience. My personal tastes lie completely in the middle of the extremes, and the more RPG elements there are to sweeten the pot, the better.

My Time At Portia is a great example of successfully melding elements of open world exploration, crafting, life simulation, and staple RPG mechanics into one cohesive unit. Arriving first in the form of early access on Steam back in January of 2018, My Time At Portia officially released on PC just a few months back while the console versions are live today. As a massive fan of Stardew Valley, I was curious to see whether this game would check the same, or similar, boxes to it. Let’s see how it did.

Story

My Time At Portia puts you into the boots of a character created and customized to your own liking, then drops you into the town of Portia right where your “Pa” left off many years ago. Once an esteemed builder, Pa up and abandoned his workshop, which will serve as your home and base of operations while you reside in Portia. Like Pa, you also declare yourself a builder in hopes of making a name for yourself in a bustling – but competitive – market. Hard-working builders have been in high demand ever since a, supposedly, technology-driven calamity struck and wiped out pretty much everything in existence.

As a result, some factions, such as the Church of the Light, preach against the usage of old technology while others, like the research center, argue that they should be used for their quality of life improvements. These are things that you must weigh and consider yourself – day in and day out – as a builder. Will your innovation – sometimes featuring relics of the past – bring about the betterment of the town, or will it serve as another stepping stone to yet another calamity? Also, why did Pa leave all of those years ago? These are things you should figure our for yourself during your time at Portia.

Gameplay

At a base level, My Time At Portia is like a mix between Minecraft and Stardew Valley, with less of an emphasis on all-out farming with more weight put upon crafting and, to a certain extent, combat. Your main objective will be to build stuff for yourself – and others – whilst improving the quality (and capabilities) of your workshop. This is the game’s bread and butter system, so if you do not like gathering, crafting, and inventory management in other games, what lies ahead could be quite painful. However, if you give it a chance you’ll quickly learn that actual day management is key to making the crafting portion less overwhelming while simultaneously freeing up time for you to take on the multitude of other tasks available to you.

As is the case in most games with crafting, you’ll follow various diagrams and recipes in order to create and upgrade various products. Not every craft is instantaneous though, so you’ll need to consider how long certain components will take before queuing them up. While this might seem like a form of time-gating to some – and perhaps it is to an extent – it actually allows you to work on other things beyond the scope of your numerous crafting tables if you are a smart planner.

Time and resource management is something you’ll want to constantly keep track of since the game’s questing system, comprised of main missions, secondary missions, and commissions, almost always demand the use of your building prowess to proceed. The time sensitive, townsfolk-driven Commission system especially is key to making lots of money on top of improving your reputation with others and that of your workshop. People in need of certain items will request them on a board in town, and only one of these commissions can be accepted at any given time. These often require lots of running around accepting, gathering/creating components, crafting, and finally turning it in, but the payoff is well worth it.

This can all be a bit overwhelming at first, but again, proper time management is where success lies. What worked best for me – on most days – was queueing up crafts at the various crafting stations first thing in the morning, leaving those tasks running in the background and providing me the rest of the day to do other things, such as gathering, ruin diving, and building relationships.

There are plenty of resources to gather in My Time At Portia, including basic plant/lumber/stone gathering, fishing, quarrying (mining), logging, and farming. Although it’s not entirely necessary to excel at every single one of these activities, you are encouraged to at least dabble a little in each in order to be the most efficient at your crafts. Some raw materials can be purchased in town, discovered in treasure chests, or looted from enemies, but none of these are likely to be the most optimal route in building up a healthy stock. You’ll probably be strapped for cash starting out anyways, so there’s no real way around lots of gathering in Portia. Gathering, like most activities, is tied to a stamina gauge that will slowly drain with each action. Once it reaches zero, you’ll be locked out of many actions until you restore stamina with food, rest, or both. While initially your low stamina pool might inhibit your day-to-day efficiency, it quickly gets to the point where you’ll rarely run out.

At least there is a bit of variety when it comes to gathering tasks though as, for example, quarrying can either be done out in the open world or in Abandoned Ruins. One of two types of ruins, the abandoned variety is often home to gobs of ore and old world relics, just waiting to be dug up. A specialized pair of goggles serve as a way to located relics scattered about the ruins while a jetpack allows for easy movement out of the inevitable pits and trenches you will create along the way. Abandoned Ruins can sometimes have hidden areas too, that will reward you with additional loot and, possibly, hostile creatures. Should your quarrying appetite not be quite sated yet, you can reset the instance from the kiosks located outside of the buildings. The other type of ruin, appropriately named hazardous, will be discussed in detail in the combat section later.

While you could choose to be an introvert in My Time At Portia, you’re encouraged to build up your relationships with the townsfolk through chatting, gifting, playing, and commission work. Like Stardew Valley, there are numerous levels of relationships which determine available dialogue and interactions between yourself and the other character. Eventual romance, marriage, and parenthood are also possible, opening up even more choices to the player. The whole process is slow going however, and even those fully committed to maximizing relationship gains daily will still have to work at it for quite some time. As it is with many mechanics in Portia, you’re better off chipping away at relationship goals alongside everything else instead of grinding it out, because chasing down, gifting, and playing with every character on a daily basis is not really viable option long-term unless you’re okay with being less efficient in other aspects of the game.

My Time At Portia utilizes a fairly basic, but decent action combat system. Attacking is as simple as pressing the Y button, which will begin a combo that varies based on weapon type. Most enemies are susceptible to combo chains, often to the point where they might not even land a single attack against you. This can change depending what kinds and how many enemies you are facing, but those familiar with action combat systems should not have too much trouble in the vast majority of situations. On defense, you have a handy dodge roll that is tied directly to the same endurance system that governs your sprinting ability. Health potions, salves, and various food buffs are also available to those that either purchase them in town, or craft them themselves. Your fighting capabilities can be improved through upgrading your gear, as well as through the skill system.

Almost every activity you can do in My Time At Portia will grant experience, eventually rewarding you with a level up – increasing your base stats – and a skill point. These points can be allocated into one of the three skill trees: fight, gather, and social. Obviously, fighting is focused on your combat expertise, however it also provides highly beneficial bonuses to your sprint and dodge roll abilities. Gathering increases your efficiency collecting most resources and reduces the overall material cost for some crafts, among other perks. Lastly, the social tree improves your relationship building skills on top of providing some financial-based bonuses. While I don’t believe you can ever max out every tree, you are able to reset your skill points at the Clinic whenever you want to try out a different build.

Graphics, Sound, and Performance

Being native to the PC, My Time At Portia has obviously seen some downgrades coming over to the Switch, but the overall cartoony appearance makes it less of an issue than, say, an ultra-realistic game would face in a similar situation. The dilapidated structures way off from a bygone era are a nice contrast to the general cutesy graphics found everywhere else. Common open world graphical issues, like pop-in, are not too much of an issue, though I did lose the textures of the research center for several days. I could still enter the building but it was completely invisible.

The soundtrack in My Time At Portia sets up really tickling the ears with the opening cinematic, though I did not find myself as interested in the tracks that served as its follow up. It isn’t that any of them are bad per se, but in a game where musical pieces are bound to repeat frequently I was hoping for a bit more engagement on my end. Going back to Stardew Valley I can remember hardly ever getting tired of the music, no matter how many times it repeated itself.

The biggest – and constant – struggle in My Time At Portia boils down to performance. Before launch, load times were downright awful until the devs released a patch which vastly improved them, at least in most cases. Unfortunately, load times are only the tip of the performance oddity iceberg though. Opening a menu is not near as snappy as it should be, and even trivial things, like equipping different gear, can lag the entire game for a few seconds. Beyond the aforementioned research center disappearing, some scripted events, such as Fishing Day, also appear to be quite buggy in presentation.

My idea of a day surrounding fishing with friends does not equate to NPCs glitching out, walking in place, and fainting at the sight of the nearby sea urchin population. Not every event seems to be as buggy as that one though, and maybe the next time Fishing Day rolls around it will work properly. I did also run into a couple of sections where my character got stuck in the terrain, forcing me to restart the save or wait until I passed out from exhaustion to proceed. While none of these are truly game-breaking, it is enough when viewed as a whole to identify that Portia lacks some technical polish.

Conclusion

If you can get past its graphical and technical shortcomings, My Time At Portia is a lot of fun. There are many things to do, sights to see, products to craft, and relationships to cultivate – really, there are hours upon hours of content for those that enjoy multi-layered, but easygoing grinds. You have to be in it for the long haul though – nothing in Portia comes without an equal amount of effort put in first. While the price might seem a bit high to some, rest assured, there is lots of quality content available to fans of crafting/farm/life simulation RPGs.

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