Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A review copy for End of Lines was provided by Nova-box.

If ever there was a story bogged down by the medium chosen to tell it, End of Lines would take that prize. A tale bursting with emotion and poignancy, End of Lines offers up a gripping narrative and well-rounded, relatable characters, all seen through the guise of choice-based storytelling. Where it excels at provoking thoughts within the viewer and twisting its plot about with the vigor of a crocodile latched to its prey, End of Lines falters at being a satisfying video game, instead delivering an experience more suited to perhaps a novel or a film. Even the Telltale treatment of years past might have helped End of Lines find its footing in a more formidable way. However, at its core, the heart of this game is certainly apparent, which makes it ultimately a boat worth boarding.

End of Lines follows a nomad family in the wake of global catastrophe. Following prophecies and scientific evidence – not unlike those we toss around in the real world – Earth began to fall apart, bringing natural disasters, disease, and famine to nearly every inhabitant. The game finds our protagonists some years later, presumably decades, as they wander the land in search of a new home, bountiful in resources and other non-hostile travelers. At the start of each playthrough, we assume the role of Camille, the tribe’s most level-headed and confident member. Accompanied by his wife, Nora; his son, Sam; and his closest confidante, Rafik, the crew gather up whatever they can take with them and head out to find a better life.

End of Lines shapes its story through a fair amount of decision-making. Unfortunately, the game struggles to bring about compelling choices until at least halfway through. The first act feels rather straightforward, with certain characters and settings appearing with or without much input, and choices I did make feeling barely impactful. This is a sad revelation, as it had me taking extra long before I felt truly immersed in the plot at hand, with the power to actually shape the world around me. Couple this with a system similar to Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade scale; End of Lines informs you the decisions made will impact whether the protagonists steer toward the lion, a more reckless personality; the panther, Camille’s calculated and determined energy; or the tahouri, more cunning and scheming than most. This behavioral scale would be both entertaining and novel, had it any significant effect on the narrative. Most of the time I was left with certain decisions lighting up one of the three paths and failing to provide the sense of dread I yearned for when making a life-or-death decision. Perhaps End of Lines needs a “___ will remember that” pop-up.

Speaking of such UI notifications, I feel I should address the elephant in the room before going further. It would be ludicrous not to compare End of Lines to that of a Telltale game or anything like it, as the phrase “choice-driven narrative” naturally brings such comparisons to any mind these days. If you go into this game expecting something so immersive that you feel like part of the living, breathing story, you may be sadly underwhelmed. End of Lines, as previously stated, would have been an excellent book or film, where watching the narrative play out with incredible actors or reading further about the desolate set pieces would really capture the apocalypse at hand. Instead, we’re given a story that’s genuinely thrilling to read – full of love, fear, and hope – but bogged down by a lackluster decision-making system and, dare I say, a boring visual presentation.

The art style of End of Lines is to be commended wholeheartedly. There’s no denying the landscapes look beautiful, even on the Nintendo Switch, and the visual novel style of gameplay pairs perfectly with this heavy brushstroke painting aesthetic. I loved it whenever the scene would switch to a view akin to a digital comic book, where a grand art piece would scroll by as text bubbles overlay it randomly. This drew me in, and it made things feel a bit more animated, a la As Dusk Falls from last year. Unfortunately, End of Lines delivers most of its dialogue through a sidebar on the leftmost third of the screen, where text appears in a single-file line.

Two things regarding this method of dialogue: 1) There is no auto-play option. Unlike another visual novel from this year, Tron: Identity, you have no option to let the text auto-scroll, nor can you interact with the environment in any way. The only buttons available are A and the triggers to select dialogue options, and the bumpers to see the text log. End of Lines is extremely barebones, and considering this isn’t the studio’s first game… this minimalism feels rather worrisome. The second issue I had with the dialogue is more of an accessibility issue: There is barely any difference between the “normal” and “large” text sizes. I found myself turning on large and thinking it was still on normal (i.e. “large” isn’t large enough for someone with poor vision). I would have loved to see End of Lines take a bigger step with their accessibility options, as well as their storytelling techniques. Hell, a simple quick time event would have varied the gameplay just enough to keep me immersed. Altogether it just feels quite lazy at times.

I feel I’ve been extremely negative so far, and I’d like to swerve toward some praise by mentioning the story a bit further. The team behind End of Lines clearly cares about their story and the characters within it. Furthermore, it’s apparent that they care about our planet through the message the game conveys. Throughout the tale of woe and despair, players are shown flashbacks to a world on the brink of disaster. It’s both intriguing and chilling to see these characters go through a series of events not unlike those in our real world, what with being warned about coming climate disasters and preparing for a rapidly changing world we cannot anticipate fast enough. Such a story may seem too dismal and realistic to take on in a video game, considering we are nearly living the aforementioned nightmare. However, End of Lines supplements the terror with a genuine tone and a message of hope, seen through the camaraderie and humanity of its cast. I was so captivated by each and every newcomer to the story, and I must say, the way End of Lines deals with permadeath is one of the best representations I have seen in gaming. The narrative simply branches off without a hitch, and I was never left feeling like I made the wrong decision, as a new path simply opened up with its own challenges awaiting me.

Another gameplay element that surprised me in End of Lines was resource management. Typically, I’m not a huge fan of survival games, and having to balance resources such as food and water and how my team is feeling becomes more of a hassle than I find enjoyable. Thankfully, managing resources in End of Lines isn’t as hard as one may think. At various times in the story, your team may settle into a camp for a bit of respite. Here, one can choose to converse with some of the group members for backstory purposes, get some rest to gather strength for the journey ahead, or amass a scout team to gather resources. The amount of people in your scout party depends on how many you wish to send, and this will ultimately affect how much booty they find. After this, story moments and decisions may cause the group to lose resources (for example, a sudden chase leads to dropping a bag of food or water), or a weaker teammate may not do as well in a situation that requires being strong or agile. Resource management is certainly the most rewarding aspect of decision-making in End of Lines, however much like the rest of the UI, the resource scale could use a little polishing. I found myself frequently wondering: “Does the water symbol at the top mean I’m low on water, or I have plenty of water?”

End of Lines was an experience I do not take for granted. From a technical standpoint, it holds up fantastically. Bugs were nonexistent – save for the occasional typo – and the visuals were stunning overall. Story-wise, it’s a game I would recommend to anyone, but game-wise… I’d sooner recommend this tale through any other medium. I simply don’t think End of Lines tries hard enough to get its point across. It is a beautiful little gem that feels like a console release hurts its image. If this were a smaller-scale mobile game from a brand new indie developer, I would be praising it from the mountaintops. Sadly, I cannot do so with the product I was given.

I’ll leave you with this example: while playing the game, music appears at random times. Typically, this will be when a scene changes or a particularly risky decision is made. The music, when heard, is truly excellent and sets the tone perfectly. The sad part is, the music never stays around for long and much of the game is played in near silence, save for some ambient noise. End of Lines, as a whole, delivers a similar feeling. So many good ideas that work great when they stand front and center. Dare I say it, so many concepts that kept my interest for two playthroughs – going on three – and always had me wanting more. But the rub lies in said wanting; the concepts not welding together true. The sad truth is, End of Lines feels like eating a hearty meal and putting on a new pair of pants… only to find they don’t fit. But hey, wasn’t the meal delicious?

Final Score:

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