My Time in Sandrock is a deeper, dryer take on its Portia predecessor

My Time in Sandrock takes its predecessor’s crafting and farming formula and sucks all the water out until it’s drier than a lizard’s armpit. When you arrive in the town some elements will be familiar to My Time in Portia players, and others – like collecting dew to power your machines – add a whole new layer to the game. 

My Time in Sandrock has been in alpha for some time now, but it gets an official Early Access launch on PC on May 26. If you never visited the rolling meadows of Portia, picture the series as a more mechanical take on the Stardew Valley formula. Instead of becoming a turnip tickling farmer, you arrive in a town, inherit an old piece of real estate, and become the local builder. You spend your days helping the townsfolk with projects big and small, and upgrading your equipment so you can tackle larger and more complicated machines. The only limits to your handy activities are your energy levels, your fuel, your resources, and – in a Mad Max: Fury Road style – water. What started out as an idea for DLC, says a studio representative from Pathea Games, turned into a sequel when the team realized how much potential was lurking in the new biome.

“Because Portia is a green, lush place and we were pondering how to make a very different mood after Portia, we figured it would be super fun if the new setting was barren in contrast, begetting greater gratification as completed goals change the townscape more drastically. After checking the map, we realized there is a town in the middle of the Eufaula Desert encountered in Portia, which neatly ties the two games together while offering unique new hardships and conflicts in My Time at Sandrock.”

In hot water 

My Time in Sandrock

(Image credit: Pathea Games)

My Time at Sandrock doesn’t go as far as adding a dehydration meter to your list of worries, but the lack of the wet stuff will still have a significant impact on your life. As well as fuel, your machines need a constant supply of water to function properly, which you need to find, farm, or buy when you’re running low. The scarcity of splashes also makes chopping down trees – and Sandrock doesn’t have many – a huge faux pas. I had an awkward moment with the town busybody Burgess, because I didn’t realize cacti fell into the tree category and watched him race across the sands to berate me. Sadly, there is no option to bury the townsfolk in sand up to their necks and let the sun do its terrible work. 

As with its predecessor, your other duties involve desperate people-pleasing and mining, the latter being the only way to get substantial amounts of metals and rare resources you need for bigger projects. That means having enough money to buy a week’s pass to the salvage yard, and the energy to keep digging through dirt to get to lower and lower levels in search of the good stuff. You’ll soon realize that smart miners pack bagged lunches because mining burns energy fast, and you’ll end up in front of a pile of power stones without the vim or vigor to ever lift your pickaxe. 

As you go about your work you can build your relationships – good or bad – with the NPCs in the town, and watch Sandrock change thanks to your endeavors.

“We have seen that Portia players are particularly fond of building up their environment, so we have made this a major achievement in Sandrock. You will turn a fading city into a desert pearl,” says Pathea Games. “Based on this, the whole story is designed around this main target. After finishing the entire game, players will feel a sense of great achievement.”

Home and dry

My Time in Sandrock

(Image credit: Pathea Games)

It’s not all urban planning though, you’ll need to be as tough as the rocks you’re mining to really succeed. As you might expect the desert harbors its own wildlife, but what’s less expected is the fact that the menagerie includes yak-like creatures, giant ants, fennec foxes, and aggressive chickens who shoot fireworks. Some are passive until you attack, and some hate you on sight, but if you can get over the guilt of hitting both with a sword you’ll be rewarded with crucial loot like feathers and yakmel hair. In Sandrock’s ruins you’ll also come up against some unsavory lizards called Geeglers, and the whole town is stalked by rumors of a dangerous outlaw called Logan. 

The alpha had a few little glitches, as alphas tend to do – like NPCs not coming out of their homes for days but honestly, relatable – but there’s a huge world of life simulation to work your way through at your own pace, and the freedom to focus on one activity at a time, or to experiment and cause trouble. My Time in Portia diehards would probably have been happy with a straight sequel, but the dehydration process adds a whole new layer to the game’s mechanics for veterans and newbies alike. 

“When people move to new places or grow up, the things they have to do echo things from the My Time games. Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: you’ll first have to ensure the basics of survival, followed by a safe place to live and a job or business of your own to sustain survival. Achieving those, you can focus on emotional needs, which are fulfilled by community camaraderie, respect, and love, be it platonic or romantic.”

“Players can also experience this whole cycle in the games, being able to forge a home and family of their own and foster a sense of belonging and achievement. So when we design something like the My Time world and its fulfilling gameplay loop, the player does not ask for reasons but feels that this is naturally what they should do in the game. Thanks to this design, players feel like they are immersed in the game’s world.”

My Time in Sandrock will launch in Early Access on PC on May 26.

What other new games will appear at Summer Game Fest? It’s anybody’s guess, but for more details on the showcase you’ll want to check out the full E3 2022 schedule

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