My Time At Portia Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
My Time At Portia is an RPG base-building sim in the spirit of Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon. More importantly, my time in My Time At Portia was spent in a blissful and compelling haze, exploring and developing a beautiful world, and totalled more than a hundred hours just in the first half of the game. It’s a fantastic game on multiple fronts, and also stands as a testament to Early Access done right.
In My Time At Portia you are a builder in the charming kids’-cartoon-esque town of Portia, moving into your dad's’ abandoned workshop. You must rebuild it to its former glory, fulfilling commissions and tasks from the townspeople to fund this project, while helping the town of Portia grow and expand along its own story. Time is spent harvesting materials in the wild, processing them and building items in your workshop, and fraternising with the wonderfully diverse inhabitants of the town.
However My Time At Portia feels less like a game, and more like a lifestyle. Your aren’t building bridges and making hoodies for the town because that’s your objective; you do because you want to expand the trade routes of the town. You aren’t exploring the desert because it’s the latest area you’ve unlocked; you’re doing so because the new materials available could help you build new decorations and facilities for your workshop. You aren’t organising a fireworks display for your neighbour because you want to progress their friendship meter to the maximum; you’re doing it because you’ve seen them working hard and they deserve it - it’s easy to forget they’re just a string of code. The fact that Portia is so engrossing is a testament to the fantastic work of developers Pathea Games.
Perhaps the bulk of the gameplay is taken up harvesting resources - items like wood, stone, and basic enemies’ loot can be found by exploring the overworld, but there is also a selection of mines and dungeons which bring with them different play styles (exploration is replaced with a scanning and mining mechanic in mines, or a combat system in dungeons). The varying ways to acquire resources make each in-game day different, and it’s very hard to get sick of collecting resources when there are so many different ways to do so.
These materials are used either to build items for the workshop, such as machinery which in turn expands the industry of the workshop, or to complete commissions for NPCs to earn an income. Despite easy comparisons to games like Harvest Moon, My Time At Portia is clearly not a farming game. You can grow plants and trees, but these are more useful as food for animals than a noteworthy source of income. The game has a lot more in common with the famous Tekkit mod to Minecraft than any farming sim.
Item production brings with it My Time At Portia’s only major issue - it takes huge amounts of time to produce anything. You’re required to process ores to bars and then into other items before they can even be used to build with, and each machine used in the chain has a lengthy timer attached. This means it can take many in-game days to build anything, time which will mostly be spent waiting around for these furnaces or grinders to finish. Later in the game the story missions become few and far between, and you can only complete one commission per day, so the majority of each day will be spent waiting for materials to produce.
That’s not to say that waiting around is too much of a chore - the charming aesthetic, with Playmobil-esque character design and relaxing ambient music, makes wandering the fields and playing with the townspeople an enjoyable enough experience. It certainly builds towards the kids’-cartoon atmosphere, in which all characters are friends and the town is a bastion of love and happiness.
The world of My Time At Portia is, luckily, an ace so big it could barely fit up a sleeve. While the town of Portia and its surrounding area seems like an idyllic utopia, it’s laden with hints and clues as to a sprawling and intricate backstory. Odd lines of dialogue, trinkets found buried deep in the ground, and attitudes and ideals of various town members, grounds the game in a particular setting that won’t be spoiled here. Other aspects of the worldbuilding mention other cities and lands beyond Portia, and the different ways they function in a larger ecosystem.
The effect of all this is that the world feels genuine and tangible. When you build and expand your workshop you feel like you’re contributing to a real world, and the crops you grow and machines you construct are going some way to expanding and defining this world. This works amazingly well in compelling the player to continue building, exploring, and growing - you’re not leaving your mark in a world that will forget you, like the endlessly generated and regenerated worlds of Minecraft, but a world that needs you and will change thanks to your help - like Fallout 4’s settlement mode but with more of an actual function.
Thanks to the varied gameplay, and the incredibly beautiful and well-designed arena, My Time At Portia is highly addictive. When you send your player to bed each night, you can’t wait to see what new commissions will be available the next day, when the next chapter of the main story will start, and if you’ll receive any mail from your mailbox that’ll alert you to new breakthroughs, quests or town events that’ll take up more days of in-game and real-world time. But unlike aforementioned farming sims, the desire to continue tending to the workshop isn’t a clawing and nagging guilt that it’ll fail without you, but a warm pat on the back that empowers you to continue creating the world.
It’s also worth noting that My Time At Portia is a great case study of Early Access done well. It premiered January 2018 in an already-great state, and the past year has been spent adding even more content and covering up some minor issues players had. Now it’s in final release, it’s a polished gem that you should gladly give all your time.