PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
November 2, 2023
It’s been almost a year and a half since Pathea’s My Time At Sandrock was released into Early Access. Sandrock is a cosy mismatch of a game, combining mechanics and gameplay styles from the farming/life/building sims many know and love. Set in the desert oasis town of Sandrock, you play as a new builder who’s come to rebuild the town to its former glory. All at the same time, a conspiracy theory develops about a local bandit trying to steal the town’s only natural resource, water. Since its Early Access release, Pathea has delivered continuous patches, along with major updates containing new arcs and much-anticipated mechanics like marriage. With its full release now upon us, Sandrock proudly flaunts its solid foundation whilst continuing to build with a great story.
Since my initial hands-on preview mid last year, a lot of the early story elements and gameplay haven’t seen any drastic changes. At the time, players were only privy to act one content, which had you rebuilding parts of the town as you unlock new things to do. Things like fixing the greenhouse so you can have a garden as well as building a bridge to a new area called Shonash Canyon. Sandrock begins with you playing as a new builder moving to Sandrock. Waiting at the train station for you is Mi-an, another builder. The two of you are tasked with helping out Sandrock and building the small town to its former glory. Throughout the game, you take on quests to build up the local pub, and even help repair the water tower. And while there are ruminations of a conspiracy afoot, it isn’t until you hit act two that things get really out of hand.
The plot of Sandrock has developed tremendously during its time in Early Access. The town is set in a post-apocalyptic world. You find this out through the use of environmental storytelling, such as paintings and exploring dungeons, as well as discussions with other characters like Dr. Qi, the local researcher who feels more like a mad scientist than a researcher half the time. It’s evident that the world wasn’t always like this. There was a time when technology was the pinnacle of society. People didn’t do laborious work, that was what robots did. And when humans created weapons of mass destruction, that’s when everything changed.
You’ll often find a lot of old-world relics while exploring dungeons. Not only do these ruins give you valuable resources for your projects, but you can find relics to give to the local museum. You’ll just have to find the other pieces of it and put it back together again. Most, if not all, are clear references to things we know, like a camera or a spacesuit. You can also collect Data Discs, which yes…. looks like a CD.
Pathea’s use of characterisation is beautifully done, including the game’s ‘villains’. Logan and Haru are wanted criminals in the town, and one of the earliest side-quests you can do is putting up their wanted posters. The self-proclaimed protector of Sandrock, Pen, gives you this task. The two criminals are seen as the villains, the antagonists if you will, of this story. They’re the ones we’re supposed to hate. However, through a lot of searching (and even some breaking and entering) we find out that Logan and Haru used to live in Sandrock, and that there’s a reason why they’ve turned to a life of crime. Without spoiling, these moments provide such fantastic detail to a character that would often otherwise be seen as a 1-note bandit. While not groundbreaking in the slightest, it still denotes some depth to both characters and the reasoning as to why they both have gone down a path of crime.
Even amongst the “good guys” there are characters with ulterior motives who are working in the overarching plot to undermine Sandrock’s water supply. The Empire of Duvos is one of the two largest cities within the My Time at series. They’re an antagonistic force wanting to destroy Old World weaponry so they can conquer the world. Again, this isn’t revolutionary in terms of setting as there are tropes based on this idea. But the reason why people stick to tropes is that it’s something that players can understand.
“There is a lot more to the characters in the game than what’s shown on the surface.”
There is a lot more to the characters in the game than what’s shown on the surface. It’s also not only My Time at Sandrock’s main missions that showcase these great details and moments, there are also some hilarious side-quests well worth experiencing. Creating a billboard with Arvio, the owner of the general store, and seeing it remain even years later is a nice touch that shows player agency and impact. But there’s just so much to do in Sandrock, from quests to fishing to dungeon crawling. Although one of the best things the game has going for it is the ability to build relationships with NPCs.
At first, it can be quite difficult to build up relationships, due to the fact that you’re new to the town. But the easiest way to level up your relationships is by doing a lot of quests, whether that be main, side, or even commissions from the boards hanging around certain areas of Sandrock. With relationship multipliers and other situational points, there’s a fun game to be had from friendship-making alone.
Due to the way the relationship system has been set up, you might not even talk to a character yet still have a high relationship with them. Characters can also be gifted an item per day but can’t be gifted the same item two days in a row without penalty. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. Each character will have items they love, like, feel neutral about, dislike, and even hate. They can also refuse gifts, and this will greatly affect your relationship. Eventually, after a certain affinity level has been reached, characters will often ask you for favours. This might involve getting sunscreen or a wearable item. These gifts also count towards the “one gift a day”, but in exchange your experience points double compared to a regular gift. Reaching certain levels can give you bonuses, such as discounts on their stores, or +5 to health. Some characters will even send items in the mail, like food or moisturiser.
Sandrock has a few other social interactions you can do each day, one of the major ones being the ability to hang out or go on a date with another character. The chosen character can agree to it, and most of the adult characters can be invited. Only five characters are not available to have a date or playdate with. Sadly, you can only hang out with one person at a time, but you can have several playdates in one day with different characters. There are a few activities you can do together, though these will eat up your “social energy points”, so be careful about what activity you choose. You can chat by the oasis, light up fireworks, and even propose to your partner! One of the newest activities introduced is stargazing, as you try and find 3 constellations before the time is up. One of the superb touches in this game is the fact that when you go on a date, you and your partner will automatically hold hands, and you’ll be holding hands as you walk together. Makes me want to cry ’cause of how freaking cute it is!
Sandrock has four types of Knowledge Points that make up a skill tree: Gather, Combat, Workshop and Social. Each type has different experience points, so to gain more combat points, you will need to do a lot of combat, etc. A lot of this is gained passively as you gather and build items for your workshop, Sandrock, and/or for quests. But some can be active, especially the social tree. A lot of the skills are game-changers, like having 2 points of stamina returned to you, or machines consuming less water or fuel. If you want to restart your skill tree, talk to Fang, the local doctor, who can offer acupuncture as a way to forget a specific knowledge tree. However, it will cost you a certain amount of currency (dols) depending on how many points you have in said tree. So think wisely.
The graphics of Sandrock are cute and fit with the My Time at aesthetic. It’s not hyper-realistic, and that’s what’s so great about the look of the game. It doesn’t run as smoothly on hard drives, but it’s pretty playable (you’ll just have to deal with long load times). Meanwhile, the sound design has some noteworthy touches, from the howling of a sandstorm to the eerie feelings when you’re alone in a dungeon. When it comes to voice acting, there are moments in the game that are voiced — a lot of it will be the main quests — and moments where they’re not, and sometimes it can be jarring. Though considering that there are 224 main story quests compared to the 68 in My Time at Portia, it’s understandable as to why there’s some un-voiced dialogue. All of the voice actors do fantastic jobs, some playing multiple characters to perfection.
My Time at Sandrock, like most life simulators, allows you to romance characters. But not all characters are romanceable. In total, there are 46 characters, with 8 animals (five you can adopt) and various strangers who might be visitors or live in the town. Of the 46 characters, 21 are romanceable, which is still a large chunk. Romance isn’t locked to specific genders, however, polyamory isn’t available, as all characters will get jealous if you do “cheat” once you’ve locked in a romance.
The way to progress romances in Sandrock is by choosing romantic dialogue options. Throughout the game, you might come across friendship quests, these are usually quests from a character who you’ve developed a bond with, whether it’s friends, buddies, or BFFs. Sometimes, during these side-quests, you can also choose romantic dialogue options to hopefully get the ball rolling in that area. You can’t select these options if already married, though some circumstances didn’t seem to recognise that marriage appropriately in dialogue. Choosing options where you say “We’re just friends” even though you’re married and have been for almost four in-game months is a bit weird and funny.
When comparing the 2022 build to the 2023 build, admittedly, not a huge amount has changed. But, what’s not broken shouldn’t be fixed, right? The UI is largely the same, but what’s different is the additional content Pathea has added. They included the marriage system in a previous large patch, along with new weather types. Sandrock is a much bigger game than its predecessor. In a September update announcing the Act 3 patch notes, Pathea also compares story content with Portia. As stated earlier, Sandrock has 224 main quests, whereas Portia has 68. Sandrock also has 107 side quests to Portia’s 50. It’s amazing what the game has for fans of the My Time at series, and even for newcomers like myself.
The game doesn’t hold your hand (to a degree), but there are extensive tutorials for you to read and soak in. When you begin playing, there will be the “tutorial missions”, but I appreciate that you can skip them. It really cuts down on time especially when you’re doing multiple playthroughs. But even if you do skip a tutorial and regret it later, they’ll be readily available and accessible in the menu. Sandrock also offers the ability to change how long it takes for a day to pass! So if you feel stressed by the default time, you can easily increase it. It’s a great offering for those fans of farming/building life sims who might be dissuaded by the time mechanics of popular games in the genre.
While there are options to remap the game’s controls, some other accessibility features aren’t present. There is a dialogue box which is great, especially since some of the characters’ lines aren’t voiced, but there are no directional closed captions. There’s no ability to change the style and size of the font, and there’s no colour-blind mode.
What the game does offer, which is an upgrade from its predecessor, is multiplayer. It’s all appropriately baked into the game’s premise as well, which is pretty genius. One major noticeable difference is that in multiplayer you arrive in Sandrock a little bit before your arrival during the singleplayer campaign. Basically, you are building the town up before your singleplayer character arrives. It’s a little jarring considering Mi-an, the second builder, is already there and so is everyone you meet in the town. You’ll also notice other differences such as stores not being set up and different characters being around.
“For a team that hasn’t created a multiplayer game before, there are a lot of thoughtful designs in place.”
The multiplayer version of Sandrock feels like such a different experience from the singleplayer version and is easily something that you can extra time with. It’s rather unique in that Pathea didn’t just take the singleplayer story and haphazardly slap additional characters into it. It creates a unique and well-thought-out take on the cooperative farming experience.
For a team that hasn’t created a multiplayer game before, there are a lot of thoughtful designs in place. The game allows loot, currency and building space to be shared amongst players, and even adds dynamic levelling so solo players can enjoy multiplayer without feeling left in the dust.
While Pathea has released mostly everything they said they would, there are still a few things currently unavailable in the full release. There will eventually be more friendship and romantic side-missions for the eligible NPCs, which is helpful to boost those relationship levels. There will also be the ability to create factories and greenhouses, as right now all of your machines and garden beds are outside, and they can take up a lot of space.
It has been such a fantastic ride this past year and a bit of playing with My Time At Sandrock. It’s a game that I genuinely enjoy for the story, the setting, and the characters, which all come together to create a cohesive game and one that is hard to put down. Pathea has really hit it out of the park with the newest addition to the My Time at series, and it’ll be exciting to see what they do for future updates and even future titles.
- So much story, so little time
- Characters have depth to them
- Romances are way too cute
- Multiplayer can be played solo or with 3 friends!
- Could have better accessibility options
- Would benefit from future patches and updates
My Time at Sandrock is a cosy yet action-packed farming simulator that has you not only building up a dying town, but uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the quaint lives of the inhabitants. With every new update, the game has been getting stronger and stronger. And while admittedly there are some shortcomings with accessibility and glitches, My Time at Sandrock still manages to be a title fans of the farming sim will absolutely love.