This has been on my wish list for a while now as it’s been on a few GOTY lists, and well, Lucas Pope also made Papers, Please. I knew going in that this was a game where you needed to pay attention, and frankly I need to be in the right mindset for games like that.
Return to Obra Dinn is a combination of Murder on the Orient Express + Myst. That is oversimplifying it a tad, but if either of those items have ever brought you any level of joy, you’ll be engrossed here. You will be using deductive logic to see the end. A lot of it.
The Obra Dinn is a ship that was presumed lost at sea, but then shows up empty a few years later. Your job is to enter the ship, figure out what happened to the 60 crew members, and provide a report to the insurance company. You are given two tools – a book that keeps copious notes of everything (and where you put in your report), as well as magic watch that allows you to rewind time to the point where a crew member died.
Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your own notepad, but it certainly helps a ton. It keeps track of all the events, all the crew, the voice over work, and allows you to select their name and eventual fate.
There’s a page that shows the entire crew in 2 events. How people are shown in this picture is really important. People dress a particular way, and tend to hang out with crew of the same rank.
You start off with 60 names and only a few bits to go on. Every 3 correct matches you get (name + fate), the game locks that in and reduces the potential choices going forward. That is HUGE benefit for later in the game, since IDs in the last quarter are all by process of elimination. It’s a spectacular addition to the genre.
Now this is neat. Find a corpse, use the watch, and teleport into a 3d picture of what happened. The kicker here is that EACH of these events has multiple witnesses – sometimes 20+. Finding out what happened to someone often requires you to examine another person’s death and look at everyone around you.
And I mean everyone. May be someone being knocked overboard. May be the bunk #. May be the color of socks. May be that they have a ring. One event in particular has 5 deaths that are not all that obvious on first glance.
Each event is timed, and then fills in a page in the book. You can always revisit the event by using the watch again, and take as long as you want. Some corpses can only be accessed through other corpses (since their bodies are not on the ship).
This was the most fun part. The early part of the game gives a fair set of clues. As you progress, you need to infer more and more information. The entire journey of the ship is fantastical in nature, and being able to explore the mental breakdown of the crew is fascinating. There are some red herrings, but each eventual correct answer comes with a “ahhh, that makes sense” feeling.
I was able to determine everyone’s fate with a bit of reasoning (aside from one that was really hard to make out), but identifying everyone was a major undertaking. I hit one major wall where I needed to find an external clue. That key piece caused a domino effect on other events.
Getting all the answers correct (58/60) opens up a final chapter that ties it all together. A very satisfying end, to an amazing game. Highly recommended!
- Explore every nook of the ship. You haven’t seen all the events until it starts raining.
- Some parts of the ship will not unlock until you’ve seen a particular set of events.
- The book only allows a passive view of an event. You need to use the watch to enter the actual event.
- Within an event, a large portion of the ship is available. Many times, there are actions on another deck that have a significant importance.
- The game doesn’t automatically make links between names and fates. If one person is involved in many events, you need to make note of it on each event.
- Each person comes with a difficulty note (1 to 3). Level 1 folks are usually named outright, level 2 are identified through some sort of clear marker, level 3 are inferred through elimination/deduction.
- The list of potential fates is full of wrong answers.
- It’s a good idea to take breaks to let the brain think things through. I played over 3 sessions and the hardest puzzles were solved through guesses while I was away.