Gut Check: Among Trees

There is no denying that Among Trees is cut from the same cloth as the countless other survival games that have existed over the years, but leaving it at that would not only be dismissive and reductive, but fairly inaccurate as well. While Among Trees is one of “those” kinds of games, it sands down some of the rough edges of other titles of its ilk that usually lead me to avoid the genre entirely. But there’s something about this particular early access survival game that has me so fascinated and eager to continue playing it.

The first and most striking thing about Among Trees that you’ll notice is just how gorgeous it is. It has this painterly, low-poly graphical style that really adds to this feeling of being in a mysterious place. Everything is drenched in this blue haze that makes seeing into the distance more of a chore than you’d like, but its presence makes everything feel more ethereal and ripe for exploration.

Unfortunately, in my time with Among Trees, I found exploration to be a little laborious at times, from the sparse amount of interactive elements in the world to the dreadfully slow walking speed of your character, it can feel like a real chore at times. While just seeing the world around you is incredibly pleasant, when you first start Among Trees, you have very little in the way of interaction and abilities.

Maybe I came into Among Trees with some preconceived notions about what a survival game should allow me to do from the start, but I posit that having to construct a bespoke crafting room on your house before you can make an axe is wild. I wouldn’t be complaining if crafting the room was easier, but the requirements for it were 12 wood planks, some moss from tree stumps, and some driftwood (I think), all of which were preposterously hard to find, especially when you have no tools.

You can’t punch trees until wood comes out, instead you have to find each thing on the ground as you explore. It took me about 3 in-game days before I finally was able to craft an axe, and that was only because I got very lucky and found this large plot of land with a bunch of boxes, rope, nails and wood planks. If it wasn’t for that boon, I’d probably still be out there eating every mushroom I could find and praying none of them were poisonous.

Poison, in my experience, has been the second most dangerous thing in Among Trees, only falling short of the first spot to the big angry bear that chased me around. In Among Trees, most of the time you’re alone with only the trees and the bees to keep you company. But there are plenty of animals skittering about like rabbits, deer and birds. Also there are bears roaming about. You know they’re a big deal too because it’s the only time I’ve seen Among Trees give me a stealth indicator. From what a helpful loading screen has told me, bears tend to hang around areas where good loot is, so that’s something.

But if you can manage to outrun the bear and make it back to your prefab cottage in the woods with all those materials, you might just be able to expand your home and get yourself a kitchen or something. Base management in Among Trees is odd, but not in an inherently bad way. You start in front of a dilapidated cottage in need of repairs. Getting close to it will reveal its material requirements for becoming a lovely little home in the woods that people will pay crazy amounts of money to Airbnb at.

Once you’ve collected the materials the house is reborn anew, granting you a bed to sleep on and a book to save your progress in. There doesn’t seem to be any customizing how the house is constructed or how it physically looks, trading that for prefabricated rooms that you can unlock as you go that make the home bigger. You can decorate it by crafting little trinkets and such, but as early as I was in the game, I couldn’t imagine wasting the resources on something as frivolous as decorations… not yet at least.

Among Trees is a fascinating survival game that lured me in with its gorgeous visual style, but kept me there because of its mellow and relaxing core loop. There are plenty of weird quirks in the game like not being able to craft multiple things at once as well as the pitiful walk speed, but outside of those gripes, Among Trees is a truly serene and calming experience. It’s currently available in early access exclusively on the Epic Games Store, but if you’re looking for something low key, you could do a lot worse than Among Trees.

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