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Cold Heart, September 26, 2013
Set in a mildly steampunky high-fantasy world, First Snows establishes a strong opening tone: a grim, dark winter, a town whose inhabitants are curt or suspicious, a sinister mystery, a certain emotional numbness.
As so often, the promise of the initial mood is the best part; the emotional numbness and suspicious inhabitants turn out to be the product of scanty characterisation, and as the mystery unfurls, the prose proves inadequate to render shock and horror. The story does nothing to build on your initial motivation, and the worldbuilding doesn't become any deeper after the early game, so by the endgame - it's about medium comp-sized - you're still wondering why you should care.
There's a shade of overwriting early on - The clipped, abbreviated sentences were his normal manner of talking, and you responded in kind with a brief “No” - which suggests a more character-oriented plot. This fades rather quickly as you get into the game proper. That's fine; if dialogue's not your strength, avoiding it is a legit approach.
Mechanically, it's pretty old-school: you will get stuck quite early on unless you vigorously search for crucial items, NPCs are stand-offish, there is timed death. There's a nod to the Enchanter scroll-based magic system, but the game isn't long enough for this to become a regular feature, or for it to really qualify as the Thorny Old-School Puzzler that it's drawing on. But it's still difficult enough that you can expect to be stuck quite a lot, and for me it didn't generate anywhere near enough motivation to stay with it long when the going got tough. (I finished with a walkthrough -- hat-tip David Welbourn.)
So to me this felt as though it had at least one foot in the era when people would and did persevere with games even if they were sort of dull, just because they were games. Perhaps that's overly harsh; in the mid-90s, say, this might have earned some quiet praise and a place somewhere near Wearing the Claw. And I'm a long way from being the ideal audience for this. But still, it feels like a piece with the soul missing, lacking an essential Cool Thing to make you stick with it.