I’ve always thought that urban exploration – the special pastime of rummaging through abandoned houses – is the best video game genre that doesn’t exist yet.
It’s a common thread among some of my personal favorites—think Dishonored, The Last of Us, Homecoming—because we can explore many uninhabited homes in these worlds. Am I a platonic voyeur? Maybe. But I find endless joy in environmental storytelling. Games that show me moldy takeout containers and vodka bottles scattered all over my kitchen are far more satisfying than games that give me a page of a drunkard’s diary.
This is, no doubt, the inexplicable magic of the Thread of Eternity. Although the opening line tells us “we broke the world,” desperately traveling through time and space, unleashing radiation into the flow of time, and altering “numerous seemingly trivial decisions throughout history,” layers of graceful melancholy hang over timeless threads. The mundaneity of its people—their rooms, their shared spaces, their conversations, the letters they mess up and throw in the bin—is captured with ease. Our world and cast are small. We’ve only explored an abandoned house once inhabited by a handful of ordinary people, but getting to know them isn’t just a pleasure; it’s a matter of life and death.
When you first step into the past of 14 West Park Road, your hi-tec Visualiser is a wrist-worn device that recreates the holographic vision that happened before – it’s burning. Firefighters crouched at the door, pumping hoses, desperately trying to control the blaze. Six people lived here—a couple living together; a brother and sister who had just moved in; a friend who was eager to party; and their co-owner—now dead. All that remains of their home is a glimpse of who they once were. Here is an abandoned cell phone, there is a charred book on the shelf. You, only known as 43 (what happened to your 42 before?!) have to save them, and you have to do it by changing the decisions they made the week before they died. Even if we inexplicably don’t allow the fire to be stopped in the first place – yes, that confuses me too – change the right order in the right order and you might be able to save them all.
Yes, it’s all very butterfly effect and Doctor Who, at first, is easy to overwhelm. To figure out what you can change (no matter what seems inconsequential at the moment), you’ll have to go through time maps, eavesdrop on their conversations and uncover clues. Making changes like getting Linda to ask about the weird broken doll in Raquel’s room, or stopping Tom from drunk texting his ex to call his drunk call may not sound like a lot, but do Come up with enough of these choices and you’ll completely rewire the timeline, possibly putting them in a different frame of mind or position when the fire hits.
Still, this is one of those things that might put you off when watching Let’s Play or a trailer. When you first get your hands on the mechanics of Eternal Threads, it can seem complicated and unwieldy. Thanks to Cosmonaut Studios, it’s actually really easy to find your way around, shooting up and down the timeline to revisit certain days and events to tweak your results. That said, I often find it easier to solve problems by trial and error than to understand pop-up tutorials that sometimes make things sound more complicated than they really are.
The house itself is thoughtfully designed and fun to explore – even a little spooky, dressed in the unique rain-soaked darkness those of us are most familiar with on our grey, windswept island Gotta be a mess. However, I can’t help but wish there were more Threads of Eternity discoveries in and around the building, as this could help refine the characters and give us a better understanding of their motivations rather than just eavesdropping. While the cast models themselves lacked the details of the house itself, most of the time they did exactly what I expected and acted in an authentic, believable way, their local dialect only occasionally conveying a feeling of being a little bland or unnatural.
However, getting the best possible outcome—that is, all six characters not only surviving, but continuing to live happy, fulfilling lives—is a tough job, especially since the though long and extremely complex time map can Efficiently keeping track of all the different options and changes my head doesn’t have. Scrolling through the hundreds of different branches and possibilities is as clumsy as it sounds, and it sometimes feels as if the positive outcome is less of a butterfly effect and more of sensible and thorough.
Eternal Threads presents its story, characters and mechanics with care and precision…
Interestingly, you can travel through the timeline at your own pace and place. Want to start from day one? certainly. That makes sense. Wondering if it would be better to start at the end and go back the same way? Of course, this works too. The freedom to move around as you please is a particularly liberating feature, as is the ability to make dialogue changes without having to watch the entire holographic show again. Touches like this show that Cosmonaut has thought long and hard about the user experience here, and hints at its confidence in giving players full control of its storytelling – even if we tell it poorly or in the wrong order.
Frustratingly, however, I found no meaningful climax to the story. It’s painfully unfulfilling to spend hours getting to know these people — caring enough about them not to burn them in bed — and not getting a solid conclusion. I also wanted to learn more about Forty-Three, and his strange quest to fix a broken timeline. The cynic in me thinks a sequel or DLC is coming, and while that’s not a bad thing in itself, it feels a little cruel to hold the story’s resolve hostage to those of us who finish it.
These little quibbles aren’t enough to tarnish Cosmonaut’s otherwise well-thought-out game, though, and it’s claws deep enough for me to try a “do one more” event in the wee hours of the morning. Some might mistake its cautious pace for slowness, while others might find its bland presentation boring. However, to me – while it’s not without its flaws – Eternal Thread presents its story, characters and mechanics with care and precision, weaving together a completely captivating experience.