When Anakin Skywalker described sand as “coarse, and rough, and irritating” he certainly wasn’t wrong. Even the construction-infatuated protagonist in this casual but deep lifestyle sim must occasionally contend with sand clogging up their equipment, as well as sandstorms requiring specialist gear to endure. But there’s also a mountain of riches under the sandy dunes of the appropriately named town of Sandrock, many of which were left behind by a lost civilization.
My Time at Sandrock isn’t just about excavating the past. That’s just a minor part of this multifaceted experience. It’s also about making friends while helping to restore the canyon-esque town to its former glory, with the threat of wild-west style bandits emerging early on.
At its heart though, it’s a construction/resource management game with a sprinkling of RPG elements. You’re the new builder in town, and it isn’t long until word spreads that you’re available to hire. The townsfolks are a friendly, and slightly kookie, bunch – even including a deluded “superhero” who takes you under their wing. There are a lot of faces to meet, which in turn makes the town feel lively. Character design sees Western and Eastern tropes clash, with a couple of townsfolk having strong JRPG influences, and the voice acting quality far exceeds expectations.
Even before taking on commissions, you’ll start to notice a few potential projects while exploring the town. There’s a dilapidated train line, a polluted oasis – ergo a water shortage – and so forth. Before tackling the main quest, though, you’ll need to get your homestead up and running. Ideas from Animal Crossing surface here, including the chance to expand your house, decorate it, and fill it with furniture. Recyclers – which produce a random assortment of bricks, gears, etc – and a workbench need to be created too. Workbench items, such as tools, can be made instantly from resources, while construction components including bricks and bronze/copper bars have a wait time.
This, of course, means there’s the requirement to occupy yourself while the furnace, recycler, and grinder churn away – which also eats into your limited water supply. One of the first locations to open is a mine. Well, it’s less of a mine and more of a soil filled submerged shopping mall – which is far more inviting to explore than a bunch of dank caves. Here, you’re equipped with a jetpack and resource scanner, but can only explore so far until stamina depletes. Yes, there’s a stamina bar that governs your daily activities. Apart from when mining though, it doesn’t hamper your daily duties to any real extent. During a typical day, you’re able to explore, gather resources, and take on a commission or two without it draining fully.
Other distractions include an arcade with a handful of playable games including an RPG with slot machine mechanics, and the ability to either spar or play a card game with the majority of townsfolk. Sandfishing also unlocks early on, with this being a unique twist on regular fishing that essentially entails throwing bait and traps into quicksand. You’ll need to visit various stores and services often too, with the town hall containing the commissions (quest) board, and the restaurant selling stamina boosting produce. Most of these locations are logically placed – the town hall, for instance, is the closest building to your workshop. The research lab, arcade, museum, are chemist and all in the same row of buildings too. Rewinding back to the Animal Crossing influences, said museum is bare upon your arrival, ready to be filled with excavated treasures.
The RPG elements are well implemented. Most actions grant EXP, which in turn sees your health and stamina bar grow. Clothing can boost defense and stamina too, and it’s essential to carry a weapon to deal with the wild creatures that patrol the wilderness. Most are relatively docile, but there’s still the need to thin their numbers to gather leather and other resources. The combat system, amazingly, doesn’t feel tacked on. It’s possible to lock-on, roll, and learn combos by applying skill points to the relative skill tree. The enemy design is on par with the character design, again showcasing Eastern influences. You’ll come across ants fused with honeypots, roosters with mounted firework rockets, cactus shaped lizards, and more. None of this distracts from the lifestyle aspect too much, with the focus remaining on construction and forging relationships by giving gifts and sending letters. It’s even possible to subscribe to the local newspaper and place adverts within.
While I wasn’t able to experience many of the yearly events, I was able to partake in the Halloween celebration, which involved playing hide’n seek with the townsfolk and playing a ‘Bust A Move’ style arcade game. If other events have this much effort put into them, we’re in for a treat.
Indeed, there are telling signs throughout that this isn’t the developer’s first rodeo. Their previous game, My Time at Portia, obviously provided a sturdy foundation to build on in addition to valuable experience. Noticeably, there’s another layer to this. My Time at Sandrock has been in early access on PC for a while, and it’s clear that feedback has been listened to. At no point here was I left scratching my head – everything is explained clearly, right down to how to acquire rarer resources. Best of all, it feels respectful of your time – play even for just an hour, and you’ll make good headway. The town is well designed with shortcuts to exploit, resources are bountiful, most tasks are effortless, and it even handles inventory management well. Not enough space? Simply buy more slots.
The long spell in early access has also allowed the developers to apply a coat of polish. The visuals are vibrant – with the only issue (on Xbox Series) being minor screen tearing – and the menus are stylish and easy to navigate. The only minor irritation is having to locate folk to turn in commissions, which usually entails barging into their home – followed by a trek back to your workshop. That said, there are fast travel locations and it’s possible to hire a horse – with agraculture being another route to riches to take.
My Time at Sandrock is less about instant gratification and more about settling for the long haul – a la Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, et al. Chances are by the time your workshop is up and running and a few commissions are on the agenda, you’ll be deeply invested in the Sandrock’s troubles and the daily lives of its inhabitants. I played for 16 hours before committing to this review and felt like I had only scratched the surface, making this an easy recommendation for anyone looking for something to invest time into this winter.
Pathea Games’ My Time at Sandrock launches Nov 3rd on PC and consoles. Published by Focus.