Sky: Light Awaits Early Access Update [Update]

This game has been officially released, and much has changed from the features and gameplay discussed in this blog. Annotations have been added.

When I first wrote about Sky: Light Awaits back in June, I called it, “a really special and emotional experience, so much so that I actually find myself thinking I should put it down and wait until it’s finished, at the very least in an effort to experience it at its absolute best.” I ended up doing just that, and put the game down in favor of my immense backlog on PS4 and Nintendo Switch, but it turns out I couldn’t stay away long. This week, I returned to the skies to witness all of the hard work thatgamecompany has been pouring into Sky through a plethora of updates that brought level changes, extensive mechanic improvements, and fundamental system tweaks that not only make the whole experience smoother, but also feel entirely new.

Visual and Level Changes

Overall, the look and feel of Sky is exactly how I remember it, but there were noticable changes from the very moment I launched the game. The welcome screen that players are greeted with when opening the game, for instance, has completely changed. Now, the camera pans beautifully rendered twilit clouds before swooping down over the familiar ocean that stretches as far as the eye can see, eventually zooming in on an island with an arch, where the player’s character and one of their friends is standing and holding hands.

The “home” area that follows this new welcome screen has also changed, and much simpler. There’s still an iconic mass of candles spread out along the area’s endless watery surface (which still represent each of the player’s friends), as well as the “daily login gift” altar, the four “invite friend” altars, the “return to the skies” altar, and the Aviary altar. But the six altars that transported players to one of the game’s levels, as well as the monument that rewarded players for completing various social goals (like hugging a specific amount of players, for example) are all gone. The latter has been moved to the Aviary, which is now the dedicate level hub, which actually makes it feel like a more realized version of the hybrid gathering place and level selection area that it was always meant to be.

UDPATE: Now that the game has been released, these two areas have been morphed, with the intro screen taking you to your character meditating in the home area. The home area, too, is now no longer a vast expanse, but essentially a level select island (like the Aviary, if you’ve been following our coverage). This new home area exists in the oceanic space where the intro island used to be.

Other than these key areas, all of the other levels in the game are largely the same, with various minor tweaks and improvements throughout. The Storm has been completed (or so I hear, though I haven’t been able to witness or even verify this myself yet), and the Prairie has been completely overhauled. It’s now broken up into four sub levels—The Fields, Cave, Nest, and Village—and each offers new activities, as well as unique daily quests outside of the ones given by the NPC in the Aviary, some of which can only be completed with a partner.

Gameplay and Economic Changes

Outside of the level changes, I’d say the biggest and most sweeping improvements I’ve noticed in my second go-around with Sky have to do with its gameplay and mechanics. My complaints about the touch controls have been heard and are actually no longer a problem, because now the default “mixed mode” control scheme is one of three; the second of which is called “console mode,” which is the exact system I suggested to the developers (the left side of the screen is basically the left stick, and the right side of the screen is the right stick), and the third is called “relaxed mode,” which they say you can use with one hand (though I don’t fully understand the benefit of this, since it gives you little to no control of the camera).

The quest system has been improved and expanded (as we mentioned above, which is still ongoing and meant “to bridge the gap between boundless exploration and late game Storm runs”), beacons have been added to guide players to main objectives (like quests and general progression), and the entire economy has been reworked. Now, Candles (which are earned by completing quests, collecting light essence, and daily Candle login bonuses) and Hearts (which is earned by trading candles with other players) are the only currency to speak of. Gone are the rainbow hearts and rainbow candles, but I don’t remember what these were even for anyways, so I welcome. In addition to this, though, the player’s cape is also no longer tied to the number of emotes they possess, but by the number of Elders they’ve visited.

All of these changes makes sense, so they make everything feel more natural and easier to understand, but more than anything else my favorite change has got to be the implementation of a new system called Constellations. These are basically maps that can be viewed at statues in each level, and they offer a way for players to track how many collectibles they’ve gotten, how many remain, as well as the exact locations of where they found them (which is extremely useful for late game Storm playthoroughs).

Impressions and Release

Sky remains as mesmerizing and engaging now as it was when I first picked it up. It’s still a really special and emotional experience, not to mention an absolute dream to play, and although now more than ever it feels like a finished game, I remain painfully aware that it isn’t. I love all of the things thatgamecompany is doing with Sky, but it’s been in early access for more than a year now, and I’m starting to get a little impatient.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m willing wait as long as I need to for this game to come to fruition, especially since each change only makes it better, but I’d really like to be able to play it with people I actually know. I know that’s technically possible right now, but there’s something about playing an unfinished game that deters even the most devoted of fans. Early access titles are buggy, inconsistent, and usually pretty broken, but that’s the point of being in early access; to find problems and bugs and broken things before it goes public. Thatgamecompany manages all of this loads better than most of the other early access titles I’ve gotten the opportunity to experience, but the one area I wish they’d focus more on is communicating their timeline.

When Sky was announced at Apple’s iPhone X event back in September of 2017 they said it would be be released by the end of year. But when they missed that deadline, they didn’t say a word, and instead of giving us a reason or resetting our expectations all we had to go off of was a quiet update to the fine print on Apple’s website, which continued to advertise the game with a new March 2018 release date. They remained silent when that month came and went with no release to speak of, and although thatgamecompany continues to roll out solid updates for the beta, they still have yet to offer us any kind of release date. Not to mention, their absence was noticeable during Apple’s iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR event this September, not to mention that there’s no longer any mention of the game anywhere on Apple’s website.

Thatgamecompany is obviously still working toward a public release, but they carry on as if the whole Apple announcement never happened, especially with the recent announcement of an early access beta for Sky on macOS. This is exciting news in and of itself, and I can’t wait to play the game on an actual computer, but it further confuses the messaging around game, especially since their website still specifically states it’s “coming first to iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV.”

UPDATE: Woke up one day to discover the game was officially out. Still a strange way to release a game that was announced first by a major company like Apple, but no longer do we have to pine!

I know the macOS beta is nothing but good news for the trajectory of the game, and that we’ll eventually hear something about a release date. I have to believe that none of this confusion or this development process was according to plan, but from an outsider’s perspective thatgamecompany seems to be in absolutely no rush to get this game into the hands of the masses, and it’s left this player wondering just what the heck is going on. Regardless, I continue to really enjoy my time with Sky. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of this beta, and cherish being one of the first players amongst the clouds.

See you in the skies!

Sky: Light Awaits is available now on iPhone and iPad. It does not yet have a global release date on other platforms, including the Apple TV.

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