The Pale Beyond review

2023-04-04 by Callum Andrews

  • Reviewed on

  • Platforms


  • Developer
    Bellular Studios

  • Publisher
    Surprise Attack Games, Fellow Traveller

Beyond the Voyage

The Pale Beyond is a unique seafaring experience that utilizes elements from old-school choose-your-own-adventure games, survival resource management games, and more contemporary visual novels. Through this peculiar combination, the game is able to tell a naval tale characterized by desire, struggle, mystery, and desperation. In The Pale Beyond, you assume the role of a man with many backgrounds who is hired to act as the First Hand of an enigmatic mission under the command of the dubious captain Rufus Hunt. “Crew wanted”, “dangerous expedition”, “slim chance of safe return”, “glory to be had in the event of success”. These are the words that you are greeted with just before you embark on your ambiguous voyage toward a frozen and cryptic landscape. If there is one thing that the Pale Beyond can be praised for is the way it manages to evoke a strong sense of adventure from very early on. The moment I had completed the prologue and set sail on the old but trustworthy ship “The Viscount”, the game had already managed to pique my interest through its captivating story, its mysterious premise, and its promising decision-based mechanics.

What perhaps is even more impressive is how the Pale Beyond is able to expand its scope and escalate that sense of adventure during the first couple of hours and then maintain the player’s interest and engagement throughout the course of the game. A core factor in achieving that level of consistency in engagement can be attributed to the fact that The Pale Beyond is both an interactive visual novel and a survival-based management game. Most importantly, progressing through the story and managing your ship and its crew are not two separate mini-games, but are carefully weaved together to form a singular intriguing experience. Another key ingredient in maintaining an engaging momentum is the emphasis on making choices. Choices that will ripple through the game’s world, revealing a variety of potential branching paths and endings that the player can encounter at any point. It makes the player a dynamic agent both in terms of managing the game's plot as well as taking part in the story.

A Pale Journey

While the voyage of the Viscount begins with you as the ship’s second in command, for reasons that cannot be spoiled, you will soon find yourself handling much more senior responsibilities. Keeping the ship afloat and its crew alive will quickly become your top priorities. You will have to manage resources ranging from different types of food to coal, to medicine, to tools and weapons, to special items from a faraway place. It will be up to you to allocate materials, distribute items, establish policy, and set priorities in order to keep the crew warm, safe, and well-fed. However, resources will be far from your only concern on this uncertain trip. Not only will you have to maintain the crew’s morale and optimism to avoid chaos and disorder, but you will also have to engage in the delicate art of politics. Aboard the ship, you will find a diverse range of individuals from all walks of life as well as various factions all with their own culture, perspectives, and goals. Dealing with challenges in ways that are both efficient and diplomatic will prove invaluable as keeping the crew on your side will become a necessity when conditions worsen.

Compared to other icy survival-based management titles, such as Frostpunk, the Pale Beyond is a much more narrative-focused game, an element that I believe greatly enhances the overall experience. What is incredibly impressive design-wise is how your decisions in resource management and policy are directly interconnected with the behaviors that individual characters will exhibit as well as the many paths that the story can advance towards. While adventures in video games are usually characterized by enthusiasm, discovery, and treasure that is not the case here. Struggle and despair are the central themes in the adventure that The Pale Beyond offers. The game has a way of indirectly persuading you that every choice you make is hopeless and steers your expedition towards certain doom; or in the best circumstances, just delays the inevitable. The inescapable moral dilemmas that you will face in the Pale Beyond will determine the fates of crew members and alter the course of the Viscount’s enigmatic and perilous voyage.

The Chilly Breeze

The writing is without a doubt a major highlight of the journey that the Pale Beyond has to offer; a fundamental positive aspect considering how text-heavy the game is. The characters, which are at the center of the experience, have depth in their design and writing, and their motivations, fears, and opinions feel real and believable. As a result, I thought that the character arcs, which I had the chance to both observe and influence, felt authentic and kept me engaged in the game. Beyond characters and dialogues, through its writing, the Pale Beyond is able to also maintain a momentum of events and twists that provide a sense of consistent tension and intrigue throughout the course of the adventure. The game’s lore and story are also greatly enhanced through the game’s wonderful hand-drawn art style. Taking the time to observe the living spaces and landscapes found within the game can be a very rewarding process as you will notice that changes in the visual environmental design will often be influenced by your own decisions.

Music and sound design are two other important components that are excellently utilized in The Pale Beyond. The music and ambiance are ideal for the kind of themes and circumstances that the game is trying to communicate. And since the game is essentially a series of still images, the great sound design helps evoke a sense of motion, interactivity, and dynamism. These elements produced by the music and sound design not only enhance the gameplay itself but also help increase the player’s immersion in both the story and the overall setting. All these elements combined are able to produce a distinct atmosphere defined by the desolate frozen landscape that the vibrant cast of crew members has been trapped in. An atmosphere that can simultaneously feel melancholic and hopeless on one side but also serene and beautiful on the other. With that in mind, the Pale Beyond is also not without its flaws. There will be times when the results of certain actions may feel random, unpredictable, and frustrating. Additionally, a process of further polishing and refining the game’s UI and some of the management systems could really help create a smoother and more consistent experience. While these flaws do not allow the game to achieve its complete potential, they are still not significant enough to overshadow its many other positive aspects.


The Pale Beyond is a hybrid choose-your-own-adventure / survival-based resource management game that through its great writing, characters, brilliant hand-drawn art style, and its well-thought-out music and sound design, offers a unique and engaging journey filled with hard choices and moral dilemmas.