Areia: Pathway To Dawn Review, Debut Game By Gilp Studio

By Patrick Moorhead - April 23, 2020
Areia: Pathway to Dawn – Domain Naraka 

As many of you know, I primarily review horror/psychological survivor genres. However, my interest was piqued when I stumbled upon an indie adventure debut game by Gilp Studios, called ‘Areia: Pathway to Dawn.’ You can watch the launch trailer  here. Released on January 24th, 2020, Areia is a meditative game that is supposed to support self-reflection and cause positive, relaxing thoughts. Players of the game are balanced between a surreal and abstract environment where an unknown character explores, via a meditative journey in an atmospheric changing wasteland while shaping the terrain.  

The user explores through a straightforward puzzle filled environment influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism symbolism. Areia seems to be heavily influenced by ‘Journey’ and ‘Lost Ember’, though I’m unsure if those games were, in fact, sources of inspiration. Players impersonate an abstract character without given a clear objective or direction to follow except  at the end of each scenario and level through classic platforming puzzles. Gilp Studios describes Areia: Pathway to Dawn as a, “fascinating adventure that takes you through the different stages of enlightenment. A relaxing experience combined with unique gameplay. A journey like no other. Discover different realms as you venture into the unknown. Collect the fragments of your past and uncover the meaning behind your existence.” Did Areia: Pathway to Dawn live up to the hype? Let’s find out. 

Areia: Pathway to Dawn – Title Screen 

The Story of Sand

Brazilian game studio, Gilp,. Founded in 2014, has so far only been active in the mobile game universe (Mini Ini Mo & Upside NWOD). Areia: Pathway to Dawn is Gilp’s first entry into the world of PC gaming. The story is heavily influenced by Indian culture and, I’d imagine, will be incomprehensible to most. There is clearly more to the game if you understand the full background behind its inspiration, but that is in no way necessary in order to play. I’m not a spiritual person by nature, so some of the symbolism was lost on me before I did some research.   

Areia is a game that doesn’t stay too strict with a story. Instead, it relies heavily on the player’s curiosity to explore the game world and to make their own interpretation of their individual experience. The meditative spiritual journey unravels within three out of six domains that represent realms of rebirth through self-discovery and transformation. These domains are rich with symbolism associated with Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and some Chinese folklore. The developers extended this cultural flare all the way to their title (Areia translates to ‘Sand’ in Portuguese).   

GILP Studios said that it’s, “a story about the stages of the samsara wheel of life,” which, after some research, discovered was primarily based around Buddhism and the ‘Six Loka’. These are represented in the game’s six domains. The three domains included in the actual gameplay, are each named after the specific ailment it suffers from.  The first area is called ‘Naraka’ which is the Islamic concept of Hell. Second, ‘Preta,’ the Sanskrit name for a supernatural being called ‘Hungry Ghost,’ which is believed to be the corrupted spirit of a person whose life was governed by greed and jealousy. Lastly, ‘Tiragyoni,’ which describes rebirth as an animal.   

The different chapters represent the path to enlightenment over affliction. Overall, Areia manifests itself around the ancient systems of the Practice of the Six Lokas (Realms of Existence). In this puzzle platform game, we explore each of the realms and their emotions. Your character is encouraged through meditation to transforms negative emotions (like anger, jealousy and attachment) into positive qualities (such as love, openness and generosity). By working through the various puzzles through of each domain, the user must reflect on how each emotion manifests within themselves as they become more self-aware to catch the emotions before they are fully manifested outwardly. Through meditation, the user must dissolve the seeds within their character that causes difficult emotions and go beyond to manifest the beautiful and positive qualities that are innate within each of us, so they may reach the end of their journey.  

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out. It’s the grain of sand in your shoe – Robert Service 

You play as an unknown female half-water/humanoid traveler that resembles a teenage Groot exploring through tranquil environments attempting to reach a grand light on the horizon beams of enlightenment, all while shaping your own fate. Unfortunately, these intentions are lost with me due to the nature of the game and how it displays or embraces these ideas. As you glide around the desert, avoiding broken glass in the beginning phase, you notice a figure that looks like you. I am assuming from the overall gist of the game, this is your “inner-self,” which is loosely guiding you throughout your journey to overcome various ailments of your emotions until completion.  

The remainder of the game is the user trying to catch up to this figure as it leads you through various puzzle platforms to solve and meditate throughout multiple stations to progress. These stations allow the user to change the atmosphere and the world around them. Anyone with essential experience in puzzle games should solve them without trouble. Solving puzzles unlocks environmental transformations that often allow us to proceed and get to additional collectibles. Unfortunately, each level wasn’t distinct or all that different from the previous domains you traveled. There were only the desert locations and an ethereal-type world, which I won’t spoil for you.  

When it came to understanding the story. I was lost. Again, this game is influenced heavily by Buddhism, so, It became natural to be lost on what exactly is happening, so keep a close eye on the meditation stations’ art when it turns into an aerial view to get a better grasp of things - *sigh* that shouldn’t need to happen to find some clarity.  

Areia: Pathway to Dawn – One of the Mediation Stations 

The mechanics are simple. Exploration is performed on foot as you figure skate across the sand along with your ability to long jump over gaps with the aid of a couple of terrain-shaping powers. Early in the game, you gain the power to absorb water and sand through your lobster-like tail. You use this power to create golden ramps in order to traverse obstacles like pitfalls, and to make bridges and walkways that act as catalysts to grow new paths, revealing new areas of exploration. You have these two abilities throughout the entirety of the game, and that's it. Not that you truly need a lot of abilities in order to survive. Even if you were to fall into pitfalls or the deep water, you would respawn immediately to your last solid ground, so, technically there is no real death to speak of.  

You solve one too many lotus flowers puzzles that connect through your string of 'energy.' However, you cannot cross paths with other strings of energy, change your altitude, or hit solid objects. Despite these limitations, the puzzles are incredibly easy given how close and visible the points to connect are. They do, however they become more challenging, ever so slightly, the more you progress; Unfortunately, they never quite get intricate enough. Still, I suppose I will let that slide since it is a game primarily based around relaxing. It wouldn't be such an issue if completing puzzles were actually fun, but they simply consist of drawing a line between two points with minimal effort. The simple traversal becomes mentally taxing due to the wonky controls at times. Once you understand how to manage that obstacle, the puzzles are never a challenge; however, it would have been nice for some variation or a small incremental change to make it feel like you aren't continuously doing the same thin. 

The movement is floaty, and turns are too broad. Unfortunately, this caused me to become frustrated a handful of times, taking away the true relaxing intentions of the game.  

On the other hand, the character design is beautiful, and you might be surprised how aesthetically pleasing Areia truly is. The visuals can be stunning, along with some exceptional landscapes, water graphics, and lighting as camera angles pan in and out revealing the various newly arrived domains. Unfortunately, while there are moments where the graphics look amazing, as you progress, some areas of the game feel rushed and come off as undeveloped and wonky looking. As lovely as the environment is, it also feels constrained.

Waterfalls, ponds, dunes, and tedious puzzles will be with you from beginning to end with little variation and changes. The soundtrack is truly what makes this game "relaxing." It's engaging and mixed with genres of Indian and oriental, fitting perfectly in its environments. But, to be honest, if the game had lacked music, I feel I would not have been as interested after the first hour. The ambiance is critical, at least for me. I would consider purchasing the soundtrack alone outside of the game if it was available.    

Despite the tediousness with the gameplay, I did not run into any major bugs that caused a loss of interruptions, but I did have issues progressing to a couple of stages. The vague intentions of the stages, which all hold little to no direction, caused me to become lost a few times and doubt myself as to whether I was going about things correctly. This would cause me to backtrack and explore everywhere, advancing in ways I felt were not entirely the correct direction the developers wanted me to go. Often times, I’d find myself looking for glitches just to advance. It felt more comfortable to go about things the wrong way, especially when I intended to force a reload from a checkpoint a few times. It turns out; I still couldn’t figure out the game's intended directions.     

The animations themselves dragged this game down. Your character has very few limitations. Due to these limitations, I feel it would be in the developer's best interest and number one priority to make sure the movements and controls will not have any issues whatsoever. However, even the jumps did not feel very solid., soaking up the water underneath most waterfalls while traveling upwards caused the user to be stopped at times when hitting the formation slightly hidden behind the thin waterfall. This caused me a few frustrations when trying to advance up the waterfall while making sure the water was hitting me, so I would not run out of my power, plummeting to my “death”.   

The journey felt repetitive and I did not feel a sense of accomplishment when figuring out the puzzles and seeing the world around me change. There were even a few times that I would see a meditation puzzle and find myself stopping out of pure confusion, wondering if I completed it or not., Since I was given no direction, it was difficult to know if I had already fulfilled that station and progressed correctly. For a world based around the 'Six Lokas', or 'Wheel of Life,' the environments could have at least drastically changed before the final stage; but I won't spoil any of that for you.    

Areia: Pathway to Dawn Achievement Jars 

Throughout each level, you will find optional interactable objects in the world, such as different floating colored jars. Once on top of the jar, your world turns to that specific color; for example, in the above photo it was orange. Once you meditate on the jar, you can look about and find other light beams of different colors leading to more jars in the sky with their corresponding color. I would find myself going out of my way to locate and interact with them just for fun. Still, they didn’t do anything to help progress throughout the game; I am assuming it’s meant more for self-achievements and minimal replayability reasons. but other than that, I could not figure out what these magical jars did for the game. There were even larger jars that were floating about, which you could hop on to but not interact with. These did not seem to have any purpose  I am not sure if that was intentional or a bug since they were more challenging to reach than their smaller counterparts. To create a relaxing and visualizing stimulating world, Areia removes the needed challenge and story. Still, visuals and a unique and excellent soundtrack aren’t enough to fill the void left behind.   

Finally, from the initial title screen, I noticed a lack of details when viewed from up close almost immediately. The resolution is limited to 1920x1020 (1080p), and 4K isn’t offered. Details can be set to three levels: low, medium and high. For a game based around the ambiance and atmosphere, I would expect at least an ‘ultra’ setting, rather than just the ability to ‘Motion Blur.’ The settings are relatively minimal. The game appears to randomly drop -in frame rates for no given reason. I would jump, freeze for a second, and suddenly appear drowning. There are currently 8 supported languages, which is primarily used for only the title screen since the game does not include voice-overs, conversations or subtitles. The game can be saved at any point in time; however, it only supports a single save game. 

 The game ends with a 'To Be Continued' screen, which, I assume that the funds weren’t quite there to finish the game for the remaining three of the Six Lokas. All said and done. I wouldn't go into this game expecting a breathtaking experience, but one that would still have you willing to learn about the context behind it, which I enjoyed most about this title. Would I recommend this to a friend? Yes, an inexperienced friend or my nine-year-old niece, who are looking for a lighthearted game to play, while learning about various game titles. It is short and sweet, tedious, but the powers of mother nature can be both lavish and vicious. I am curious to know what you experience. 

Areia: Pathway to Dawn – ‘The Be Continued’ – 

I don't like sand. It's all coarse, and rough, and irritating – Anakin Skywalker   

Areia: Pathway to Dawn is unique in its own way. It's a concussion of colors calmed by gentle musical tones. The meditative atmosphere is preserved throughout the game. Take from the game whatever you want to get out of it. I have a feeling that everyone would get a different feel due to its nature being entirely open for interpretation, especially if you are less knowledgeable about the context, as I am. The world feels very much like the movie, Inception; You are in one world, meditate into another world, then awaken in another world, and back to reality... or so you think? Using Indian mythology, makes it no ordinary indie adventure game. It combines a familiar 3D adventure-style atmosphere in a desolated world with a spiritual background that most definitely helps the game to stand out from its competitors. The protagonist was curiously compelling, and its movements looked fluid and somewhat enticing as the game is interpreted by each user to create the protagonist's story. I found Areia to be more of a concept game than that of a full-length and more established game like Journey.   

For now, though, it is was a good concept and a new take on an indie journey that is different but lacks excitement and innovativeness. I would like to see the content expansion to feel more whole. The user must be in the right mindset or mood to play. There wasn’t much gratification from completing the current version of the game. I kept finding myself taking frequent breaks of boredom, especially after the first hour. The average length is around 3 hours long, but I completed it in about 3.5 hours because of backtracking. If there had been more ways of showing the beauty of the world through animation and design, as well as more of a variety of puzzles and distinct domains, the game could have been the one to beat. Unfortunately, it fell very short. Despite the game meant to be relaxing, I still needed to be stimulated, and I just wasn't. I could not figure out the audience this game was intended for. However, I felt Areia: Pathway to Dawn still needed to give a little more insight into players’ advancing steps. Overall, the experience was less emotional in comparison to other indie journey games with no dialogue or story elements, but at least the music was spot on. 

Currently, Aeria: Pathway to Dawn is currently $9.99 in the steam store. Despite my lack of interest in the first half of the game, I would still like to continue the unknown traveler’s journey and see how the developers listen to their users on improving their first PC released title. I will be looking forward to the continued journey of Areia: Path to Dawn in the future by ‘Gilp Studios’ with interest. 

Platform: PC (Reviewed) 

Publisher: Gilp Studios 

Story -2/5 

Gameplay - 3/5 

Aesthetics & Design - 3/5 

Sound Effects & Soundtrack - 4/5 

Performance - 4/5 - I am currently using the AMD Radeon VII 

Game length - 3/5 - I beat in about 3.5 hours 

Overall Rating – 3.1/5 

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.  

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.