In open world adventure Pine, diplomacy sometimes calls for a plate of poisoned meat

(Image credit: Pine by Twirlbound/Kongregate)

I've just poisoned an entire village of humanoid crocodiles with tainted meat in order to weaken its leader, the king of the Krockers. I did this so when I shoot the king in the face with a slingshot he won't have the strength to retaliate. I'm shooting him in the face because I need him to stand up, and I need him to stand up because he's sitting on a throne that contains an item I need to steal at the bidding of another Krocker, a mysterious shaman. 

Giving an entire village of friendly crocodile monsters food poisoning and then shooting their boss point blank in the face so I could steal an artifact in broad daylight may constitute the least stealthy thing I've ever done in a video game. It's also not terribly diplomatic, and here in Pine, the new open world action adventure from Twirlbound and Kongregate, I've spent hours working on diplomacy, trying to make every faction in the world like me. The Krockers. The moose monsters. The giant chicken creatures. The humanoid foxes. Even the lizard guys.

So far, I seem to be failing. The Krockers like me—though we'll see how they feel after this mass poisoning and throne heist—and the foxes are neutral. Everyone else wants me dead. Diplomacy is hard.

In Pine you play as Hue, a young man from a tribe of humans who have been living the quiet life atop a cliff, far removed from the animal tribes below. But that solitude is quickly shattered, so Hue sets out to find a new home for the humans, getting drawn into the tribal alliances and conflicts of the rest of the world.

And it's not easy to get along with everyone! Every faction's default state is hating humans and attacking me on sight. All I've got when I set out is a wooden sword, a slingshot, and a handful of crafting recipes, which isn't much considering what I'm faced with. And in addition to the tribal factions, there are other dangerous, wild creatures in a big open world that spans deserts, swamps, forests, caves, and snowy mountain ranges.

Winning a tribe over starts with giving them gifts, which can be deposited in a box outside of any tribe's town. Gifts, initially, are food and crafting resources, which are extremely hard to part with because I spend loads of time searching for and gathering them from the world. Hue needs to eat regularly and I desperately want to craft him better gear, and it's legitimately painful to just give stuff away. But a few small offerings can raise a tribe's disposition to neutral, which at least means you can enter their villages or pass them on the road without being attacked. That's a start.

The tribes don't just have a relationship with you, but with each other. Totems in any town will show you the current status between tribes, but it's more fun to just witness it out in the world. Each tribe has gatherers and traders and soldiers who travel from place to place, and you can see their interactions when they pass each other on the road, from battling one another to cautious indifference when they're on more neutral terms.

Those gatherers, by the way, aren't just acting like they're gathering. They really are! They'll actually pick up the same crafting resources you do and bring them back to their tribes. It's pretty cool to see that they're really collecting stuff, even if they happen to swipe the resources you're trying to take for yourself.

So after hours of charming the croc people with gifts, you can understand why I was reluctant to poison one of their villages. I've already had enough dipolmatic setbacks.

Early on, I was hoping to charm the moosemen by giving their chief a potion, but one of the ingredients of the potion was mooseman essence, and the only way I knew to collect mooseman essence was by killing a mooseman. Due to some poor-planning (I attacked just outside one of their towns) I attracted some attention and wound up having to kill three of them. By the time the potion was brewed, the moosemen absolutely hated me and it would have taken loads of gifts to even reach the point where I could present their leader with my potion. So, I gave it instead to the crocodile tribe and resigned myself to being a moose enemy for life.

The fox people hate me too. I initially earned their trust and neutrality, but after helping the crocs improve their village, I saw a raiding party of foxes headed right toward the croc village I was working for. This wasn't some roadside skirmish but an act of war. I had to pitch in to help (after watching the battle for a bit), and while the crocs won the foxes are now hostile to me once again.

Combat in Pine is tricky but fun once you've had some practice. It's all about dodging, rolling, blocking, and staggering opponents with kicks or a well-timed block. A lot of it is learning the timing of your enemies, and the rest is learning your own timing. Hue isn't lightning fast, and you can't go instantly from holding up your shield to delivering a kick. You have to wait for certain animations to complete before making your next move, which gives the combat a measured rhythm that's a lot of fun once you've got the hang of it. 

I've also got a bow and arrow, and I eventually learned how to craft traps and explosive barrels, so I can set up ambushes to weaken my opponents before the melee begins.

Driving this adventure is the quest for a new home for Hue's people, and there are other tasks and missions given to you by other characters you meet, like a reclusive, elephant-like craftsman and a guild of what appear to be bearded koala bears who can help you out with diplomacy. There are ways to improve these tribal towns, and ways to sabotage them. There's also a dark and hidden history to the land, which I'm learning in bits and pieces as I run around making a mess of my relationships with the animal tribes.

I'm not too far into Pine yet: I've only played it for about six hours so I'm not sure how deep this faction management simulation really goes. Like I said, I've seen one tribe raiding another—and I've just gained the ability needed to conduct a raid of my own. But I haven't played long enough to see the real consequences and how it affects the rest of the world. In the meantime, it's a big and beautiful setting that's so far been a pleasure to spend time in, even if I'm making enemies more than I'm making friends. Pine is now out on Steam and you can also buy it at Kartridge.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.