Tale of Immortal (or 鬼谷八荒) is an Early Access sandbox sim that's only been out a week, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of the most popular games on Steam. Earlier today, concurrent players peaked at just over 172,000 people, making it the fifth most popular game on Steam—beating out Grand Theft Auto 5 and Rust. Players seem to really enjoy Tale of Immortal too, as it now has over 15,000 positive Steam user reviews, giving it an 86 percent positive rating. Not bad for an Early Access game that just launched a few days ago with Simplified Chinese as its only available language option.
If you're getting déjà vu reading this, it's because Chinese indie games have been blowing up on Steam with surprising regularity over the past few years. Charming life sim Chinese Parents and complex martial arts RPG The Scroll of Taiwu both topped Steam's global best seller list in 2018, with the latter quickly selling over 1 million copies in just a few months.
More recently, games like Bright Memory—a stunning FPS made by a single person that was featured during Microsoft's Xbox Series X showcase—Sands of Salzaar, Amazing Cultivation Simulator, and Gujian 3 have experienced similar success. Each one beat out notable big-budget releases to top Steam's best sellers list and has tens of thousands of positive user reviews.
This is fascinating.
Over the past few years, Steam has become a vital platform for Chinese PC gamers looking to sidestep China's rigorous and pervasive censorship of media and the internet. Though Steam theoretically shouldn't be available in China, it's remained unblocked (except for community features like the forums) and has become an extremely popular way to play uncensored games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Steam now has over 30 million Chinese players, and Simplified Chinese is the second most common language setting for the Steam client according Steam's own hardware survey.
That Chinese PC gamers are flocking to Steam and buying complex sandbox games and singleplayer RPGs challenges the basic assumptions of the Chinese gaming industry. The belief that Chinese gamers only want to play free-to-play MMOs or ultra-competitive multiplayer games like League of Legends has prevailed for decades. And yet vibrant Chinese indie games continue to blow up on Steam and outperform many big-budget releases.
The success of Tale of Immortal also represents the growth new gaming genre that's been becoming more mainstream recently. Like Amazing Cultivation Simulator, which released late last year (and is now available in English), Tale of Immortal is a "cultivation sim" where players undergo a spiritual journey of divine ascension heavily inspired by Taoism. You start as a lowly human and, through meditation, discipline, and practice of martial arts, you eventually become a super-powered god.
In Tale of Immortal, judging by the trailers, this means exploring a tile-based 2D world, building up settlements and taking on quests, and kicking the crap out of any monsters or spirits that stand in your way.
As Khee-Hoon Chan explained in their excellent preview of The Witcher 3-style Chinese RPG Gujian 3, this is an extremely popular genre of fiction called Xianxia in China. It takes the breath-taking martial arts acrobatics of films like Red Cliff (which everyone should watch because it's amazing) and House of Flying Daggers, and transplants them into a fantasy world full of gods, monsters, and magic.
Though Tale of Immortal's reviews are promising, I'm hoping its developers also plan to add English localization so I can play it for myself. If you're able to read Simplified Chinese, you can find Tale of Immortal on Steam where it costs $20.
If you want to learn more about China's indie games, you can read my report on how they're fighting to survive amid Chinese government censorship and changing regulations. For a more general overview, check out our guide to PC gaming in China.