All you can do is keep climbing. That is the basic premise for Jusant, an upcoming game developed and published by French independent company DON'T NOD. You are placed inside the body of a mysterious main character, placed in front of a long-abandoned towering pillar of rock, and given the tools you need to explore it.
I was given the opportunity to preview this fascinating title before it lands on Xbox and Windows PC later this year. In my handful of hours navigating through the first three chapters of the game, I found myself slowly relaxing during a period of my life that feels particularly busy or hectic. Jusant lets me progress at my own pace, and that's reason enough for me to be excited for the final release.
A beautiful world devoid of water
Jusant is French for "ebbing tide," or at least that's what Google Translate told me (sorry, I only know French from some metal songs). It's an appropriate name, considering that Jusant centers around a monolith of stone and rock piercing thousands of feet into the cloud-strewn sky, which was once mostly submerged beneath the roaring waves of an endlessly vast ocean. Once, the tower was home to countless humans that relied on the bounty and generosity of this mighty ocean to live. Now, the tower is surrounded by stretches of barren desert extending as far as the eye can see, broken only by the shipwrecks left abandoned by the ocean's retreat.
In Jusant, you will ascend this ancient tower, finding hidden paths upward amidst the ghosts of all those who long abandoned the failing home. The ocean is long gone, leaving the tower dry and barren, apart from the handful of tiny life that can call the desert husk home. You will follow in the footsteps of an exodus of life, fleeing into the tide as the ocean dried. You will interact with the remnants of this civilization through mysterious machinery with an equally mysterious companion on your back, reliving a history once lush with life, now scarred by the persistent fear and fading memories of those who remembered the ocean.
Jusant sees you explore the corpse of an impossibly tall tower, scarred by the loss of the mighty ocean that once surrounded it.
A unique art style heavily reliant on soft, flat colors that gently meld together breathes life into this lonely world, casting the tower in a beautiful light without being too intense. I've long been a huge fan of games that can capture an art style and make it their own, and I believe Jusant is managing to do this. I understand that my preview session, measuring a little over two hours in length, spanned three chapters and two biomes, suggesting that there's a lot more diverse environments to see in Jusant as you ascend the tower, so I'm certainly excited to see that.
Jusant leaves its narratives mostly in the hands of players, interpreted through the ruins adorning the tower, art and machinery left behind, and plenty of notes and letters from the people that used to live here. While it seems to be a pretty straightforward, somber tale of environmental change and the inevitability of its consequences, there is a general air of mystery here that begs to be explored, and undoubtedly will be outside of the short preview I had.
The Ballast and the player have a symbiotic relationship, helping each other make the climb and unravel the tower's secrets.
That's because you're eventually introduced to the Ballast, an enigmatic creature composed entirely of water. It's adorable, as it should be, but it also plays a vital role in Jusant. While you are a highly talented (and well-equipped) climber, there are obstacles you simply cannot overcome. The Ballast has a strange ability to wake up the long-dormant nature present in the tower, opening up new paths for you to explore. It's also attuned to the tower and its many secrets, pointing you in the direction of more answers. With the Ballast's help, you're able to continue ascending the tower and unraveling these secrets; in turn, you help the Ballast make the same climb you are.
I have no doubt there is plenty more to discover in Jusant. I gleaned enough just from the brief cinematics and the shreds of lore contained in the world and letters to know that Jusant isn't just a mere climbing game. There's something much deeper here, weaved into a fictional world that has seen irrevocable change. I can't wait to dive in (climb up?) the final release of Jusant to see it all for myself.
Playing at your own pace
Jusant is not an intense, high-action game. It's slow-paced, calm, and relaxing. It's a meditative experience, exploring an empty world and looking for your next path. DON'T NOD has clearly put a lot of thought into how to finetune the climbing experience so that it's not frustrating for players, looks and feels fluid, and is approachable and easy to learn.
There's no risk of failure in Jusant, only your desire to push forward at your own pace and explore the tower.
The game actively encourages you to play at your own pace, to take your time charting out paths and checking out your surroundings. You do so with a variety of climbing tools, like helpful gloves that help you keep grip for extended periods of time in the most uncomfortable of places, or a rope that keeps you firmly secured to the wall (and can be used to traverse in interesting ways, like with swinging). There are also pitons that you can attach to the wall and use to form pseudo-checkpoints, giving you leverage and security before starting a new stretch of climbing.
It didn't take me long at all to feel comfortable with Jusant's controls, and I appreciated playing a game that very deliberately does not have fail states. You cannot fall to your demise, as your rope will always keep you secure. Sure, you can fail to complete a climb and be forced to start over or rethink your strategy (or simply fall and need to climb back up a section), but at no point does Jusant punish you for not playing well enough. In this respect, it is incredibly relaxing and low stakes.
Some players will decry this lack of urgency, desiring more challenge, but Jusant isn't for those players. This is for those who love to explore new worlds and love a game that doesn't rush how they do that. Jusant's climbing mechanics are easy to learn and satisfying in practice, and there's a surprising amount of variety to the climbing "puzzles" you'll have to solve as you progress up the tower.
There's very rarely a straightforward path to get to the next ledge or area that offers respite, forcing you to keep an open mind and try unorthodox solutions to progress. You may need to let go and use momentum to swing on your rope or ask the Ballast to influence nearby plants. You may even need to hitch rides on the critters that call the tower home. Again, though, you're never pushed to rush this process, with the only timed mechanic being a grip meter that can be partially replenished with brief rests or fully recharged any time you reach a new area or checkpoint.
Jusant is almost meditative, and it couldn't be coming at a better time.
The whole time, you get to admire the sheer beauty of the tower and surrounding desert while basking in the gorgeous soundtrack DON'T NOD has attached to Jusant. It's all-around a very pleasurable experience, and it's one I could see myself enjoying particularly well after a long day of work. Jusant is meditative, in a way, and it couldn't be coming at a better time.
Here, enjoy a few more pictures of my time in Jusant.
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Another exciting Xbox Game Pass release
I don't foresee Jusant taking over sales charts or dominating game-of-the-year conversations, but I do see it quietly making a ton of people very happy. It's beautiful and relaxing, with the exact right amount of intrigue to keep me interested in exploring the tower and learning about this world, but without spoon-feeding me story. Active encouragement to take my time strengthens the desire to explore, especially when there are plenty of secrets to be found.
I won't talk much about the technical aspects of Jusant, though, because I know this is an early preview build. I also know that DON'T NOD is actively working on a variety of improvements over what I saw that will be here when Jusant releases, including improved lighting and environments, superior animations and climbing feedback, major improvements to audio across the entire game, and much more. To be frank, my Jusant preview build already seemed to be in a solid place, but it's reassuring that the full game is already confirmed to be significantly better than what I already played.
I won't have to wait too long, either. Jusant is already confirmed for a multi-platform release across Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, and PlayStation 5, and will be a day one addition to Xbox and PC Game Pass. When, might you ask? Well, I have an answer for you. Jusant is officially releasing on Oct. 31, 2023, meaning we only have a little over two months to go. Want to try it for yourself before release? Jusant will have a free 45-minute demo available on Steam from Aug. 28 to Sept. 19, 2023.
Jusant may be one of my favorite Xbox games of the year, so you know I'm excited. Actually, that would make two fantastic releases from DON'T NOD this year, with Harmony: The Fall of Reverie also really impressing me. Give that one a look, too.
Jusant officially arrives on Oct. 31, 2023, and will offer a relaxing, explorative adventure through a beautiful, desolate world. It's another interesting title from DON'T NOD.