When the PlayStation 5 launched last month, there was a solid lineup of games to carry the system through the holiday season. Big titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and Demon’s Souls headlined the launch, with Godfall and a handful of late season PS4 games with free upgrades rounding out the list. There were even a few family-friendly games, like Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Bugsnax, Astro’s Playroom, with the latter two being free. But one of the early surprises in the infancy of the PS5 is the recently released Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition. This 2019 game was given a new gen makeover, and it truly is one of the best games to play for people of all ages and skill levels, partly because of its simplicity and mechanics.
Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is the story of a fox exploring the frozen wilds of Iceland. That’s it. That’s the game. The player controls the fox through deep snows, and through various caves and later through abandoned settlements and more. There are no instructions or hints; just you as the fox seemingly making your way toward a ribbon of red smoke in the sky.
Along the way, the fox will find the bodies of dead shamans, and will ultimately release a fox spirit to guide you. This is as close to hand-holding as developer Infuse Studio gets, as the journey — and how you take it — is the draw here. The fox can release the spirits of the shamans with special staffs that are hidden throughout the vast maps. Murals and cave markings relay the story in very primitive ways, as they lead the fox deeper and deeper into his mission.
As the player traverses on, other game mechanics come to light — pun intended. The fox can charge up his light with special flowers and release that light to unlock various new paths and more. The fox also has to clear a blight in each map as he journeys. None of this is outright explained, yet, as gamers, it all made sense while playing it. The developers left it in our hands, and we came through, solving the puzzles and learning the story. Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition becomes one long, gorgeous puzzle game as you make your way toward the red smoke.
The enhanced edition makes use of the PS5’s power by utilizing the HDR lighting effects and ray tracing. It was an amazing looking game before on the PS4 and Switch, but now it’s a bonafide masterpiece in its presentation. I’ve found myself feeding my eyes with its beauty; stopping to take in a vista or to marvel at how the light gleams off the water on a rock wall in a cave. This might very well be the best looking game on the PlayStation 5. And I mean every word of that sentence.
There is a story in Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition, and it’s beautifully told and constructed, but as with many things in life, the resolution to the narrative isn’t what drives the player; it’s the journey. Through the snow and ice, to platforming, to solving puzzles to raise/lower water levels or manipulate the rocks to open new paths to continue on, the fox’s trek across the map is the best part of the game.
Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is the antithesis of faster, louder games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Demon’s Souls. This is the game I play when I want to relax and enjoy myself without stressing too much about combat or violence.
This fox might be the unsung gaming hero of a world beset by uncertainty with the pandemic, as for a few hours each playthrough, I can forget about all of that and just dive deep into this stunning game world. As with many things in life, Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is all about the journey, not the destination. And it is a journey I will gladly take again and again.
Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is available now for PlayStation 5. The regular versions of the game are also available for PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.
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