The First Tree is the definition of an indie, but we should still expect more.
Before I begin it’s worth mentioning that this game was essentially a one-man production and for that I admire and respect the great care and effort that went into The First Tree. It is David Wehle’s singular vision, though he did license assets from other developers in order to speed up production. All that aside, his eye for color and mind for narrative are what allow The First Tree to stand out as more than just a walking sim.
The game opens on a mother fox awakening alone in her den and you are tasked with locating her pups across varied landscapes. She can walk, run, double jump, and even dig in certain activation areas. Bits of starlight are available to collect as you are led along the dream but become just meaningless collectibles the farther you go on your journey. Voiceover narration between a husband and wife accompanies your quest, telling of a man’s relationship with his estranged father and the memories you uncover of their lives while digging up clues for your missing pups. The juxtaposition of the two stories is unpolished, but it adds life to a mostly barren dreamscape as you search across different seasons and terrain.
The First Tree is incredible to look at and listen to, thanks in large part to the beautiful score by Josh Kramer, but it’s just not very much fun to play, even when touted as an exploration game or walking sim. While the landscape appears boundless, the distance between goals is too far without enough activity existing between. The narration and writing leaves much to be desired as well, and while the story does have its moments, it lacks polish. Admittedly, it’s endearing that the two actors playing the narrative husband and wife are voiced by David Wehle and his wife, Elise. However, while I’m sure it was done from a cost-saving standpoint, there are enough awkward deliveries to cause one to wonder how improved the game would be had they hired actors with a bit more experience.
The First Tree only lasts about 2 hours and is essentially a walking sim through a handful of gorgeous settings with bits of narrative threaded throughout. That being said, the ending truly is something special, and if you choose to get this game in the future, I’d recommend enduring through the rough narration and reaching the finale. The finale is worth it.