Stray Gods is a musical where you can shape the course of the songs, in the middle of them. Meaning it’s also a game. But if a single path of this branching narrative was selected and put up on Broadway, no-one would bat an eye. It’s an intriguing concept, one that’s never been done before. Read on for our Stray Gods Review.
Found through a Podcast
I first found out about Stray Gods by hearing composer Austin Wintory explain the concept on the podcast Play Watch Listen, which by the way is one of the best gaming podcasts on the internet. You’re welcome! The way he described it got me very hyped and the game quickly became one of this year’s most anticipated releases for me. This means I was very happy when developer Summerfall Games and publisher Humble Games were awesome and gave me a review copy!
The game is a narrative experience with choices to be made along the way to branch it into new permutations. But the interesting thing with it is that it happens INSIDE the songs and often several times.
The story follows Grace, singer in a band, who lives in a flat with her roommate and friend from college, the drummer Freddie. During an open audition for more band members, a woman named Calliope shows up and sings a beautiful ballad with Grace, before leaving. Later that night, Calliope shows up again, this time on Grace’s doorstep and Calliope falls dead in Grace’s arms. An intriguing beginning already, but to add to the mystery, Calliope was the last muse of the old Greek pantheon and she passes her powers to Grace who now needs to find Calliope’s killer while finding her own place in this new world.
Casual and mysterious
From the get-go, the story is cosy with a tense mystery growing in the background. The characters are colourful and interesting, certainly helped along further by the stellar cast, including big names like Troy Baker, Laura Bayley, Janina Gavankar, Felicia Day, Raoul Kohly, Ashley Johnson and many many more.
The very minimalistic animation style combined with gorgeously painted scenes make for a nice visual representation that might not suit everyone. But it certainly works for me, making the characters and world feel very alive, despite the very static visual style.
It is a game after all
Stray Gods shows its roots early on. The lead writer is David Gaider, who worked on, among other gems, Dragon Age and Mass Effect in the past. The dialogue wheels feel like home to fans of those series. In between the songs and dialogue you’ll find yourself at a map to travel between locations and sometimes even gives vibes of old point and click adventures for a little bit.
The dialogue wheel works great. In certain situations, you have 3 colour coded choices representing different styles of Grace’s personality. Picking a certain one of them can lead to other choices down the line opening up. The green, red and blue choices represent charming, kickass and clever. How these affect the music, we’ll get to in a bit!
Because while the wheel is intuitive and works great, it often required an extra flick of the left stick, to wake it up, before I could make my choice. While I love the accessibility option to make it so that you have all the time in the world to decide what you want to do next, I wanted to play without it, but in doing to, in combination with the selector issue, it sometimes felt like I didn’t have enough time to pick my route of action.
In between songs
The non-song gameplay isn’t doing many unique things from a gameplay perspective, but it’s fun and works just fine. I’ve played with a controller and found a few menus, namely the map menu where you select where to go next, to be a bit unintuitive to navigate with a controller. Not bad, just, not great. It seems to be built for a mouse.
By chance, I realised pressing Triangle on the controller will pause the game. Very useful, but not something I noticed the game teaching me. At the point of review, the game also has a few dialogue lines with audio levels a bit higher or lower than the rest of the game. I suspect this will be addressed in patches along the way however.
It is a musical after all
Stray Gods appeal and uniqueness is definitely the music. Created by Austin Wintory, Tripod and Australian musician Montaigne, it’s poetic, engaging and interactive. Each song branches off into new permutations several times within the song, so a 3 minute musical number, is behind the scenes more like 20 minutes of music. Branching a song into the red Kickass personality will change not only the lyrics, direction and performance, but also add new instruments to the mix that sometimes stay behind in later parts. Each permutation is equally well written, interesting and incredible.
The songs are definitely the highlights of the game and where most of the progression of the story happens. They are classic musical pieces but mix genres and emotions in sometimes unexpected ways. But perhaps the most amazing aspect of the music is that despite the many permutations, the mix of genres, styles and performers, the quality remains top notch.
Now, I’m no musical fan in general, but I live with one. Half way through the second song, my wife, who is a big musical fan, stood up from the couch where she was reading a book and said. “I’ll leave the room because these songs make me want to play this game too.” I’d say that’s good praise.
Nominated for awards
I’m not very up to date on the rules of the Tony Awards, but I’d argue Stray Gods deserve one. And a Grammy. And despite a year with incredible music from incredible games, like Baldur’s Gate 3, Guild Wars 2 Secrets of the Obscure and Starfield, I hope that Stray Gods can go home from The Game Awards in December with a prize for Best Music/Soundtrack.
I also want to applaud the development team for letting the game not overstay its welcome. It’s not longer than it needs to be, it’s perfectly long enough with around 6 to 8 hours for a single playthrough. You can easily get more than one playthrough out of the game however, not to mention the enjoyment of watching it with someone playing and seeing them make different choices!
I’m blown away by the narrative, acting, singing and the songs, leaving Stray Gods with my Seal of Approval. It’s a narrative game you do not want to miss. There are plenty of moments to keep you at the edge of your seat, that get you engaged where you just don’t want to stop. Don’t sleep on Stray Gods!
- Amazing Music
- Great Writing
- Incredible Performances
- Branching Narrative
- A few minor annoyances/bugs
- Artstyle might put some off
Stray Gods isn’t available through cloud gaming yet, although we expect it to become available at some point. We hope you found our Stray Gods review informative. The review was made by DadPlaysGames. You can check out his YouTube channel by going here.