Winterstrike takes that same gift for imagining a strange and alien world and presents it via StoryNexus mechanics: Iria is a city of etiquette and technology. It used to have spaceships and dueling clubs, architects and soldiers. Now suddenly it is oppressed by a heavy unnatural winter, the result of an act of war, though it is not clear who made such an attack, nor how. Bodies are frozen; buildings are broken; there isn’t enough hot food to go around. It’s not immediately clear how many races of creatures inhabit the city, let alone what their allegiances might be. Hints about the nature of the world accumulate slowly.
Plot grips less strongly here than in Samsara — at least during the opening stages. There are fewer of the pinned cards that represent ongoing plot threads. Some come in time, but to start with there aren’t many options of that kind. Instead, playing Winterstrike resembles exploring a foreign city when one has no special agenda of one’s own. A market, a street performance, an attempted crime, an interesting ruin capture the protagonist’s attention and then let it go again.
Meanwhile, the action bank is very generous, which means you can play more of Winterstrike at a time than you can of some SN games — a good move, I think, because it allows the player a little more scope to begin putting together clues and fragments before an enforced hiatus helps her forget them again.
As with Fallen London, the player character seems to be intentionally short on allegiances and long on self-preservation. Sometimes you have opportunities to act altruistically, take a side, help someone in trouble, but there’s also plenty of freedom to cross the lines and combine multiple strategies. It grows on me more slowly than Samsara did, I have less clear sense of what my character might in the long run wish to accomplish, but in the meantime the worldbuilding and imagery are intriguing, and there seems to be a lot of content to explore.
And a side note which is not really about Winterstrike per se:
I am not quite sure how I feel about StoryNexus’ recurrent use of a pool of iconic images. Playing Winterstrike one finds the same bridge over a river, the same sword, the same flag that make constant appearances in Samsara: now tinted a grim blue-grey rather than Samsara‘s heated gold, but with the same forms. This is a much better outcome than having no art for StoryNexus games — the concept of interchangeable cards more or less requires the player be given some visual distinction between options. And the available set is fairly evocative while at the same time not committing itself too firmly to any one genre. Nonetheless I found myself struggling with the imagery set more in Winterstrike precisely because those images already had meanings for me; it was like trying to hang a second coat on the same peg, associating this new set of story options with the same pictures.