If you played Hyper Light Drifter, you got your arse kicked by Hyper Light Drifter. Heart Machine’s top-down action RPG was a bona fide gauntlet designed to run you through the wringer (a lot) before you acclimated to its resolutely unforgiving peculiarities. So you might be pleased to hear that the studio’s sophomore effort, Solar Ash, a 3D platformer planned for the fall, won’t be quite so punishing.
“It’s more about the feeling and the spectacle and less about the challenge this time around,” Alx Preston, Solar Ash’s creative director, told Kotaku over a Zoom call last week. “We are leaning a little more toward leniency, ultimately.”
You might recognise Solar Ash, seeing as it has been paraded around the PR block a bit. In 2019, the game even sported a different name, initially announced as Solar Ash Kingdom. But as the iterative development process continued, Heart Machine dropped the “Kingdom” to better reflect the game’s current state, something Preston described as “not a light decision.” Trailers, interviews, marketing materials, and even registered web pages from the time indicate a commitment to Solar Ash Kingdom as the final name.
The game popped up again — as simply Solar Ash this time — at the June 2020 PlayStation 5 reveal livestream and again during Sony’s February 2021 games showcase. Then, last week, it showed at Annapurna Interactive’s first dedicated event with a splashy trailer and a release date: October 25, 2021. It’ll come out on PS4, PS5, and PC.
Every peek at Solar Ash to date has flaunted the same confident aesthetic: a melancholic, meditative sci-fi world with dreamy neons and bright pastels, all set to soul-shaking downtempo synths. It’s set inside a black hole. You play as Rei, a so-called voidrunner tasked with the goal of saving her planet from near-certain destruction. Gameplay snippets so far have shown typical third-person platforming moves, like jumping, double-jumping, dashing, and climbing.
Mechanically, it’s a marked departure from the frenetic hack-and-slash that defined Heart Machine’s previous game. But there’s a visual throughline that’s led some observers to believe it’s, if not quite a sequel to Hyper Light Drifter, at least set in the same fictional universe. Preston’s own remarks even fuelled that speculation. He tweeted as much in 2019:
Also, it definitely takes place in the same universe as HLD
— Alx Preston | Heart Machine (@HeartMachineZ) March 13, 2019
Today, things have, uh, changed.
“The universe as in literally the same — it could be several galaxies away. So, in that sense, yes. But in the, like, MCU, Metaverse-style? It’s not in the same next-door, neighbour planet or anything like that,” Preston told Kotaku. “The thing that I will say is that it’s got connective tissue between Hyper Light because, hey, I’m the person that’s leading the charge on the project creatively and design-wise.”
So, there you have it: not a sequel. Barely even related. But fans of Hyper Light Drifter’s baked-in relentlessness should still find something to like. Though Solar Ash will indeed be more accessible, it’ll still pose somewhat of a challenge. It’s just a different type of challenge.
Much of the shift is necessitated by design. Solar Ash, after all, is a high-velocity 3D platformer. That means having deft control over cameras, gauging depth perception of jumps, maintaining situational awareness as vivid vistas whiz by at blistering speed, and so on. Some spots in the game have “weird gravity,” per Preston. And, of course, there are those massive creatures you may have seen in the trailers: a floating centipede encased in stone, an arachnid with five seriously unsettling eyes.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy game. We still ask a lot of the player,” Preston assured Kotaku. “[But] we’re leaning more towards a little more accessible, for sure. Just because we are. We are.”