The heart and soul of Elk, the titular island that Welcome to Elk is set on, is The Hermit. It’s a bar set among the islanders’ homes, the one where everyone gathers to hang out, to drink, and – most im-portantly – share stories.
This is a game about the kind of stories you might hear in a pub like The Hermit, when drinks have loosened tongues and the man who recognised you as an outsider the moment you walked in has re-vealed himself to be harmless.
But it’s also about the dodgy deals that might happen at that corner table with the bad vibes, or when a long-simmering feud sparks up, and the island’s peaceful façade slips.
You play as Frigg, a young woman who has travelled to Elk to serve as a woodworker’s assistant, but who fast becomes wrapped up in the lives of the residents there.
There are no puzzles to solve or mysteries to untangle here – you move Frigg through each day of her stay on the island, meeting everyone and watching as she involves herself in their lives.
Any element you can’t interact with is drained of colour, which makes a certain sense – Elk is a cold, snowy island, made warm only by the locals and their tales.
The game’s stories are conveyed by conservations, by written accounts you’re given, and even through live-action video, tales told by the people who lived through the experiences the game is based on.
Welcome to Elk blurs fact and fiction, reality and non-reality, faintly tapping at the fourth wall until Frigg can hear it. Game writer Astrid Refstrup’s shadow looms large, as even the game’s achieve-ments casually refer to her as though she was a character in the story.
The game is partly about the process of making a game, on top of everything else. It blends story-telling methods to interesting and inventive effect, although, amidst it all, Frigg can sometimes feel relegated to the role of passenger rather than protagonist, and the same few stories are retold multiple times from different perspectives.
Peppered throughout Welcome to Elk are minigames that tie everything together and let you put some personal stamp on your experience. Like the rest of the game, they’re mechanically simple while also being creative and, sometimes, quite beautiful: I found myself unable to step away from a ‘build a pub with blocks’ challenge until I had my pub looking just so.
There’s not a lot of them, but there’s not a lot of Welcome to Elk in general – it’s a two-hour passthrough rather than an extended stay. But perhaps Welcome to Elk works best not as a game you make your home in, but instead as one you once visited – a place that you now have your own stories about.
Midway through, Welcome to Elk briefly transitions into a loving homage to another recent Danish hit—Triband’s brilliant What the Golf?. It might seem back-handed to say that the game’s best scene is when it borrows from a different game, but it really is a wonderful tribute.
A compelling ode to both storytelling in all its forms and the power of a dingy pub.
Format: Xbox One (tested) / PC
Developer: Triple Topping
Publisher: Triple Topping
Release: Out now