It's so easy to get lost in gaming's biggest, loudest, most action-packed releases over the course of a year instead of the quieter titles. Wayward Strand stands out simply by choosing to focus on the little meaningful moments you have with those around you. Taking place over the span of three days, this is an experience that's whatever the player makes it. There's no big, bombastic story – you're mostly just walking around, either talking to people to learn more about them and keeping them company or eavesdropping on conversations where you may discover something you wouldn't have been able to find out directly. While this may not sound particularly exciting, the game does everything right to keep the experience lively and emotionally fulfilling. With every new piece of information you gather about a person, Casey, the main character, jots it down in her notebook. Over time, this becomes both an endearing personal history of Casey's relationship with any particular character and an accessible, fun way for players to build out a personality profile of a person by keeping tabs on them throughout Casey's three-day hospital journey.
The game's main gimmick is the fact that the lives of the characters on the airship continue in real-time, meaning that these aren't just static characters standing in a room, waiting for Casey to honor them with a conversation simply because she's the protagonist. People are always moving around her to do what they need to do, and it's entirely possible to stumble into a revelation or event by accident, adding replayability as you might find yourself wanting to stick to a certain patient just to get more of their story. When Casey initially boards the airship, her main goal is to interview the nurses and patients of the airship hospital to learn more about the airship itself and write about it for her school's newspaper. But what she and the player gets is an experience that transcends the initial "mystery" altogether. What begins as a straightforward interview process becomes a series of small, personal stories about getting older, reckoning with the inevitability of death, and reflecting on the choices a person makes and those who mean the most to them. It's a game that tells the player to really make the most of the present to not have regrets about the past. When it's Casey's time to leave and go back to school after the long weekend at the hospital, it's almost devastating as you'll be deeply invested in these characters and will immediately want to play the game again just to get more time with them. Wayward Strand may not be the loudest voice in the room, but it's easily the most meaningful and heartfelt one.