You have fallen all the way down here, washed down the river, and now stuck in some god-forsaken desert. You really got unlucky there. So, as you going to accept your approaching death, you see a blackwagon - a self-driven wagon, powered by drive-imps that make residence in it. And it comes near you, it stops, and 3 creatures, completely wrapped in matching garments, with full-face masks, disembark and look at you. They briefly argue if they should even help you at all, but then you are asked a question that determines everything... can you read?
What you must know is that this game is from the creators of Bastion and Transistor. But this time it's not an action game. It is, in a very weird way, a sport game. You see, in the world of Downside - which is like a world under a good proper world - everyone is exile, sentenced there forever as a punishment for crimes. However, by becoming team and participating in the rites, which is a sort of a ball game, you are given a chance of freedom at the end of a 'gaming season'. You play the part of reader - one who can read, which is rare, as literacy is outlawed - who can study the ancient books of rites and help the team with training and mental preparation. But, what starts as path to freedom quickly turns to something else, as you find out more and more facts not only about your situation but about the rules of this world itself.
Gameplay is 2-fold. First of all there's the rites and all related to it. The goal is always to get star-ball into the enemy pyre, for various amount of points. Along the way you get more team members, each with different skills, and each team you fight is different, so the proceedings are always varied. Everyone can only control 1 character at a time, out of 3 present on the field. And participating in games levels your team up, giving them more skills. You also can buy some artifacts to help you out. And later there are options to make games more difficult, if you into that sort of thing.
On the other hand, there's the story part, where you travel, interact with your teammates and enemies and generally moving the story forward. And that is the part that matters as much as the games. You see, everything you do matters, and in this game it's serious. Your actions, your choices on who to fight, even your loses (yes, game doesn't even end with any loss, you will get ending at the very end one way or another), all moves the story forward, and I wish to spoil here, but I just can't.
Okay, some technical details. Game actually looks really damn nice, which you can expect from this studio. Since you are both literally and figuratively in a local purgatory, they got really creative with landscapes and local denizens. And not only game looks well, there are myriads little touches. Your blackwagon interior keeps changing as you move along, weather changes as you progress the story, making all look different... I would say, my one problem was that at times, when I was alt-tabbing from the game, it would crash... maybe like 1 every 10 times. But that's not too bad, as the game saved progress literally after everything.
Music is... holy fuck, that music. I mean, there is a minstrel traveling with you, so... You can listen to any game music at any time, but when things get really serious and story-related... well, let's just say, the minstrel and his (spoilers!) gatekeeper counterpart sing for you during the most important games. And at the credits of the game, they sing you song that actually changes depending on how you did in the story. Like, holy fuck, who even does that?!
You know... as I was going through the game, I realized that there's a lot of effort going into the 'perfect' ending. I went to see the forums and I realized quickly, that you have no such thing as absolutely perfect ending. So I went as I went, and in the end, while what I did was not perfect, by any means, I believe, it was at the same time perfect for the game I had. And in the end, the game tells you the story of what happened to the characters. To all characters. To everyone you have ever met in the course of the game. And it all intertwines, and really makes you feel it like your own.
All in all? God damnit, I haven't seen games that good in a while!