It’s almost not fair to call Elegy for a Dead World a game. There are no achievements, no enemies, no puzzles, and no objectives. Elegy is more like a word-processing tool, only a heck of a lot prettier, and with fewer practical features. This game lets you write the story and then share your creation with other players.
Elegy is not rated, but I think it would best appeal to teenagers. You can read the stories of other players, and they are not censored for language.
Elegy gives you a simple, non-gendered astronaut to control. This astronaut drifts through space and can choose to visit any of three dead worlds, each inspired by a famous English Romance-era poet. There’s a world based on “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a world based on “Darkness” by Lord Byron, and a world based on “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be” by John Keats.
As you explore these dead planets, writing prompts periodically appear. You can build off of them or completely ignore them. When you’re done, your final project is published and readable by other Elegy players. These projects are very visual, mixing kinetic images in with your story.
The artwork in this game is gorgeous. Everything feels ancient and lonely. What it all means—the crumbling buildings, the giant masks, the empty hearths—that’s for you to decide.
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to think of Elegy as a game, and so “gameplay” is not exactly the right word. But it will have to do.
Elegy starts with no introduction, no explanation, and no suggestion. You are adrift in space. I can see what the creators were trying to do here—if they had given me a reason for being there, it might have limited my writing. But I must admit, I felt disoriented when the game first started up. If I hadn’t watched the trailer, I would have felt even more confused.
Before entering each world, you can choose from a handful of different themes for your writing prompts. For instance, choose to be a young girl writing in her diary, and all of your prompts will start from that perspective. Each level also has an exercise in which you are asked to correct the grammar of each text entry. Right and wrong answers are not provided—I suppose it’s expected that a teacher will correct your work for you. The player may also select “Freeform Writing,” and their text entry fields will begin blank.
I liked using prompts, but I usually deleted them from my writing. I appreciated this detail of Elegy’s design—the prompts are always optional, even in the middle of a composition.
Atmosphere is where Elegy succeeds the most. Looking at the beautiful artwork definitely appealed to my internal muse. I was disappointed, however, by the small variety of content that Elegy had to offer. To be fair, the “content” in this game is infinite—you can keep on writing stories forever, if you like. However, the three planets weren’t enough for me. They were gorgeous, but they were too similar. For a game that’s all about inspiration, it’s a shame that they limited themselves to just one style of art and music.
Another problem with Elegy is that its file-management system is pretty deficient. I couldn’t organize my stories or navigate through them quickly. If it is possible to export stories as PDFs or JPGs, I couldn’t figure out how (except by taking screen shots).
That Elegy has these issues makes perfect sense. Elegy is being sold and marketed as a game, not as a word processor, but on the inside it’s trying hard to be both. The result is that it feels incomplete. With just a few of the features of a game and a few of the features of a writing tool, what you get is a product that is not satisfying as either.
Still, I cannot deny that I had a good time wandering through the lonely planets and recording my thoughts. I just don’t know if it’s a game that will continue to appeal to me on my fifth or sixth play.
Elegy for a Dead World may actually be a pretty good fit for a high school English class. I think it would work well in helping students to interact with writing in a format that feels native to them. Assuming the instructors are able to save the work of their students, Elegy could be a really fun way for kids to learn about creative writing. But it would definitely need some sort of accompanying lesson or course materials in order to really succeed.
Elegy for a Dead World is beautiful. It has atmosphere up the wazoo, with subtle and non-distracting sounds and wide, colorful environments. However, its creators haven’t quite decided if it’s a game or a tool, and as such it lacks key elements that would make it successful as either. With additional features and content, Elegy could be something fantastic for young writers. For now, it’s just okay.