The most interesting game I’ve played this week is an indie puzzle-adventure about a giant tower filled with people I can’t understand
Starfield and Baldur’s Gate 3 are all the rage right now, but I’m here to tell you about something different. It’s a lush indie puzzle-adventure game “inspired by the myth of Babel” called Chants of Sennaar, and it’s out now on Steam.
Chants of Sennaar first caught my eye because it looks, superficially at least, like an up-close take on Monument Valley, one of my favorite mobile games, which finally made its way from iOS to PC in 2022. But Chants of Sennaar is much more than a geometric brain-teaser: It takes place inside a massive, twisting tower, filled with chambers, passageways, and people who no longer speak to one another.
Into that breach steps you, a prophesied Traveller, whose arrival promises to break down those ancient, metaphorical walls and restore balance to the people. But while you come to the Tower with wisdom (so the prophecy says, anyway), what you lack is a basic understanding of the language: Words, both spoken and written, are represented by glyphs, and in order to make any sense of what’s going on, you need to figure out what they mean.
Translating the glyphs isn’t an overly difficult process, at least in the early going, and the game’s internal diary automatically differentiates between confirmed translations and speculation, so you can take your best guess at something without worrying that you’re forever going to be locked into a misunderstanding. And to ensure that nothing important is missed, interactions with characters are memorialized in on-screen ‘memories’ that can be accessed at any time, in case you forget what you’re supposed to be doing or what a symbol meant.
One of the things I like most about Chants of Sennaar is how it feels organic. There’s no doubt that the opening is a linear tutorial, designed to ensure that I understand all the basic concepts and don’t miss any steps, but it’s also open and flexible enough that I felt smart when I got things done. This was especially true when my guesses about certain words turned out to be correct: It was legitimately kind of thrilling when I was able to accurately deduce the middle word in the fantasy equivalent of “see Spot run.”
There’s a lot more than just translation work going on in Chants of Sennaar: I also got to enjoy a bit of simple stealth, some environmental puzzles, and a very clever, briefly startling “you’ve been caught” mechanic when I got a little too nonchalant while sneaking around inside a room I wasn’t supposed to be in. And I fiddled a bit with what I believe is a fast-travel system, although I wasn’t able to fully figure it out—possibly a limitation of the demo I played.
It’s really quite a beautiful game, too.
Chants of Sennaar is available now on Steam for 10% off its regular $20/£18/€20 price. If you’d like to try before you buy, a free demo encompassing the first 13 glyphs—about an hour or two of gameplay, depending on how much you horse around—is also available.