Book of Hours | image courtesy of Weather Factory

Game Review: Book of Hours – A Love/Hate Relationship In Three Acts

Book of Hours

“For fifteen centuries, Hush House was a fortress of knowledge. Until the fire. The collection is ruined, and the last Librarian is gone. Only one with your unique talents can rebuild the library…”

Developer/Publisher: Weather Factory

Release date: 17 August 2023

Key features:

  • Acquire and investigate occult books and curiosities.
  • Craft and use inks, memories and other esoteric tools.
  • Study the nine wisdoms and conquer the nine Elements of the Soul.
  • Guide visitors who come seeking your assistance.
  • Explore the Secret Histories and the pantheon of Hours that rules them.
  • Restore a vast crumbling edifice built on the foundations of an ancient abbey.
  • Decide your past and write your own history.

Price: £19.99

BOOK OF HOURS launch trailer: Welcome to Hush House

You can buy Book of Hours here:

Review 🔍

I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of Book of Hours based on the description and key features of the game. I love books, occult stuff and mysteries – so the key features of this game sounded very appealing to me. GamingBuzz paid for the game, we didn’t get a review copy or were sponsored to write this review – so my opinions are entirely my own. Let’s see how I got on with the game.

ACT I – Humble Beginnings 🌊

Book of Hours does not mess around with lengthy introductions (or any introductions for that matter) and simply drops you on a beach with no information other than the place and time, and a short text informing us that Hush House has not had a librarian since the fire 7 years ago and that we may be a suitable candidate. Sounds promising!

Figuring out what to do next is probably one of the hardest challenges in the game. There is no tutorial to explain what all the buttons in the user interface do and things are not straightforward either. This is by design. The developers used a similar approach for their first title “Cultist Simulator” and state that mastering the game without a tutorial is part of the gameplay experience. In the narrative of the game, the librarian finds themselves stranded on the beach with no memory other than the storm, almost drowning, and confused. With this prerequisite, the lack of a tutorial sort of makes sense but I found it incredibly frustrating.

You get access to the entire UI from the start once you collect your three starting items and have to figure out what things do through trial and error. Trial and error as a method of progress will stay relevant for the majority of the game so the frustrating moments never disappear entirely. The player has no representation of themselves on the map so I tried to click on the steps leading away from the beach in order to “move” the character, which did not yield any understandable response from the game. You can scroll in and out fairly far and move the map, but at this point not much was visible. I clicked my way through the menus offered by the game and tried to figure out what the game could possibly want from me. I tried clicking and dragging and dropping but nothing worked. At this point, I was desperate for a refund ((my review notes literally say: “I WANT A REFUND“)). However, I was too excited for this game to give up on it so early, so I kept going.

I eventually figured out how to use the items I was given through trial and error, and I was absolutely delighted when I made some progress. I was not having fun beforehand though.

With the help of a fisherman, we get to enter the village Brancrug ((at this point I literally wrote “OMG WE ARE IN THE CITYYY” in my notes)).

ACT II – Trying To Make Sense Of Things 🔬

After working out how to leave the beach area (and foolishly thinking I’d be able to proceed faster now), we are introduced to Brancrug village. The village consists of a few houses, which you can all click on, but they are initially locked to us. After we find the house that the “address of a friend” unlocks, we can talk to them and get a memory. After that, I didn’t quite know what to do and lost my memories as the day rolled over. This confused me at first, but you can re-gain memories at any time, and a new day also refreshes the Elements of the Soul you used. Book of Hours is a cosy game and does not punish you for taking your time and missing time frames. This is great, and suitable for the missing instruction in the game.

We manage to get some money (which can be used to pay people for their help) and somehow manage to clear the bridge to get closer to Hush House.

This gives us access to the Keeper’s Lodge and the key to Hush House. You can zoom in on all locations on the map to examine them closely and interact with the items in the rooms.

The Keeper’s Lodge comes with the key to Hush House, a fireplace, a bed, a tea set, and books as some of the more important items. You can pick up and put down almost anything in this game within the rooms, which felt slightly overwhelming at first, but I love the possibilities offered by this feature. Players can spend some time just picking up things and seeing if they do anything at this stage.

This is where I felt slightly more confident going forward, but I still didn’t have a proper plan or any in-depth knowledge about the game systems yet. If this is set in the same world as Cultist Simulator, this game should be called Learning-on-the-job simulator.

ACT III – Moving Into Hush House One Room At A Time 🏚️

The main game loop after you unlock Hush House consists of finding assistance to unlock rooms one by one. There are many many rooms to unlock and the requirements will get more challenging the further you progress within the house.

What irks me a little bit about Hush House is how huge it is and how little books are actually present – at least in the early rooms. We have multiple gardens and an art gallery. I came here to be a librarian, peacefully reading and cataloguing while the rain hits the windows and the waves crash on the rocks below the house. Where are my books? Or a desk at least so I can respond to the THREE reminder letters checking in on me and asking if I am okay. Whoever sent these letters must be convinced I am dead by now, but I am simply unable to find some paper and ink to write a letter – with a whole library AND a town with a post office at my disposal. Are you sure that nobody would be able to lend me a pen? I could even buy some with the money I have. Anyway, rant over, back to the review.

At this point in the game (about 5 hours in for me, I know I was ridiculously slow), the game mechanics become more and more apparent and I am gaining confidence. My actions are sometimes directed now instead of being purely guided by trial and error, and I find myself looking out for the more subtle nuances of the card combinations and their traits.

The Tree of Wisdoms offers another route for progress, and you can use cards to gain permanent Elements of the Soul.

The Tree of Wisdom is very well designed but again, I don’t understand what goes in there or what the paths do in advance. It is all very vague.

This brings me to another aspect of the game. It does a lot of things but nothing is particularly well developed. You can unlock rooms in the house, but there are so many and some of them are of very little use to you, so the excitement of unlocking rooms slowly wears off. Reading books is not very fun early on, there isn’t much to read at all and you have no idea what to do with it, so the excitement wears off here as well. Most cards you gain, you will have to go through a process of trial and error to use them and the whole gameplay loop of opening up windows and dragging cards can be quite tedious. The librarian doesn’t have their own voice and there is almost no dialogue to get a feeling of immersion in the world.

I also really miss the addition of a diary or an encyclopedia within the game. The game expects you to make your own somewhere outside of the game – you can copy almost every bit of text to your clipboard with one click – but they do not provide room for that within the game. I think this is lazy game design and even if the game had a simple text editor with tabs that you have to fill yourself, it would save me from tabbing out of the game into another text editor, breaking the immersion.

Book of Hours has drawn me in with the promise of unlocking a huge library with lots of beautiful spots, rooms filled with books, art, magic, and occult secrets. I feel like I have gotten much of this in the 6+ hours I have played so far and up to this point, the game just feels shallow at the core, with lots of flavour and clunky mechanics to make it seem like more than it is.

That being said, and I am aware that I just listed a ton of negative aspects, I still like this game. The artwork and the soundtrack are absolutely gorgeous. I love the way the seasons change subtly in the background and how every new day brings new weather that is not just present on the card built you can also see it in the world. I think of myself as having a pretty good imagination so I am just filling the blanks in the story and interactions myself. When I play, I can see the people in the pub even though they are not actually there. I am willing to put in the work to see what Hush House can become and I am willing to use my own note taking software to keep track of the story. Because discovering the game mechanics and the little secrets is still fun. You can tell that this game is a work of love and even though it has many flaws, you can feel this love. The flaws aren’t there because someone tried to cut as many corners as possible to sell you a half finished product, they are there because that is what the two developers like to see in a game and this is what they were capable of implementing. You can feel this love and care for the game while you play and it makes me push through the unpleasant parts with less and less care because I want to see what is in store for us.

Book of Hours is memorable and certainly part of an ill-defined a genre that you don’t see much of. The vision is there, even if it is not always obvious to the player. I cannot wait to sit down this winter, with a blanket and a hot beverage, and dive into this weird and obscure world for an hour or two, getting lost in the atmosphere and trying to make sense of things.

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