Eternal Threads Preview: Kind of Like a Time-Traveling Gone Home

In Eternal Threads, your goal is to travel back in time and save six people from a burning boarding house in Manchester. Easy enough, right? Just quench the flames and make sure the firefighters are in position. Alas, before warping back to the mid 2010s, your handler makes it clear that you cannot simply stamp out the fire. Instead, you’ll need to carefully edit a series of decisions made by the residents over the course of a week which imperceptibly added up to the tragedy. You know that old adage about a butterfly batting its wings and causing a hurricane halfway around the world? That’s the spirit of Eternal Threads; benign decisions, disastrous consequences.

After an hour with the game I was already smitten with Eternal Threads’ core premise. The game plays out like the dirgeful, wondrously lo-fi Return of the Obra-Dinn; you are sent to this smoldering building with a portable chronology-altering device, and can rewatch various different events and interactions over the course of the timeline. Some of these sequences are fairly ordinary and ancillary, like a couple of roommates enjoying a late-night drink in the communal kitchen. Others are far more substantial and nudge your detective closer to the truth, like the implication that one of the residents is suffering from hallucinations.

Eternal Threads Screenshots – April 2022

Sometimes I was allowed to modify what happened over the course of these events, akin to switching train tracks on a cosmic scale. One of our lost souls apparently decided to text an old, unhinged lover after a night of drinking. I stepped in and neutralized that terrible choice, which rippled down the newly patchworked chronosphere. Eternal Threads’ timeline is pockmarked with all sorts of potential plot points, which will only be uncovered if other decisions have been amended along the way. I didn’t play enough to see any major payoffs, but early on I did make sure the doctor upstairs received a letter inviting him to join a nonprofit overseas. He hadn’t been saved from the blaze just yet, but he was now ruminating on a potential life-changing career choice. That’s certainly progress, and it made me curious to see how many other strange directions I could pull the denizens of this doomed building.

Trawling through domestic documents that aren’t yours to see has always left me with a strange, queasy feeling.

Generally speaking, Eternal Threads resembles something like a stage play. You’ll be standing around watching these ghostly figures talk to one another, while you jot down notes like a responsible time-defying detective. But there are still plenty of secrets lingering around these burnt-out boarding halls, and oodles of collateral evidence waiting to be examined. Crumpled up notes can be yanked out of trash cans, incriminating text messages glow on phone screens, bills, wills, and newspaper clippings are stuffed in drawers. It feels a bit like the 2013 classic Gone Home to me, in the sense that you’re learning about the inner lives of these victims in a way that seems rudely intrusive. Yes you are an investigator and yes you have a job to do, but trawling through domestic documents that aren’t yours to see has always left me with a strange, queasy feeling.

Screens – Eternal Threads

That said, Eternal Threads kept hinting at a primal darkness roiling below the surface that kept me antsy to see what happens next. Early on I came across an event that takes place in an area called the “Hidden Room.” When activated, a housemate drifted downstairs and through a wooden door guarded by a combination lock. I didn’t know the solution, and I’m sure that information will eventually reveal itself down the line. When it does, I will bust down that door and certainly find a grand new veneer to better contextualize all of these characters and relationships I’ve already gotten to know. I can’t wait to witness the horrors below.

Will it pay off? Who knows. Detective games are a tricky art. They can’t be too frustrating or too banal, and the best ones usually find a way to keep upping the ante as you discover, in uncompromising detail, the web of phantasmagoric intrigue that sourced whatever catastrophe emanating around you. I’ve barely scratched the surface of Eternal Threads, but I’m already excited to uproot all of these bad decisions. I hope it keeps finding ways to surprise me, as I dig deeper towards the corrupt heart of this boarding house.

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