We’ve dwelled through the worlds of Fallout and State of Decay, but walking through a wasteland in Ashwalkers hasn’t been this stress-inducing. This choose-your-adventure style title blends resource management survival mechanics and an adventure game with multiple choices. It’s a great concept, but the plot threads of Ashwalkers are a little slim with side stories that aren’t juicy enough to sink your teeth into.
A dull story, but the choice based mechanics had potential
With this review, I finished one playthrough and then saw a few other endings by creating custom games that can place you into a specific point in the plot. Overall, I found myself disinterested in the narrative. The characters barely have any personality and this makes it hard to root for them.. The lore felt paper-thin too as we don’t get a lot of fascinating context about the world, the civilizations, and the cast. After a horrific natural disaster, you play as a four-team squad sent by a population of hundreds of thousands to find a new home; you’re their last hope. Your main mission is to find the Dome of Domes, but your end goal can alter depending on what you find and what you hear on your journey. Overall, Ashwalkers provides an impressive 34 endings, depending on your choices.
The overall concept is amazing as you’re placed in many scenarios that will make life or death for your squad, animals, and people in the world. In a Dungeons & Dragons like style, you’re given multiple choices: you can be diplomatic, stealthy, or violent, depending on the situation. Each member of the squad presents a different perspective whenever issues come up. The side stories that are presented at random points of the game are intriguing, but they’re mostly unsubstantial. There was a cool scene that forced your crew to fight a cultist in order to gain the group’s respect. When I chose the big brute in the team Sinh for battle, he went overboard and cracked the man’s neck by accident. They said they didn’t want a fight to the death, but likely scared and upset, they let the group through their stronghold to the next area. If I chose a different character, there would be a different outcome. That was one of very few moments I was truly invested in a side story as most I experienced were cut and dry like helping an elderly woman back to health with a few medkits and her rewarding you with shelter and food. Most of the instances you come across need a bit more meat on the bone.
Survive no matter the cost
The main gameplay loop involves your squad moving through hazardous environments, and as you do so, you’ll have to keep an eye on your squad’s hunger, warmth, and energy. If any of these meters deplete to zero, the party member in question will start taking damage. On the side of the main paths are resources from wrecks, plants, and dead animals. These characters get so desperate that they eat vulture meat for sustenance!
From there, you have to time when you camp perfectly, so you can let your party members feed, rest, or heat themselves up. However, be careful, as you have to allocate your resources properly; otherwise, you’ll run out and die out before you reach your end goal. It’s a relatively simple mechanic that is easy to understand, but it often brings tension as you have to be smart with how you use your medkits, meat, and combustibles. You also have to make sure each party member gets enough rest, while someone (or two people) in the squad stands guard. If you leave the camp unguarded, the probability of a horrible event occurs; these often affect the crew’s spirit or current attributes. This is one of the most fun elements of Ashwalkers as you have to seriously strategize over who gets what.
If you’re diplomatic by nature, the resource management and the decision-based mechanics are intertwined. At one section of the game, you are forced to go into an occupied village to reach a much needed satellite. You can fight your way in (which will probably be catastrophic to morale and health), go stealthy through a back way, or you can be diplomatic and give resources in exchange for entry. I chose the latter. I had to give three med kits to the villagers, and they were happy to take them. However, due to my past decisions, I had six on hand so I could afford the loss. You can also take out foes and obtain resources from their remains. One option had you deciding whether or not to use two combustibles to melt frozen corpses to gain their items. There’s a risk/reward system that brings some tension to the gameplay and keeps you invested throughout the playthrough.
The issue with the resource management comes about when the developer Nameless XIII forces certain scenes that have the camp unavailable to set up. If you’re on the edge of having a certain meter going to the bottom, you’re at the mercy of the game until it’s ready to give you the camp back. It can be frustrating and lead to some unfortunate loss of health. In addition, there are certain segments of the game that have literally no resources available to you. I edged so close to the Dome of Domes, and in a village section, there were no resources to pick up. Anxious about the possibility of dying right at the end of the game, I visited the elderly woman and nursed her to health with my remaining medkits so she could give me warmth through her shelter and food.
Something else that was hard to swallow, like the vulture meat that the squad has to eat, is the laborious sections of walking with absolutely nothing happening. There’s no dialogue, no fascinating landmark to gaze at, no music, just silence for five or so minutes. While it may be oddly relaxing for some, these pauses make for some arduous and yawn-worthy moments, especially when you’re low on resources.
Save modes would be preferred
As there are so many endings to be had in the game, the custom mode after finishing your first playthrough is a big help. You can select different starting locations, like the desert or the frozen tundra, and starting traits for your characters. However, being able to make manual saves throughout the playthrough would be more proficient. I would love to go back to the mansion right away and choose another character to fight the cultist, so I could see a different result. The custom mode also doesn’t give you the option to have a certain amount of resources available to you; it only gives players a slim amount of medkits, food, and combustibles to begin your new adventure.
A gorgeous art style for a post-apocalyptic game
Regardless of its lack of save modes, Ashwalkers has a stunning art style that fits the tone of the title. The monochromatic art style makes the sharp edges of objects and the slight cel-shading on geometry stand out. Weather like ash, lightning, and rain look visually gorgeous among the environmental backdrops. In addition, there is a clever use of color within Ashwalkers as dire injuries from attacks are shown on each characters’ body in red. Whenever blood is involved, it is soaked among the black and white landscape, creating a haunting effect.
On the other hand, the way the game presents the D&D-style decisions is too simple to overlook. The party moves forward a few paces to signifiy movement in the story, but there is a lack of action from the characters to simulate the action in the text. There are no attacking animations or NPC’s of the sort. This could be done to amplify the dread of the post-apocalyptic world as husks fill the screen, but more effort would have been great to see.
The sound design is hit and miss. The white noise from the wind is overbearing and could be brought down a few notches, and the lack of voice acting is disappointing, especially with Life is Strange‘s Co-Creator Herve Bonin as Producer on the project. Once again, this decision could have been made to bring in that isolationist feel to the game, but this feature could have helped alleviate the disappointing script. The music is the highlight of the audio design as it brings the striking tones of the acoustic guitar and the piano to the forefront. The grittiness of the environments matched with the raw tones that both instruments present is a perfect choice from the composer.
Ashwalkers is a neat concept and with each playthrough lasting two hours with 34 endings on offer, it’s a good value for money. However, the drawn out walking segments and the disappointing script will make it hard for me to get back into Ashwalkers. If the stunning post-apocalyptic world draws you in, however, you’ll be treated to a simple, but rewarding resource management system and an occasional fascinating scenario here and there.
A review code was provided by Dear Villagers