Survival adventures have been a big part of gaming over the past few years, challenging players to gather their resources and make it to the next day. Developer Nameless XIII is looking to add to this genre with their debut effort, Ashwalkers, but it feels a lot less like games like Don't Starve and Rust and much more like old-school classic The Oregon Trail. It's a formula that still works well, even if the presentation is a little bit bleak.
The perilous journey
Ashwalkers takes players 200 years into the future. The world is in ruins and a small party must struggle to survive the harsh elements, the wild animals, and hostile humans. Players can choose to familiarize themselves with Petra, Sinh, Kali, and Nadir over the course of the game, or they don't have to. Part of what makes Ashwalkers interesting is the degree of player choice at work.
Ashwalkers is presented like a 3D adventure, where players use the left mouse button to move ahead. However, it plays out very similarly to the aforementioned classic, The Oregon Trail. Players must gather supplies as they journey ahead, picking them up as they go along. Resources are managed whenever the party sets up camp. That's when players are challenged to allocate resources to party members, while also making sure people get rest or stay on guard against outside dangers. There's also the option to have camp members talk with one another, which helps build morale, though it can be hard to fit this in when everyone seemingly always needs to either sleep or be on guard duty.
Players will also will encounter different scenarios, many of which will present multiple choice options. The choices aren't quite "Do you want to ford the river," but a wrong selection can have dire consequences on the party, nonetheless. Bad choices can affect party morale, diminish their supply count, and might even lead to death.
The choices aren't always straightforward, either. Many of the scenarios presented to players test their moral compass, their lateral thinking, and their leadership skills. On top of that, the outcomes are often unpredictable. For example, I encountered a scenario where my party found a mansion filled with people from a rival tribe. They asked for a one-on-one combat trial so that my crew could prove worthy. I sent out my tough guy, but the journey's toll was weighing heavily on him, so went in emotional and accidentally murdered the other fighter. That led to the rival tribe getting furious and attacking my party, leading to mass casualties.
The number of outcomes extends all the way to Ashwalkers' endings. There are 34 total, all varying depending on the number of survivors, the trials endured, and the final destination. In that sense, Ashwalkers is a great game to replay, even if it may not always feel "fun."
Seeing the world in black and white
Ashwalkers shoots for a specific atmosphere and it nails it, for better or worse. The game is presented entirely in grayscale in order to push forward that players are stepping into a desolate landscape. As the journey starts, the world feels dreary and empty. It conveys hopelessness and hammers home that the only ones the party can rely on for this road ahead are each other.
The black-and-white aesthetic remains, even as players begin to walk through more perilous areas. Weather effects like tornadoes and lightning storms are likewise presented in grayscale, which is a cool style choice. The issue is that the grayscale makes it hard to see where your characters are going. There is no waypoint or visible path trail that makes it clear where your characters are walking or where they can go. The only visual indicators are on collectible resources or points of interest, so actually seeing where you're going becomes more of a problem than it should be.
The other negative with the art style is that it makes Ashwalkers a bit of a tough sit, because the heavy material is omnipresent. It's similar to another game with a mostly black-and-white visual style, This War of Mine, in the sense that it's a brilliantly written game, but also one that's tough to play for prolonged sittings, just because it feels like such a downer. That's more true of Ashwalkers than it is for This War of Mine, just because of that black-and-white art style.
Seeing it through the prism of the old Oregon Trail, I enjoyed Ashwalkers and its myriad of tough, meaningful choices. Its heavy material and its dreary art style doesn't make it a game that I plan to revisit very often. I can appreciate the variety of scenarios, especially the idea that players can select different starting points after multiple playthroughs. In that sense, it's unlike a lot of survival games out today and worth playing through at least once.
This review is based on a PC digital code provided by the publisher. Ashwalkers is available now on Steam for $11.99. The game is not rated by the ESRB.
- Gameplay reminiscent of the classic Oregon Trail
- Strong writing with consequential choices that matter
- Ideal for short sessions
- Good for repeat sessions
- Grayscale art style can feel dreary
- Resource management can feel stressful