I was happy to discover that Ashwalkers combines two of my favourite things in video games: bleak apocalyptic wastelands and roguelike gameplay that offer lots of choice.
Set two centuries after a geological cataclysm has reduced the earth to a post-apocalyptic wasteland, you are tasked with braving this dangerous world as a squad of four to activate a series of beacons that lead to a legendary safe haven known as the Dome of Domes, a place that provides sanctuary for the thousands of refugees that are in search of a new home.
While your objective remains the same, Ashwalkers’ narrative is heavily non-linear. The route you take to the Dome of Domes can change depending on different paths you take, with each fork in the road bringing its own set of challenges and obstacles. The choices can be as simple as taking a high path along a mountain, avoiding any potential hostile ambushes that could occur in the valley below, at the cost of having to deal with harsher weather conditions. With 34 overall endings, this allows the narrative to diverge in a countless number of interesting ways.
Your squad is made up of four members: the brave leader Petra, the hard as nails Sinh, the youthful brainbox Kali, and the quiet scout Nadir. Each character brings their own strengths to the group dynamic, allowing you to select choices based on their recommendations. This means that keeping them alive throughout the entire journey is imperative, because if even one member of the party dies then an entire chain of options in each scenario suddenly becomes locked off to you.
This means keeping the party well-stocked with supplies gathered from the wasteland to keep everyone’s stats high. Food ensures they won’t go hungry, med-kits can heal them from injuries, and firewood can keep you warm as well as cook food. Because of how dire the consequences of dying can be, gathering supplies becomes a never-ending plight to find everything you can and ensure you’re not being too wasteful with your resources.
But because there aren’t supplies found lying around in the world to see you through to the end of your journey, Ashwalkers also discourages you from avoiding too many risks by hiding some of the better loot in dangerous encounters with hostile creatures or other human beings. Some of these characters you meet on your expedition may be friendly, while others may try and take what they can from you.
Time management is also a thing to consider too when venturing out. You’ll have to periodically setup camp in the wilderness to allow your squad time to eat, rest and keep warm, but the longer you linger around in the same area the more dangerous it becomes. Simply resting overnight can cause enough anxiety, as environmental hazards and dangerous creatures stalk you throughout the night which may affect the morale or health of each character.
Ashwalkers’ greatest strength lies in its writing, which focuses heavily on its human characters and the way they interact with the world. As each member of the party has a different skillset and philosophy, it can create many interesting scenarios depending on which decisions the team decides to make. The personality of each character is displayed perfectly through this, such as allowing them to follow through on their trust and love for fellow humans can lead to poignant moments demonstrating humans coming together in terrible times to look out for each other.
This isn’t perfect though, as Ashwalkers loves to throw around the word ‘savage’ to describe the groups of people who live in the wasteland. The word ‘savage’ has its own problematic historical meaning, dating back centuries where colonisers would use the word towards Indigenous peoples to dehumanise them and to advance their erasure from the land they had invaded.
Using such a word, especially in this context of a post-apocalyptic wasteland to refer to people who are “less civilised” than your own squad, feels irresponsible and disrespectful to those who have suffered under this systemic oppression. Perhaps this could be less problematic if it was a throwaway line, or used to portray that a character may harbour xenophobic attitudes, except it’s used constantly throughout the entire game and doesn’t really serve anything meaningful within the narrative.
It’s a shame that this is distractingly bad, because Ashwalkers is otherwise brilliantly written and well-paced. I loved getting to know the four characters on a deep level, exploring their anxieties within this dangerous world and using this clash of personality to make decisions on my journey. It’s a survival adventure game that knows it wants to portray a harsh, cruel world and almost pulls it off.
Tested on PC
Also available on N/A
Developer Nameless XIII
Publisher Dear Villagers, 24 Entertainment
Disclosure a copy of Ashwalkers was provided by Future Friends Games