Ashwalkers is much deeper than just a walking simulator, with it’s survival elements and choices that affect the outcome of your party and the story.
Ashwalkers is a survival sim by Life is Strange co-creator Hervé Bonin’s new studio Nameless XIII and publisher Dear Villagers. It releases on Steam on April 15, 2021 and I was able to play it a few days early experiencing just a couple of the 34 possible endings to the game. I enjoyed the greyscale art style with touches of red, and music which provided a bleak but hopeful outlook for the four adventurers as they journey through the harsh ash-filled post-apocalyptic world.
Set 200 years after a geological disaster, a group of survivors called The Squad set out into a ravaged landscape. They need to find a haven for their people, but to reach it they must cross a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of complex moral dilemmas. Through playing, you will come to know these four characters as you manage their food, warmth, energy, and equipment at campsites and work their way through various zones towards a possible 34 endings.
Each zone has varying degrees of cold temperatures, with the coldest zones causing icicles to form around the edges of the screen. As your party trudges on, they will expend heat and energy, and gain hunger. Picking up items uses energy so it is important to watch everyone’s energy levels and you can easily switch active party members by pressing the right mouse button. You use this method to also manage the limited inventory slots each character has.
Taking control of leader of the group Petra, the pragmatic fighter Sinh, the young optimistic scholar Kali and the cautious scout Nadir, you will traverse each zone through fairly linear pathways looking for shining points of interest to loot or inspect. Along the way, there is always a threat of other humanoinds or monsters that will challenge your thinking and test your limits, but you always have a choice for the party to comprehend.
When the party members need a break, you must set up camp. You need wood to start a fire which provides some warmth to the group. Generally, two pieces of wood is enough to warm everyone after a sleep. Check which members need to be fed and if any are injured, and if you have enough medkits, you can heal their wounds. Party members who are low on energy will need to rest. Depending on the danger percentage at the bottom of the screen, you may need to put 1 or 2 members on guard.
If there are party members that don’t need to sleep and the danger level is low enough, this is a good opportunity to either go exploring for resources or to converse with each other. When you do manage to get some characters talking, you start to see how they relate to each other and they talk a bit about their history and their surroundings. It’s a good break from the sometimes intense progression of Ashwalkers’ main gameplay loop.
“We are huge fans of choose your own adventure books” says Hervé Bonin, cofounder of developer Nameless XIII. “Our ambition is to combine that sense of a detailed unfolding world with the interactivity of a video game, a game where every choice matters.”
Some situations in Ashwalkers involve vicious animals and whether you engage, run away, hide or set a trap. In one instance there was a vulture ahead. I chose to trap it as opposed to attacking it, which ultimately killed the vulture but without it biting back and injuring the party, producing meat for the party. Further down the path, there were three vultures surrounding a nomad. I had the choice to move on let the nomad succumb to the vultures, fight the vultures, lead them away or start a fire. I chose to lead them away which cost the party 3 meat, but it saved the nomad.
Later, that same nomad welcomed us into their otherwise hostile encampment. At that point, all party members had depleted their energy and food and were losing hitpoints due to being freezing. The nomad’s wife invited us into their home where she fed us, restoring our food and warmth, and the squad was remotivated to their task, improving their morale. This couldn’t have come at a better time for the squad.
Your choices have consequences, so it is up to you to determine how you play. In some instances where I chose to fight, some of the party members got injured and I did not have any medkits in our backpacks. As we travelled further, the injured party members’ energy and health were dropping faster, so it put pressure on me to search for medkits. Thankfully, I did eventually find some in time to recoup their injuries. In another instance, I was not so fortunate and lost a party member.
The party can survive if someone dies, however if three out of the four party members die, your journey will fail. In the couple of runs I played, the worst I did was to lose two party members, and that really made me anxious about what would jump out of the shadows next. In this example, the two characters left were in despair about the situation which affected the efficiency of tasks. One cool thing to note here is when a party member dies, the loading icon in the bottom right usually shows 4 figures walking, will show 3 or 2 people walking signifying the ones that died – I appreciated that small touch.
After traversing through four zones in Ashwalkers, which took me 2.5 hours, you finish that run through and experience a complete story. There are six zones to explore, but you only traverse four of them in any given run. As mentioned earlier, there are 34 possible endings, so you are encouraged to start a new game and make different choices to gain different experiences each time. Once you have finished one run, you can begin a new game and choose the starting zone which allows you to discover different paths faster.
Overall, Ashwalkers is much deeper than just a walking simulator, with it’s survival elements and choices that affect the outcome of your party and the story. It really is a choose-your-own-adventure game while you manage the survival of the squad and leading them to safety. You have always got choices and you must live with the consequences. Given each run through is around 2 hours, you can take risks without feeling like you have doomed your game and lost time. It is a game I will be returning to regularly.
This review utilised a key provided by Future Friends Games. Ashwalkers is out now on Steam for USD11.99 with a 15% launch discount.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis