Developer: Nameless XIII
Release Date: April 15, 2021
Generally speaking, I like story heavy games. I’m not put off by a “lack of game play” if the story is good, and presented in a way that makes sense. Now, that’s last part is important; gameplay choices need to support the story. Ashwalkers comes close to striking this balance, but at least for me, it was more miss than hit.
To start with, a minor gripe: there was really no tutorial, and there was also no way (that I could find) to even open a “how to play” menu. As far as I could tell, this is a mouse-only game, and I was frustrated early on by not being able to left click some things, with no indication of what I needed to do instead. It took me quite a while before I right clicked and discovered that’s how you change which character is walking in front of the party, and as such, will do the resource collection by default. Since every time you collect a resource, you take an energy hit, knowing how to switch between characters is pretty important right from the beginning.
You’re given a pre-constructed four person party, and dropped into the middle of their journey. The game starts on Day 13, and is divided into expeditions based on story progression. If there’s any actual stats based combat, I never saw any – everything I accomplished (or failed to accomplish) during my play session was predicated on text choices. I felt like there was a lot of potential for the story to have been something truly captivating, but the structure of the game as a whole just doesn’t lead itself to a tight narrative.
The entire game exists in shades of grey, with the exception of an occasional bit of red to draw your eye to something you probably should have been paying attention to sooner. The music is fittingly melancholy, after all, you’re managing a pilgrimage through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The majority of the game play consists of resource gathering, managing your party after making camp, and walking oh-so-slowly through terrain that manages to be both achingly beautiful and incredibly boring to navigate.
That’s where it all sort of fell apart for me. Too much time is spent on the least interesting part of the game. There are no visual indications of story beats, and your characters will stutter-step through them if you’ve clicked ahead of the trigger spot, which is, quite frankly, very distracting. There’s no map (that I could find), and the fixed camera was annoying at best, and downright confusing at times. It sounds weird to say in a game that is very clear that the play is not the most important thing, but it didn’t take long for me to feel like the whole thing was far too tedious.
More than once, I found myself thinking about ICY, a game with a similar concept I played quite a few years ago. What it lacked in graphics, it more than made up for in making me want to keep playing. Ashwalkers didn’t do that – in fact, I ended up bailing in the middle of the third expedition when I found myself in a building that I couldn’t figure out how to navigate. I really wanted to like this one, but as it turns out, it just wasn’t for me, but someone with more patience and a better sense of direction might have fared better.
SteamDB estimates that Ashwalkers has sold between 2,900 and 8,000 copies on Steam, but it was also given away back in February of 2022. Reviews have been mostly positive, so it seems to have found its audience. It is ranked 3176 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.