Dustbowl Review

Title: Dustbowl

Developer: The Pompous Pixel

Publisher: The Pompous Pixel

Released For: PC (Windows)

Reviewing: PC (Windows)

DRM Versions Available      

Released On: May 18th, 2015

MSRP: $12.99 Steam Link 

Copy Provided By Game Developer And/Or Publisher

 

Welcome to Dustbowl! You are a random man who survived the aftermath of a really horrible apocalyptic event. After your good for nothing father leaves you in the post-apocalyptic bunker on your own with a bunch of random strangers in a room without a lock of any description, it’s up to you to find your father and probably save the world or something. You’ll enter the wasteland, find some gear, probably get sick and get mauled by a bird, all the while exploring the mutant infested wastes!

Dustbowl’s gameplay plays like an updated version of Wasteland with some lite Fallout 2 elements. You’ll wander around, gather useless quests, find some gear of which 90% is almost exclusively for crafting, you’ll kill people in a simplistic turn-based combat system, and you’ll catch numerous medical injurious of which only certain medications will cure. The gameplay is centered around the player character helping the survivors of the HUB (your starting location) with a bunch of side quests layered in. While the beginning side quests are rather lackluster, the later ones quickly become far more bizarre and interesting. As for the combat, you’ll either run around as a couple of pixels on a large overview map and encounter random events while exploring the wastes, or you’ll come across random encounters while exploring the abandoned ruins of the game. The combat itself is simplistic and in some ways, too simplistic. Besides allowing you to target certain body parts, there’s really not much to do other than just hope they don’t hit you more than you hit them. You’ll also occasionally get loot drops from enemies, but we often found just exploring netted us better loot.

As for the ‘exploring the wasteland’ bit, it’s actually not bad. It was fun finding random encounters and we enjoyed exploring some of the more interesting locations. A lot of the areas get similar, but the unique locations and characters we ran across (for the most part) at least stood out from the foreground and were fun to find.

As for the survival elements, they’re alright. You eat food to decrease starvation, you drink to decrease thirst, and you use medical supplies to increase your health. It’s basic, but it doesn’t feel tacked on. You also have the ability to craft items. While this is good in theory, we always found that we were always missing one item to actually make something, and all the shopkeepers we found that allow players to buy items unfortunately never had anything useful other than health items.

Visually, Dustbowl is fairly pleasing. While somewhere in between the quality of Wasteland and Fallout 2, it offers a more simplified visual style. Some of the character profiles are well done, and the overall visual aesthetic gives a nice post-apocalyptic atmostphere. It has a fairly varied selection of areas to wander around in, but the lack of re-spawning loot but re-spawning enemies means you’ll really only wander into any one building once, unless a quest-giver says otherwise. The enemies (at least visually) also look appealing, though the lack of variety means you’ll constantly fight the same handful of enemies a fair amount of times.

As for it’s UI while not in any way modern, it does at least do what it’s supposed to do without much hassle. However, the lacking of a map of any kind really makes wandering the fairly interesting wasteland more on the side of a chore.

The problem is that the frustration to find these said interesting locations due to the lack of a map just makes the detail that’s there fade into the background. Similarly to a top-down version of Fallout: New Vegas, it’s interesting areas are fighting against the open and empty expansiveness of nothingness in between said areas. Fallout got around this by having a fast-travel system. Morrowind got around this by allowing you to ride on Silt Striders. The closest thing Dustbowl has to a system allowing the player to move quickly is the train system. However, it only allows you to travel to a few very select locations. This means that if a quest-giver gave you a quest in an area you’ve already been to, you have to stumble around trying to find the place again.

As for the audio and ambience, neither are actually half bad. The audio effects are sparingly used, but they’re well done and add to the post-apocalyptic ambiance. However, the lack of music besides some rather generic (and often looping) background tracks makes the decent audio effects lose something. It also doesn’t help that a majority of the tracks are short, meaning that the few tracks that we feel are fairly well done lose their inherent appeal after listening to the track three or four times over.

As for the controls, they’re fairly well done. Again, the UI is ancient, but it works to the visual game type it’s trying to achieve. It’s a game that’s crying for controller support, but it certainly doesn’t need it by any means. The UI is handled well enough and it’s mostly clear what does what. The controls in the department of movement could use some work in terms of how you move. We had a few times where we were locked into exiting a room when we were just trying to pick something up next to a door, which could be improved.

As for settings, they’re barebones. Offering some minimal audio sliders and that’s about it. You can force the game to run into fullscreen by going into Dustbowl’s game folder and running Winsetup, but we noticed some minor annoyances with running the game in fullscreen that just had us switch back to it’s default screen size.

In terms of the game’s entertainment, it’s going to depend largely on player patience. The first hour or so of the game is (at best) tedious. However, once the player finds better gear and finds more crafting material, the game became far more enjoyable by simply exploring the world. It takes the gameplay of something like Wasteland with the character and personality of something like Fallout 2. It’s budget means it’s lacking the raw amount of content that both had, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We liked the simplified combat in some sections, but we feel that having a more complex combat system would have greatly improved the game’s entertainment. I guess leading into the overall feel of the game is that if other games that already exist do what Dustbowl’s trying to do, or if Dustbowl has something that separates it from the rest. After all, Fallout 1 or Fallout 2 haven’t gone anywhere and they’re still available on Steam as of this review, and there’s a playable version of Wasteland still kicking around. Both with more depth than Dustbowl offers for just pennies more. So, does Dustbowl offer something that separates it from it’s inspiration?

Well yes, it does. Dustbowl is essentially Wasteland with a new coat of paint with a new story and a new cast of characters. It’s visuals and open landscape and depth are at the cost of more in-depth gameplay and more in-depth quests. With that being said, it wasn’t a bad experience by any means. It’s clearly lacking the depth that other, more established games offer in certain areas, but it’s lack of depth in terms of combat also means combat sections are shorter and exploration and quests are more focused. We also thought the survival elements were interesting. We’d suggest avoiding the ‘permadeath’ mode, and simply sticking to the normal mode. There’s things we have to punish the game for, such as a lack of more meaningful quests and the lack of true enemy variety, but it’s not all for nothing. One of the nicer things we enjoyed is purely the atmosphere of the game, which is excels at. It’s a fairly large game at anywhere between six to twelve hours in length, but most of that is just completing side quests. If you want to do purely a main-quest playthough, you’re looking at maybe half the game time. While we’re inclined to give it a ‘you should probably buy this on sale’ recommendation, we’ll leave that to the reader in this case. It’s not a terrible game and there are signs of a far better game than what’s currently there, but in the end it’s fairly simplistic 2D and top-down roleplaying game set in fairly interesting post-apocalyptic world. Sure, the main story is cheesy as a grilled cheese sandwich, but it more adds to the charm than damns the game. The lack of depth in the combat will leave some avoiding this game, but the world itself is something to at least take a look at if you’re interested in a new post-apocalyptic set game.

 

PROS

  • Apocalyptic atmosphere is well done
  • Combat while simplified, is short and sweet
  • Unique areas to explore

MEH

  • Settings need work
  • Everything seems a bit too simplified, leaving the game lacking depth in certain areas

CONS

  • The game needs longer background tracks and more of them
  • A way to adjust the screen size in-game would be much more preferable
  • A larger variety of enemies and weapons would be useful

 

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Eric Nivala
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Looks like it might be worth a try when it’s on sale. Good review! The combat slider kind of reminds me of free throw shooting in the old Sega Genesis NBA Live basketball games. In regards to the loot being hard to find I kind of would expect that in a post apocalyptic world. I also kind of like the fact you need to go to a crafting table to craft however certain crafting like bandages could be made to not need a table. Finally I agree a map would definitely help. In The Long Dark there isn’t a map… Read more »
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