Some say the world will end in fire. They were totally wrong.
Yeah, it was ice after all. Some kind of nuclear winter or something. Experiments gone out of control. A lot of mistakes were made, apparently. Now you get to deal with the aftermath.
That means wandering the frozen wasteland, hunting the local wildlife and scavenging anything that’s not nailed down while the whole world tries to kill you.
For all that, though, as apocalypses go this one’s surprisingly low-key. They exercise considerable restraint in resisting the temptation to go full Mad Max and fill their world with cartoonish caricatures and fantastical locations. Well, maybe it gets a little out-there with the mutant tree and magical anti-cold juice, but overall the approach stays fairly realistic and down-to-earth.
Mostly you’re solving the sort of day-to-day problems you’d expect in that situation. Finding enough food. Supplying your group with equipment and medicine. Managing the personality conflicts of your party members. Strangely the cold itself plays no direct role in the game except as a backdrop that sets the general mood.
What stands out the most about the gameplay is probably the combat system. They take a very different approach to turn-based battles that I’ve never quite seen before.
Basically, instead of attack power, defense and all the usual tables of numbers, the weapons and armor provide you with action icons like “shoot,” “block,” “aim,” etc. Each turn you draw a certain number of these abilities from the available pool, as determined by your equipment and stats, and assemble them into as many offensive and defensive combos as possible. Sounds kind of weird, but it’s really pretty simple, although the makeup of the combos isn’t always so intuitive.
One nice effect of this system is that it takes away the obsessive min-maxing element that tends to dominate RPGs and makes it all flow a little more naturally. It fits with the general theme of this game, which is mainly about decision-making rather than mastering intricate crafting or battle mechanics.
Of course, maybe it’s for this reason that they never manage to dial in the power curve quite right. Early on the fights can drag on way too long, although that does give you even more of an incentive for developing stats that let you avoid them, and by the end you’re so overpowered that it’s pretty much a joke. Likewise, it’s not too long before you find yourself overflowing with resources, to the point that it starts to feel like your greatest enemy is your inventory size.
But like I said, to a large extent those details are beside the point. The spotlight here is on giving you the opportunity to make choices, and they do a good job of using the full dynamic range of the options available. Unlike some RPGs, where they offer you a lot of abilities that make for nice bullet points in the advertising but are mostly window dressing, everything here from the grappling hook in your backpack to your speech and hunting stats really does have a clear purpose; and you can see them come into play during encounters in detailed and concrete ways, as oppsoed to just another stat boost. That kind of flavor really adds to the immersion.
There’s a good lesson there for small games made on a tight budget. More isn’t always better. Paring things down to capture the essence of your design can make for a lean experience that still retains plenty of effectveness. In this case, they do away with things you might expect from this sort of quasi-open world RPG, like free roaming and grid-based tactical battles; yet in a game with a more narrative focus that emphasizes player choice and ultimately branching endings, you don’t get the sense that too much is lost.
The style really suits this game perfectly. The right parts are there, and on the whole things run pretty smoothly, even if it does have that indie RPG feel where you get the sense that everything is kind of held together by duct tape. It may be a little rough around the edges, but if you’re looking for a solid, immersive RPG to see you through the dead of winter, well.