Strolling Through The Grey

HIGH Great balance of management and narrative.

LOW Characters don’t interact with each other much.

WTF The random morale drops made me sad. 

The group moved through the windy, ash-filled land while searching for supplies — mostly wood, to make a campfire for the night. Luckily, they stumbled across an abandoned mansion. It looks like a good place to rest.

After going inside, the front door slams shut, and a locking mechanism is heard. Slowly moving into the next room, a group called The Hounds surrounds the group. The group has heard of these people from a scavenger they came across days prior. The leader wants the group to prove they are warriors.

After a short deliberation, the group presents a giant wolf pelt, taken from the monstrous beast they had slain. The Hounds are impressed and decide to shelter the group for the night, feeding and keeping them safe until the next day, when they move on to the unknown in the wastes.

Ashwalkers is about a four-person group traveling through a land that’s been decimated by ash. It’s unclear what’s caused it — possibly a volcano — but the result is that just about everything is covered in it. The group is on a noble mission to discover the Dome of Domes, a sort of ‘final colony.’

The game is controlled via point-and-click, so there’s no need for arrow keys or WASD. Traveling happens in third-person, and clicking on the path ahead moves the four characters forward. Right-clicking will switch between which character is leading the group. Items that can be interacted with have a swirling sparkle to them, and they usually consist of food, wood for a campfire, or medicine to treat wounds. Each character has a certain amount that they can carry, so swapping items around in each backpack is important so that one character isn’t getting more tired than the others.

Team management is a large aspect of Ashwalkers. This takes a more menu-based approach and revolves around keeping morale, hunger, and energy levels balanced. Searching for supplies will take away energy, but resting at a campfire will raise levels back up, for example.

A campfire can be built anywhere if the wood is handy, and the player can feed the characters and also assign them roles for the night, like keeping watch, sleeping, exploring for more supplies, or just talking with one another. Talking with each other can raise morale, but every time I did it, it felt like morale dropped more often than not. There might be a tidbit of a backstory revealed here or there, as well.

Early on it feels like most useful items are pretty abundant. Health items were a little more scarce than wood but still found when needed. however, the further into the world I went, the harder it was to find useful items, and the harder it was to keep my team well-rested, fed, or even at maximum health. Because I needed to have someone on the lookout at every camp, at least one of my team was always tired by morning.

Each of the four characters has a role. Petra is the fresh captain, Sinh the big warrior, Kali is a diplomatic researcher, and Nadir is the quiet scout. When faced with decisions, each character will give their input. Let’s say a new group is encountered — Kali will be more diplomatic, while Nadir will want to avoid them altogether. It’s a pretty standard mix, but it works well and gives the player a variety of viewpoints.

With all of this taken into consideration, it should be clear that choices are the biggest draw in Ashwalkers, and they come in all flavors — which fork to take in a path, to follow animal prints or not, and what area to explore? Should vultures be fought off to save a scavenger? If so, will the scavenger group welcome the crew into their camp, or will they be expelled from a safe area and lose morale? These sorts of interactions make the world feel alive, and it’s neat to see how those decisions would reward players or cut them down further.

In terms of presentation, Ashwalkers is entirely in greyscale, and the only color that stands out is the red of blood on the characters when they’re hurt, or when they take down an enemy in a fight. I think it looks great and works effectively to help build the world that the game is trying to invoke. It can sometimes be hard to see a path that the game is trying to point the player towards, but with everything being point-and-click it’s easy to figure out the correct way. It’s mostly just moving forward, making it from one region to the next.

Ashwalkers is a relatively short game, but there is some replayability. The developer says there are 34 different outcomes, but unfortunately, it feels like some decisions are ‘correct’, instead of things being more open-ended. For example, choosing the path to take down a giant wolf granted me safe passage through another group’s area, but when I went back and chose the path away from the cave, I was attacked by wolves and then forced to show my strength to the same tribe. With all of my characters beaten down, I ended up losing the fight and was pushed back out into the ashes with nothing to show for it. That said, there’s always some give and take with each decision, and many of the choices do feel meaningful, which is what the developer is aiming for.

Ashwalkers is an interesting and sometimes dark story. I was always curious whether I was making the right choices and getting my team closer to their goal, or if I was sending them to their deaths. Seeing how even the smallest of choices can affect the playthrough was rewarding, and the mystery of the Dome of Domes is worth a trek through the wastes for any fan of survival management and choice-based games.

Rating: 7 out of 10

— Cody Bolster

Disclosures: This game is developed by Nameless XIII and published by Dear Villagers and 24 Entertainment. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game is Not Rated by the ESRB, but contains killing and death of humans and animals, along with illustrations of violence with blood and bodies. I’d say it’s appropriate for teens and above.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Dialogue and information in Ashwalkers is entirely text-based. The text cannot be altered or resized. There are no audio cues needed for play. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. Everything is done via mouse and mouse clicks.

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