Today GameCritics is happy to present this video preview for Stories from the Outbreak from guest contributor Arlyeon. For more from Arlyeon, you can check out their YouTube channel or their Discord.
Hey Folks, If you’re here for an in-depth Look at Indies, You’re in the right place! As for today, I’m going to be taking a gander at the recently released ‘Stories From The Outbreak’ – A strategic turn-based roguelite by Coldwild Games. Admittedly, the game’s still in early access- so there’s feasibly a fair bit that can change, even over the course of their currently estimated 3 months. Still- did the current content leave me feeling like this could become a breakout hit, or was this story dead on its feet? I’m your host Arlyeon, Let’s find out together.
Anyways, given that this is a first look- I’ll keep this simple. Premise wise- the city of Riga has fallen to a plague known as the New Death. Standard Zombie Apocalypse stuff. Your part of this is to control a random group of survivors, and clear a path through the city in order to reach the last Ferry leaving- provided you can pay the toll.
As far as its current execution- it’s decent. The tutorial serves to set the overall mood of the game, and the overarching setting is slowly fleshed out through some well written prose during the events you encounter during a run- which makes them feel a bit more rewarding.
On a smaller scale, there’s also some collectible notes you can acquire across your various runs- though their relatively bite sized nature mostly makes them feel like flavour.
That is, besides the character specific entries. Or, rather, entry.. See- while you do get an unlockable chunk of background story for a character and flavour for the world- it’s specifically tied to a single character- Janis. And requires you to repeatedly, clear out playthroughs using him in order to advance his progress and earn them all.
Admittedly, he’s a decent tank- but, yeah, it’s a bit weird that such a comparatively large amount of lore is locked behind a single character, and none of the others have received a similar amount of attention. Yet.
Though, on the subject of nitpicks- I’m actually going to double back to the events. See, while the existing ones -are- fun enough, the actual pool still feels fairly small, to the point that encountering the same one in a given run, possibly even three times- isn’t impossible. And some of them you’ll wind up seeing -quite- frequently. Sure, this means it’s easier to explore all the options- but at the same time, it does make the world feel a bit smaller, both narratively and mechanically.
Which- yeah, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of this whole thing, shall we? At the end of the day, Stories From the Outbreak is a -very- combat focused roguelite- which sees you entering a near continuous string of turn-based rpg battles.
With a, uh, distinct focus on difficulty, since even the most basic of encounters will make a sizable dent on you, if you’re ill prepared. See, while there’s a pretty decent array of characters that you can recruit- the core of your team will always be built around some form of tank- due to the way combat works. See, most of your characters’ damage capacity is fairly low- and once you’re past the initial few enemies, you’ll rapidly start to encounter constant formations of beefy enemies.
While in and of itself, this would likely be enough to whittle through non tanks armour reserves and into their precious health- it’s then compounded by the focus system. Essentially, whenever an enemy has a turn, they can gain between 1-2 focus- scaling up their damage accordingly. What’s more, every 4 focus they gain provides them a buff, such as major damage upgrades, buffing other enemies, or even adjusting their speed so they can barrage you even harder.
Yes, you get focus as well, and even character specific focus buffs- but, without a solid frontline, you can expect to get mulched and -fast-. And hell, even if you do manage to limp through a few fights- the simple fact of the matter is that your recovery options for health feel fairly limited- whether it’s a rare character’s tiny heals, a tile with a healing event – or a day’s rest. And resting isn’t even a guarantee either- since, not only are there limited tiles, it requires a hefty amount of food (especially if you’ve acquired a lot of characters without losing anyone)- and that’s just to break even. If you factor in that many food gaining events aren’t guaranteed, and that you’ll lose max health if you don’t have enough- you’re sometimes just at the mercy of rng as to whether you can even risk recovering versus sustaining your meager status quo.
It’s -brutal-, and really reinforces a general emphasis on playing smart, being extremely mindful of how far back on the action timeline a given move will place you and how long it will leave you vulnerable figuring out the most dangerous enemies for prolonged fights- and how to best arrange the characters you’ve currently found. Incidentally, this is also where the games meta-progression kicks in- at least, such as it is.
First off, while you initially only have access to two starting characters, as you recruit them, clear fights with them, and choose them as the character to take the ferry- they’ll gain progress towards being unlocked as a viable pick when starting a run. And while you are always forced to pick one of your two starting slots randomly- this can help to at least ensure that you at least have a tank in your loadout. As for the other half of the meta-progression, after you’ve unlocked a character, you’ll unlock more of their moveset.
Normally, you’d have to rely on random characters to unlock their abilities as you clear fights- but if you max out a character’s progress- they’ll have their full basic loadout, which helps immensely towards how much they can contribute in a fight. It also means you’ll be able to -consistently- earn the sidegrade/upgrades for their abilities.
Though, uh- I mean, yeah. I’ll admit that character progression feels a bit weird, and bad. Because during a run, it’s not necessarily the characters in your active party who are progressing. It’ll just pick someone random to give them a new ability, or to potentially push an upgrade on. And if you don’t want it, or have no interest in the character, there’s no way to redirect it to someone else. Same with the very limited stat boosts you can gain during a run. All very arbitrary.
In fact, this arbitrary advancement element -also- applies to the -moods-. Sure, these ones actually do apply to the characters you’re using- but they are essentially stat modifiers that randomly crop up, and provide a bonus and a -penalty- to one of your stats, potentially screwing up a character. It’s. Yeah.
It all just feels so random- and if you happen to have a large roster of characters, it can feel -very- punishing. Oh, and those idle characters you have kicking around, soaking upgrades? While you can exchange them for someone else in the formation- I didn’t often do so- as characters tended to either be very alive, or suddenly dead. So, mostly, I’d just see them if everyone in my party wiped- and whatever random assortment of dudes spilled out into the remnants of the fight. Unprepared. And in a random fomation
It would be sort of nice if you had the ability to set up a backup roster- if you’re going to do this. Hint Hint Hint.
But yeah- that’s, uh, the combat side of things- What about the exploration. Those -choices- insofar as navigating the map?
It’s- alright. It actually took me a couple runs to notice, but the actual layout of maps doesn’t seem to change between runs. You can find similar fuel reserves, fights, events, resting points etc etc.
Like, yes, the actual -content- of the fight, event tile or the like will change between runs, but- overall, you can probably set a relatively stable course from game to game without thinking too hard on it currently.
As for your objectives itself, well. Overall- fuel is nice as both a currency to get food or certain events- and every 3 lets you evacuate a character when you clear the game, and thus advance their meta-track considerably. Food is also another obvious perk- unless you have some -really- good healing going on, and don’t care about starvation.
Beyond that- it’s mostly whether you want to gamble on fights (with the harder ones giving better rewards like skills, stats, and relics) or events- which can range from stat checks as a party, as individual characters, or…events like the Arena. I actually -really- love the arena. It’s brutally hard as far as they go, but it’s such a memorable one. …Especially as sparse as the actual pool is. As it currently stands, the variety in things still feels fairly low- again, it’s not uncommon to get the same events several runs in a row, or even in the same run.
Like sure, it’s neat to explore some of these events with different options, and to see the different outcomes- but so many just.. Culminate in yet another fight- or relatively similar outcomes so long as you succeed. I just- I don’t know.
But yeah- that was the gameplay as it currently is- so, let’s get into the graphics- and as an overarching thing in regards to both the visuals and the audio? I think it’s decent. I liked the character animations, there’s an alright array of enemies, and the boss designs are adequately fun- even if the last boss is just a silly wiggly boy.
That said- I do have some gripes that I reserved for this situation- and they are essentially all information presentation- so, STRAP IN!
First off, There is a lot of information you don’t see with characters on the starting screen. It would be really nice to see what abilities a character currently has access to, so you have a good idea of their capabilities. Second, both for the starting screen and in-game – I’d really like an idea of what abilities upgrade into what. So I know if I want to tactically take a character behind a shed and get them murdered by zombie Lassie- since we can’t just..set them loose in the wild, or ditch them at a shelter.
Secondly, It’d be really nice to be able to see what focus abilities a character has access to. I mean, like at all. I don’t know why this information isn’t in the game- since, my memory is potatoes, and I’d love to be able to have a clear reminder, so I can see who synergizes with who.
Thirdly, it’d be nice to see how far along a character is on their meta-progression track. Currently, the only time you get to see it is during the games end credits. This -should- be on the character select screen. Please.
But yeah, let’s bring this to a close, shall we. And, while I did have my nitpicks- I did ultimately put 14 and a half hours into this game. On the other hand, I do feel like I’ve seen the crux of what it has to offer at this juncture, after having cleared it a decent handful of times, unlocking all the characters and maxing out a handful. What I mean by this, is as a roguelite, the replayability could definitely use some work. Some more enemy variety- events, map layouts, and even some potential boss variants- since the three you encounter are always the same.
Heck, there’s a hostile death cult- I’d love to see some representation from them. That said- it wasn’t just a matter of the layouts- either. At the moment, team composition really does feel similar, especially due to just how reliant you are on tanks. I frequently found myself hinging my strategies on one of two particular characters (if not both) for my survivability- everyone else simply didn’t measure up efficiency wise.
(Though, I’ll admit that I felt I had substantially more leeway when it came to tinkering with the offensive side of things).
Still, as far as clearing things- well, There isn’t much in the way of different endings to unlock- as even the epilogue is mostly just a summary of how your current playthrough went down- win or lose.
Essentially- It’s an experience that is fun, but flawed and somewhat limited. And I’ll admit that I’m fairly hopeful for what the future will bring, since the developers have come out and said that their early access plans are built around better fleshing out character dynamics/relationships, adding specific personal goals to do- and just overall variety.
I’ll be keeping my eye on this title, to say the least. And hey- if you folks want to see a large scale review for this when it hits full release- you can always let me know in the comments.
That said, I’ll catch you on the next episode of Crit Hit. Take Care till then, Folks.
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