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Dustbowl in 2018: An Indie Analysis | Backlog Quest!

Dustbowl in 2018: An Indie Analysis | Backlog Quest!

We take on the wastelands by going back to 2015’s RPG/adventure hybrid, Dustbowl.

Released on Steam back in 2015 by The Pompous Pixel, Dustbowl is an ambitious adventure RPG heavily influenced by other series of post-apocolyptic games such as Fallout, Metro, Wasteland, and STALKER. Featuring retro stylings, open world exploration, a smattering of simple survival elements, and a fairly hearty amount of character dialog, Dustbowl unapologetically wears its many influences on its sleeve. Check out the full animated Backlog Quest analysis for Dustbowl on 2 Headed Hero!

Despite its point and click interface, this is no adventure game; you’ll find few classic puzzles here. Instead, inventory space is finite, and supplies are limited – and must be expended wisely just to survive. The wasteland is vast, you’re given little direction how to navigate it, and it’s covered with an endless supply of surprisingly deadly giant beetles (and normal-sized crows).

DUSTBOWL does a bang up job disguising the fact it was made in Adventure Game Studio,a development tool mainly used for creating point-and-click style adventure titles.
It joins other notable indie adventure games such as Heroine’s Quest (Crystal Shard -2013) and Time Gentlemen, Please! (Size Five Games – 2009), and twisting an adventure game engine into the backbone of an open world RPG is no small feat- especially for a development team of two.

DUSTBOWL’s commodore 64 palette and lo fi pixel art harken back to the original wasteland (precursor to the legendary fallout series), and much of the rest of its aesthetic calls back to those series, as well.

The sound seems to be mostly stock standard and sparingly used, but is effective enough as an audio backdrop to the gameplay. While I wish that the developers would have leaned into the 8-bit aesthetic a bit more by providing chiptune effects instead, this is really a nitpick – what’s here is still totally suitable.
When it comes to both visuals and gameplay, Dustbowl is a retro time capsule. It’s clear the developers adore the Commodore 64.

Be aware – the game does take a little bit of finagling to get running in fullscreen. A simple set of adjustments within the none-too-obvious game launcher provides an ample amount of modern resolution options. Strangely enough I did also get a couple hitches and even a complete lockup while playing, but these occurrences were rare.

Gameplay is a mashup of oldschool point-and-click adventuring, looting, exploration, questing, and combat. While some claimed that the gameplay in the initial release tended to be a bit grindy, the devs have diligently improved the game with a series of balance patches, and even added in an experience point system.

Taking place after an alien invasion, Dustbowl starts you off on the tail end of exposition. Your home is The Hub, one of the remaining bastions of humanity after the apocalypse. Your dad, a seasoned militiaman, awkwardly wakes you up in the middle of the night to tell you he’s leaving on an important mission. Like any reasonable would-be hero, you rise to the call of adventure by… going… right… back to sleep.

But! You DO wake back up again, finally deciding it’s best to track down dear old Dad by joining the militia yourself before heading on up to the surface. This is where Dustbowl truly begins.
Dustbowl is unapologetic about its early 90s root influences, which we welcomed, but some of its elements could be seen as problematic. Lacking the modern conveniences of quest markers or even a map system, this game feels right at home with the ancient PC RPG cult classics of the past. Your quest log is sprinkled with tongue in cheek references to other post-apocalyptic titles, but contains only sparse mission details. Therefore, clues must be gleaned from conversations in true oldschool fashion, a detail we really appreciated. A slight amount of pixel hunting is also required for some of the sidequests, which is sometimes compounded by the small screen real estate.

DUSTBOWL leans towards its ancestors’ harshness, with a front-loaded difficulty curve, and adds its own annoyances, but these seem like acceptable grit. One does not walk through the desert and expect to leave with no sand in one’s shoes, after all.

The only glaring omission is a lack of choice in how the player handles obstacles. Almost from the jump, the early fallouts gave us myriad options in the face of most any quest or encounter: diplomacy, stealth, exploration, or combat. DUSTBOWL’s smaller scope limits us to one basic path- combat- and so the meat of the game (besides exploring) becomes figuring out how best to optimize resource usage for those battles.  

Other than the aforementioned technical gripes, combat is probably my biggest issue with Dustbowl as it essentially takes the form of a power meter normally seen in golf games. It’s passable, but rather shallow. For my tastes, I would have preferred a turn-based system with further depth, abilities, and item use. However, for me, the sense of exploration, adventure, and general retro nostalgia far outweighs these minor details.

Dustbowl started out as somewhat of a hardcore headache, but really grew on me after I figured out how to run it properly and finally got over the early game’s difficulty. This game truly tickles my thinker, and now stands as a pretty solid alternative for those looking to scratch the retro adventure or RPG itch. Definitely worth a look.

 


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Bawss Sawss, sauce aficionado, gamer, writer, music performer/composer, and one head of the 2 Headed Hero, can be reached on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.
Rollinkunz, illustrator, gamer, writer, boardgame designer, and other half of the 2 Headed Hero, can also be reached on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.

 

 

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