Dustwind is a real-time, top-down strategy game based in a post-apocalyptic setting. Players create their own team of characters to control while braving against the wreckage and threats of a ruined world. The game has a solo, co-op, and even PVP multiplayer options available.
From first glance, you can see how Dustwind draws inspiration from the original Fallout games, namely Fallout Tactics. Evidence of such can be found in the underground vaults, the raider enemies, the scavenging, and even to the dog companions. Though in many ways, the game makes a point to stand unique in its own right.
The game begins with an optional tutorial. While a touch lengthy, it does a fantastic job of walking the player through most of the game's mechanics. Which is good, considering how overwhelming the interface would have been otherwise. From there on, you're on your own.
Dustwind is refined and diverse. The character creation system offers an interesting and expansive selection of skills, traits, and items. No two characters I made were the same. The items found throughout the missions you play are vast enough to feel like I have plenty of different options, without overwhelming me with a fear of missing out. It wasn't long before I had a fair understanding of what the game would offer to me.
To further accent this freedom is the map selection. While there are plenty of official maps and missions, the in-game level editor and Steam Workshop support opened up even more availability in terms of playable content. Whether you're a PVP fan, or prefer to a player vs environment game, there are options available to you.
The game's visuals are one of the best parts of the game. Everything from the models to the UI represents the total atomic annihilation theme the game is based on. With high-quality assets, I found myself enjoying just how pretty the game can be.
And then I played with friends.
The greatest fun to be had with Dustwind is with the multiplayer. A majority of my gameplay time was spent with a friend of mine. Working together to help each other, draw on each other's strength, and just generally fool around was a blast. All of my most memorable moments were instances where the two of us would laugh, either at a funny instance or at each other's comedic incompetence. If you have a go-to gaming friend, I highly suggest you play alongside them.
There are still problems with this game. And odds are, you'll come across a fair few of these problems before you can really soak in what's good about it. The control scheme is less-than-ideal, the writing swings hard and misses often, and it's missing an important game mode.
While the game provides you with a rather well-done tutorial system, I still struggled with the overall control scheme. It took me a fair while to fully get comfortable with how I interacted with the world. Even by then, I was often shooting things I wanted to examine and awkwardly reaching across my keyboard to position the camera. It wasn't until I remapped camera controls away from the arrow keys and onto WASD did I actually get a genuine flow.
Then there's the writing, which is an entirely different kind of awkward. The overall theme of Dustwind is not a serious one, that's easy to see. Though speckled through the various messages, descriptions, and so on, are the occasional jokes and humoristic stylings that stopped being enjoyable since 2009. I have two examples I'd more than love to share.
The first example is during the tutorial, I often noticed that the word "sucks" was instead spelled as "sux." I admit, this does fit the general theme of edgy wasteland, but cool misspellings of words are reserved for the Kool-Aid man and Toys R Us, and you saw where that got them.
The second example is the plunger. The item is a low damage but comedic melee weapon (or bow ammo) available to a custom build at nearly no cost. Ok, that's silly, I can appreciate that. But the description... oh boy.
"This is a POWERFUL WEAPON OF DOOOOM!!"
It's 2018, so forgive me if I wasn't prepared for this. It's something you'd see on the Bio section of a Myspace page with Gir from Invader Zim as their profile image. And if it was up to me, it would have stayed there.
I in no way fault the game for picking a youthful, edgy humor, but I found it trying a bit too hard at times. The awkward, "cringy" moments where a joke tries hard but doesn't land is far more memorable than if the joke simply was overlooked for being mild or uninteresting.
The final complaint with Dustwind was something that I had to muse on in hindsight: the lack of a campaign. While the game offers a number of single player levels, the primary focus on development is clearly set on multiplayer.
The character creation system uses a point system to balance out what's available to you, something common among multiplayer titles. And the way to unlock new items to add to your custom characters is done by leveling up, which you do by playing the various game maps and modes provided. While I was having fun, I had little to no interest in playing against other people. I found fighting against NPCs in a co-op game challenging enough.
I found myself wishing that there was a single player campaign option. Now I'm not talking about an entire open world setting with people to meet and missions to take on. Even if it had been a series of scripted levels to play, perhaps with some linear storytelling, I'd have been more than happy. But since the game's engagement was so dependent on playing with someone else, this absence held it back the most.
Dustwind is a well-made game. The sounds, music, art, and engine would very well, and I never had an issue with any bugs or glaring technical complications. The setting works fantastically with the game's mechanics. And when playing with friends, it can be an absolute blast. Though when limited by the unnatural controls, the swing-and-miss jokes, and the lack of engaging single player motivation, Dustwind is held back from its full potential.
Games like this are why I prefer to not use a numbered scoring system. The conditions of the player's life will firmly dictate the game's value. If you're an introverted gamer who likes to play casual games alone after work, this won't be your cup of tea. If you're someone who has dedicated Saturday evenings where you and your friends get together to play some stimulating games, then Dustwind would be a fantastic investment. So I had to settle for somewhere in between.
Dustwind released on August 15, 2018. It was developed by Dustwind Studios and published by Z-Software GmbH, Dustwind Studios. It can be found on Steam for $24.99. More information about Dustwind can be found on the official game website.
Two copies of the game were provided to me (and for a co-op partner of my choosing) for the purpose of this review.