‘War. War never changes.’ Except sometimes. Sometimes war changes quite significantly. If we take ‘war’ to mean Fallout, the video game franchise that harps on about war never changing, as if it makes the gameplay about slaying mutants in a post-apocalyptic wasteland somehow poetic, then war changes a great deal. Over the years Fallout has gone from an isometric turn-based RPG to a 3D first-person shooter RPG to a 3D multiplayer pile of garbage. But why am I wittering on about Fallout in this review of Dust to the End? Well, partially because Fallout is potentially my favourite video game franchise of all time and I’ll take any opportunity to talk about it, but mostly because Dust to the End gives me significant Fallout 1 and 2 vibes in its theming, art and some of its gameplay. If you love the original flavour of Fallout before ‘War. War changed’ and are upset there hasn’t been a release in that vein over the last two decades then I might have a little gem of a game for you.
Humanity is over. Standard story: boy meets boy, boy dislikes boy, boy wipes boy off the surface of the Earth with enough nukes to destroy life as we know it. It’s the sort of war that nobody wins and everybody loses. The only survivors are those who managed to get to underground vaults before the apocalypse really got going (I’ll be honest, some of the Fallout parallels aren’t subtle). Now, hundreds of years later, you play as a descendant of these survivors, still living in the vault away from the dangers of the irradiated world above. Unfortunately, your cosy existence in this protected corner of the post-apocalyptic wasteland isn’t destined to last and it isn’t long before bandits dressed in rad-as-hell plague doctor masks attack the vault and kill or capture all of your vault-dwelling companions. More through luck than judgement you manage to escape, fleeing into the wasteland with only your wits for company. It turns out that your wits are terrible company and before long you fall unconscious, surely fated to die under the scorching desert sun.
As ‘Dying Under the Scorching Desert Sun Simulator 2021’ would be a short and terrible game, the developers made the wise choice here to intervene and you are rescued by a kindly old man who nurses you back to health. However, this is a ‘you saved my life, I am eternally grateful’ situation and the old man turns out not to be that kindly after all, expecting you to work off your life debt to him by working for his caravan company. This job requires you to travel between settlements, buying supplies in one town for a low price and selling them on in another town for a higher price, repeating the process until you become some kind of post-apocalyptic Jeff Bezos, aka Jeff Bezos after a few more years of Jeff Bezos being Jeff Bezos. Your first goal is to make 5,000 money so you can pay the town’s ‘taxes’ which pay for a big can of giant-bug-repelling bug spray. A settlement will almost certainly perish without the bug spray, so the ‘tax’ is more of a protection racket run by the corporations monopolising the supply. Oh look, it’s Jeffery Bezos again.
Travelling between settlements is the main thrust of the game and is where I really pick up on the Fallout vibes the game is putting down. Much like in Fallout 1 and 2, when you travel between settlements you watch a little version of your character walking across an overview map, with the settlements highlighted, bandits and creatures roaming looking for an easy fight and random events such as supply caches marked. Your character will set off on a beeline towards the settlement you’ve set as your destination but you still have complete control of their movement, meaning you can avoid combat encounters, divert towards dropped supplied or change your destination entirely. As a pro-tip here, you should definitely do those things and not get distracted by eating a casserole, leaving your character to wander. Much like in the real world, you will get eaten by mutated bugs if you get distracted by casserole.
Speaking of food, I believe I’ve mentioned in another review on this site that I normally despise hunger and thirst meters in games. It’s enough of an ordeal monitoring your need for food and water in the real world, without having to take care of a video game character’s needs as well. Therefore, it may surprise you to hear that I love Dust to the End’s survival system, mostly because you don’t need to monitor your needs at all. The game tells you how much food and water you’ll need for a journey before you set off and you just need to make sure you have at least that much in your inventory. Beyond that, it pretty much takes care of itself. I appreciate this hands-off approach to hunger and thirst and it’s one of the few games where I think it makes gameplay sense to have survival needs, as it means you need to balance your inventory between having enough food and water to survive a journey but also carrying as many supplies as possible to sell for a profit at the next town. It’s not just the amount of food and water you carry that’s important – the quality of those items influences your ‘morale’, which impacts your combat effectiveness. So you might want to spend the extra cash and inventory space on better food so you’re not caught with your gun-belt around your ankles when you’re attacked by bandits.
The final element of gameplay is combat – you can avoid fighting enemies to your heart’s content but that won’t help you when a quest needs you to collect bug blood to free some people who may or may not be your kidnapped fellow vault-dwellers (it doesn’t sound like it but it does make sense in context, trust me). The combat is turn-based with some of your stats determining the rate at which you get another turn. This is illustrated by a turn order at the top of your screen. You can always do your basic attack which will do a modest amount of damage to a single enemy. But, what you’ll really want to do is one of your special attacks. Special attacks generally do more damage or have a chance to apply a status effect to the enemy it hits, like ‘stunned’ which forces them to skip their next turn. However, special attacks require AP and your AP is determined by your morale, so if you’ve been eating gristle and bugs for the last week you’ll be stuck doing your basic attack all of the time. The combat isn’t anything particularly special but it’s solidly put together and there’s nothing to complain about – especially when you’ll be avoiding combat as much as you can in an effort to try and stay alive.
If you want a hit of an early Fallout game in a brilliant and non-copyright infringing package since Bethesda have jumped into a lake with the concrete breeze-block of Fallout 76 tied to their ankles, then look no further than Dust to the End. Brimming with a compelling story and memorable characters, Dust to the End is not one to let pass you by. It’s got a clear mechanism for earning money, with one of the best yet most understandable economies in games – certainly more understandable than the real world economy where people starve while billionaires go to space. This mechanic is packaged next to your standard turn-based RPG combat and has a decent system for travelling and avoiding combat thrown in for good measure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have a few kilos of bug blood to harvest because after all – War, war never changes.