Review: Dustwind

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Review copy provided by developer

Getting an indie game to take off on Steam is hard enough, but launching a multiplayer-based one is just stacking the entire deck against yourself. There are so many dominant multiplayer games out there already, covering every conceivable genre, that hoping to carve out a bit for yourself is a real long-shot. That’s what Dustwind’s trying to do with its real-time take on the Fallout Tactics concept (if you remember that relatively black sheep of an already muddled family), and honestly it deserves to succeed where s many others have failed. While it may devolve more into chaos than tactics most of the time, it’s a rousing romp on the wilder side of the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

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There’s no story I can discern here, other than the world mostly ended and everyone that got left behind went all raider crazy. Most maps are your motley group against their motley group, blasting through raider camps and holding your own camp against those self-same raiders. Obviously don’t show up for the deep lore here, but if co-op and PvP takes on classic real-time RPG combat sound good to you, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Maps can be played solo with bots but honestly don’t bother if that’s all you’ll do, because gunslinging with your own group of crazies is where the fun is.

The shockingly comprehensive tutorial will spend an hour-plus teaching you all the controls and tricks to start mastering the game, and you might even want to take notes. The basics are blessedly simple, left-click to move, shooting is automatic but you can right-click to specify a target, click a weapon to ready or reload it, and so on. There are a handful of important hotkeys that let you stop moving immediately, crouch for accuracy bonuses (hit percentages are shown when you mouse over targets), and stealth to get the drop on foes. The tutorial will even take you into location-based damage, traps, building turrets and barricades, and driving vehicles, all with pretty hilarious scenarios that let you squish raiders and launch them into the stratosphere with heavy explosives.

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All of these abilities are defined by your stats, a comprehensive list of attributes and skills and perks that thankfully stop short of the full Fallout experience. For each match you can pick one of dozens of specialized characters, or build your own waster to waste people with. Equipment for your starting loadout is locked by your multiplayer rank, though, so you’ll need to log some hours to get ahold of that sweet, sweet flamethrower or rocket launcher. You can pick them up off corpses, of course, and things like weapon proficiency are helpfully abstracted down to melee, light, and heavy. Still, you need to be aware of your character’s capabilities so you don’t, say, try to plant a C4 charge and blow yourself to hell because you have literally no trap skills. That definitely didn’t happen to me.

Incidents like that are warned with helpful messages like “I suck at traps!”, which should give you an idea of the game’s tone. Indeed, the tutorial will instruct you to boot people off cliffs for fun and go on rampages to blow off steam. It feels like an entire game built out of the goofy side of OG Fallout, right down to aimed groin shots and plungers as melee weapons. You won’t get a lot of that during multiplayer, of course, as you’ll just be working on basic directives like “kill all raiders” and “flip switch”. And that’s the only real tragedy of this game, that what fun you can have in is is locked away in online multiplayer. It’s not a dead game but you’re only going to find one or two servers at any time of day, so while I want to see this one succeed you might want to reconsider a purchase unless you have a group locked in with you.

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To their credit the developers have been working overtime to patch issues and add in key features like spectating and joining games in progress. They’ve definitely made something special here, something fun and unique and chaotic, and something that should be played by more people. There’s a deep stat and customization system that gets a little overlooked when you’re scrambling to position yourself and target enemies, but it has the potential for some really clever plays. I just hope people get to see those, and get what mileage they can out of Dustwind before online entropy claims it. For now though, you’ll get a fair bit of fun out of running and gunning in this goofy wasteland.

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