Dust to the End by Haojoy Game, Zjoy Game
Emerge from the underground vault where you were raised and explore a strange, post-apocalyptic open world that developed after a global nuclear war. Sounds familiar, right? But in Dust to the End, you’ll be paying closer attention to edible tubers and soap than to bullets and upgrading push-carts rather than power armor.
Mad Max: Merchant Apprentice
Don’t get me wrong, just like in the Fallout series, you’ll encounter bandits, mutants, and monsters, and there are more than a few weird wasteland factions, and it’ll be your choice to fight them or side with them.
But the core loop here isn’t explore, fight, and upgrade. It’s buy, travel, sell, repeat. Carry salt to one village, sell it at a profit; invest your salt profits in soap, carry it to the next village and sell that at a profit; invest your soap profits in lime (or cotton, or fertilizer, or concrete). And so on, and so on, and so on.
This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. If you’ve heard EVE Online described as “spreadsheets in space” and thought that sounded like a feature rather than a bug – or especially if you enjoyed the old Caravaneer browser games that were clearly an inspiration here – then you’re the target audience for what publisher 2P Games is selling.
Rations and Receipts
There’s a fair amount of economic complexity here, and on top of learning trade routes and where to buy this thing low and sell that thing high, managing your own survival is crucial, as well. The wastelands are unforgiving, and food and water, in addition to being commodities, are necessary for travel and can affect both your health and your party morale.
Stick to clean water and vegetables, and you’ll be all right, but dirty water and rat meat will not only make you miserable, it might even make you sick.
The Slow, Inevitable March of Progress
While Dust to the End’s setting isn’t unique, exactly, it’s still plenty fascinating, and on top of the usual radioactive zombies and small-town warlords, you’ll also encounter – for example – a cannibal gang that breeds battle hyenas. It’s pretty exciting stuff, honestly, but it’s arguably hampered by the game’s slow pace and inexorable economic grind.
Even minor optional side quests – like bringing food to a starving civilian camped out in the desert – turns into a grind. You’ll need to build cash to buy the food, upgrade your vehicles – a term the game uses loosely and includes wheelbarrows and dollies – to carry the food, and of course stock up enough supplies to make the trip there and back without dying of exposure.
Combat is similarly slow and grinding, a basic positioning and turn-based affair that gets less compelling quickly enough that the developers built in an automatic fight-resolution option.
That Old Dusty Trail
Potential pacing issues aside, Dust to the End has a lot to offer for the spreadsheet-minded and the people who play games like the X series or EVE Online as traders rather than space pirates.
While it doesn’t quite engender the “just one more encounter” compulsiveness of a Wasteland or Fallout game, the regular resource management to stave off the triple threats of starvation, dehydration, and fatal diarrhea are as compelling now as they were three and a half decades ago in Oregon Trail.
And the game’s visual approach is spot-on, gritty enough to evoke the bleak, hardscrabble nature of its setting but just cartoonish and colorful enough to appeal to the eye. Shirtless gas-masked goons abound, of course, as do plague masks, which have been making something of an aesthetic comeback of late.
This one grows on you, if slowly, and on reflection, I’d definitely recommend it as long as you’re not put off by the thought of packing a sales ledger along with your machete when you venture into the wastes.
Dust to the End is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Dust to the End below: