Impressions: Stories from the Outbreak (early access)

Stories from the Outbreak is the early access survival game from Coldwild Games. I am hesitant when it comes to early access games anymore. While I think the idea of it is really good, I feel like some people take advantage of being labeled “early access” to just permanently stay in that mode. However, Coldwild Games has several games completed already, and damn if this game didn’t just look fun to me.

One of the big things you’ll notice when you start the game is that it’s largely gameplay that is done while the “story” part still needs to be fleshed out. I completely get that and was excited both for the gameplay as well as the direction of the story. It is a zombie survival game, and yes, I am still a sucker for zombie stories and always want more. I have also tried out a couple of survival RPGs that feel a bit similar, but I am still looking for “the one” that will give me what I want. So there is some good and not really anything I would call bad but would like to see possibly change.

Out the gate, you start with a survivor and can do a tutorial. It helps you understand gameplay. This is a pretty standard strategy RPG. You have a number of zombies with however many survivors you currently have on your team. There is a “tick” timer for all of the players, which determines the order they go in; you can keep track of it on the top of the screen. You have a variety of different characters you’ll pick up as you go throughout, all with a variety of actions they can take. Support characters that are better for buffing and healing vs. more tank-like characters. You also have those that will gradually build up their attacks as more time goes by in battle. These are all character types you’ve likely seen before, just with their own flavor.

Various actions take different times, so you need to work out when to use your actions with longer slow down vs. when to get a lot of little damage or the like done quickly. Characters also level as you play, and their various skills will often have different branches. So more strategy and thinking through with each choice. The best way to understand games like this, and all the different characters, is to simply play.

You have to move from your starting area through several different map overviews, all working towards the end goal of having survivors make it to a ferry. You choose your path on the map, which is another area where you need some strategy. One route may take you through fewer battles but also have fewer rewards.

It’s a lot of fun and while similar to other games, brings enough of its own, again flavor, to the mix to make it feel special. It is low on the story, which you would expect from a game with “stories” in the title, but again the game is very clear about this being the case. The game also looks and sounds great. I love the pixel art direction, and the music is on point.

I did like it a lot and had a lot of fun while playing and experimenting. The game is pretty challenging, so there is a lot of failing along the way. I really struggle with games like this where perma death and a willingness to deal with it are baked into the gameplay. I always end up feeling bad or like a total failure, even though it is part of the process. It took me a bit, but I was finally able to deal with it and move forward, including having to learn to outright fail by letting everybody die.

When you do get a game over, you will likely actually get some points towards the characters that can help them to be more useful the next time. But here’s where my biggest pickle comes in with this game when I say it’s hard, I mean it. There is very little in the way of ramping up, even the first area is a challenge, and it is easier by far than the rest, and by a pretty wide margin. I would have liked more ramp-up in difficulty instead of feeling like I have been thrown into the deep end. I would also like that the rewards you get for trying and failing to matter more. You can get stuck in a loop where you are just hitting game over after game over because RNG is just not that helpful. Yes, I know challenging game, and yes, I know “game journalist who sucks at games, lol.” I do think the game could be a bit more approachable and, yes easier without losing all challenge. Or at least, again, more ramp-up to help ease in a little to how hard it will be. And the game is early access, so who knows? That might be in the future, or they might decide they want the game to remain super challenging.

If it’s the former, great. If it’s the latter? Still don’t regret buying it. For all my griping about the difficulty and desire to see it be a bit easier, I still had a lot of fun with it. In fact, I am currently thinking as I am typing out this piece, “man, I want to try again.”

So bottom line? The game is unfinished, I want to be upfront about that, and Coldwild Games certainly are themselves. However, it’s a lot of fun if you like this type of game, I do recommend it. I enjoyed the gameplay, it looks cool, and even if they added nothing else, I would be pretty pleased with what I got. I am really looking forward to seeing what they are bringing next. If you are not one for early access games, I get it, but you should at least put it on your wishlist; it’s something you are going to want to keep an eye on. For now, I am enjoying it, and as more happens, I will try to keep you informed.

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