This Week I Played Overland

All you have to do to survive in Overland is keep moving. That is the one rule. While simple, following this rule is seemingly impossible at times. You may find yourself without fuel or supplies, but if you stay still you will die. Overland offers an uncompromising experience for the strategy game enthusiast. It will challenge you. Be prepared to fail many times before you find your rhythm. Just know you can succeed but there is a cost. You must determine the price you’re willing to pay. Are you ready?

Overland advertises itself as a game where you “take care of a group of travelers on a post-apocalyptic road trip” which is remarkably succinct. It has been the first survival game I’ve played set against a road trip that actually manages to live up to that promise. The single most important resource in Overland is fuel. You will find yourself taking many risks to find fuel. Remember though, what good is that full gas-can if the hands that hold it are dead though?

Gas stations are dangerous, which is why you should give your dog a knife.

The basic gameplay in overland will be familiar to anyone that plays strategy games. You start the game with one randomly generated character. They have two action points. Every action costs one action point. Moving, one action point. Attacking, one action point. Searching, one action point. You get the idea. Understanding this simple principle is key to enjoying Overland. My first few tries at the game fell apart because I did not understand the resources available to my characters. I also didn’t understand the characters themselves.

The game is presented over a series of uniquely generated stages each of which makes up a leg of the journey. These stages contain resources you’ll need for your journey. They may also contain companions you can recruit to keep the journey from being lonely, and extending your item storage. You start on the east coast, from there you move into the forest, then the grasslands, and so on as your journey to the west coast where safety is rumored to be. This is where overland starts to set itself apart from other strategy games. The stages themselves are small. You won’t spend much time on them. Your goal is to arrive, grab as much as you can carry and run. At the end of the leg of the journey, you’ll be taken to a special stage with something blocking the road and you have to clear it.

The closest thing Overland has to a metagame.

Developing a sense of what is important in a given stage and what can be left behind is key. You can’t just kill all the enemies and then loot the place. Killing enemies causes more to spawn. On any stage, your first priority should be fuel. If you can keep your fuel stocks high you won’t have to try to scavenge gas stations which can be some of the most difficult stages the game has to offer. Don’t take too great risks or your trip will come to a short end.

Overland is a game that you’ll need to try many times to make any real progress. The key to mastering it is paying attention. You’ll want to pay close attention to your enemies. How do they move? How do they attack? Some enemies have different amounts of action points compared to the characters you control. Learning how the enemies behave and learning how to use your characters will help you limit your risks.

This is fine.

The best piece of advice I can give you for playing Overland is: adopt a pile of dogs. Seriously, dogs are amazing and in Overland, they continue to be amazing. Dogs have as many actions as human characters, but they also have bonus abilities. Some dogs can attack, some can push enemies away, others search without consuming an action point. My best playthrough was one where I had one human character and a van full of dogs. Mind you, since what you encounter is randomly generated, you won’t be able to decide to encounter a dog. If you do encounter a dog, be sure not to leave them on the side of the road. They’ll repay your kindness a hundred times.

I really enjoy overland. I got the game as part of the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. You may have it now too and I suggest you check it out. The game is fast enough that failure doesn’t feel bad. Yes, you have to start over. However, at no point did I feel that my failure was the result of me not playing well enough. Games like X-COM rub me wrong because there is that metagame that you’re playing that slowly builds and any flaws you’ve built in may not make themselves known until it is far too late.

Overland is available on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX, and PC. Presently it retails on itch.io for $24.99 which unfortunately feels a little high. A price closer to $20 or even $15 would feel better. That being said, I would not pass this up if you liked Bad North, Overland is a game you’ll enjoy. While you’re traveling Overland, if you see me on the road, please lend a ride.

Seriously, don’t leave me here.

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