Early Access: Dustwind

By Craig Robinson 09 Mar 2018 0

There are many post-apocalyptic games that have earned ‘cult classic’ status. From Wasteland to Fallout, the decaying earth and the characters fighting for a cause has gripped many of us. Early Access title Dustwind, on the other hands, strips away any semblance of plot, morality tales or survival needs and throws us into a post-apocalyptic battle royale, where players create custom characters and fight across ruined settlements.

Dustwind is an online-only real-time tactics (RTT) where you take control of specific characters and compete in multiplayer PVP game modes or coop base survival missions. Typically, you play on vanilla maps and then select a hero from the pool of dev made characters, or you can make your own from the armoury section in the main menu. A lobby host can select how many units a player can control, scaling the size of engagements.


Each character you create in the game has a limited amount of points to use. These points are spent on different capabilities that the character can have, such as medic, technician, trapper etc... These points also purchase defensive and offensive capabilities, such as light, heavy, and melee combat enhancers, efficiency with various weapon types, reload time, attack speed and so on. Defensive qualities are needed when making a character, such as base health, health recovery, dodge chance and weapon type resistance. Other attributes represent perks that make you more efficient at a certain role, like sneaking, melee expertise, shooting expertise, health recovery, or base resistance to types of damage.

There’s a ton of different weapons, equipment, tools and ammo that you can equip. Specialising your character in certain areas will dictate what type of playstyle your character will have. For example, specialising in melee weapons and medicine will mean you will need to take melee weapons and medicine equipment. Rinse and repeat for your snipers, riflemen, minigun units and so on.

When creating your character, there are four different races to select from. These are Human, Valkyrie, Dog, and Robot. Each race provides different baseline stats and have their own unique bonuses. Humans are the most versatile race in the game. They can equip various armour types to fit the class they have become. They also hold the middle ground in strength, speed and defensive stats, and can use the most weapons in the game compared to other races.

Valkyrie are the mutant, fast humanoid race that have huge blades for arms. They cannot equip weapons, because they are weapons, but they are the stealthiest, quickest and tankiest race, specialising in melee and defence. Valkyries only dish out kinetic damage which gets countered by the robot race in melee, although they can tear through most humans and dogs within seconds.

Dogs are an intelligent mutated version of man’s lovable best friend. In this game they are great support units that are capable of light attack roles and providing team functions, like mine detection and healing.


The final race is Robot. Robots are also powerful tank units due to their pure metallic armour chassis, and have higher base resistance, health and detection but lack speed. Robots are played similarly to humans but excel in different tactical circumstances. In addition, Robots cannot be healed through basic medicine and require a technician skill to be repaired, which can make things easier or harder depending on your squad or your team's composition. You can design a robot character that can self-repair at the expense of other tactical options.

The character creation is self-balancing, so no-one gets too powerful. The more you upgrade down a specific path, the more expensive it gets in terms of points and the less you have left for other areas. A super heavy unit with big armour and big weapons with amazing combat stats will lack any significant regenerative abilities, or any other support abilities.. Same way a medic will ideally be quick, have great medicine and different medical items on them, but will have weaker guns, for example. Due to the different perks and build paths each race has, there isn't really any rock paper scissors balancing going on, which is always a bonus. You could spend hours just in the character creator toying with different builds and loadouts.

With the way the class systems work, using maps effectively and the character’s support capabilities can create great battles. Depending on the map and game mode, each fight will require thinking about building that unique squad composition that you take in other games like Dawn of War 2 and XCOM: Enemy Within. In my playtesting, I played a sniper and used a roof top to snipe across a large distance of the map, whilst covering my back with a mine, which saved my life in the most bonkers way possible.

Each character you control can be set to stand or crouch, which boosts their chances to hit or reduce the chances of being hit respectively. This is also dependent on the cover, for example where crouching allows you to shoot still, the crouching stat bolsters your existing chance to hit, which is great for sniper classes and LMG users.

Accompanying the aim mechanic is a UI portion in the bottom right that allows the player to select what body part to aim for. Body shots offer nothing unique and no penalties to being hit in the body.However, aiming at legs, feet, arms, or head will drop your chance to hit those part by 25%, and increase your chance to crit in those areas. They also apply negative health characteristics, such as maimed, incapacitated, or just flat out 1-shot-kilsl to the head.

aiming for head

These days Early Access titles, as well as being rough gems, can also suffer from low player populations. With this in mind, Dustwind has done well to deliver a competent AI with which to challenge players. It sometimes makes stupid decisions, but I still feel I can get some good battles out of them. There are also options to improve the difficulty of the bots in the host’s lobby settings, which offers a better challenge for those using custom characters. Of course, it would still be better to play with real people, and there is an active discord to help people organize matches. It’s only useful if you’re online during peak times though

There’s more to this game than what we’ve explored above, but being Early Access there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Overall, Dustwind has an awesome opportunity to reinvent the hero-based tactical RTS genre. As it stands the game is fun, engaging and allows great room for creative hero designs. However, the lack of infrastructure for co-op experiences and a lack of map/hero sharing prevents the game becoming an amazing social experience.

Dustwind entered into Steam Early Access on November 29th, 2017. At the time of writing, it's due to remain there for approximately 8 - 12 months.



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