Don't call Finji's Overland an RPG. Adam Saltsman, director of Finji, originally described it as a "road trip roguelike, squad-based survival strategy game." That mouthful has since been shortened to "strategy" in many discussions of genre. Nevertheless, here we are, looking at the heavy tactical RPG and roguelike elements that arise when an unlikely band of survivors is thrown into a sedan and forced to make a cross-country trip to California in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Unlike many popular apocalypses, Overland doesn't deal in anything as commonplace as zombies or radiation-mad raiders. Instead, it's home to nasty spike creatures that burrow through the earth with freakish precison. Sound attracts them. Guns, unfortunately, make a lot of sound.
At its core, Overland is a desperate game of risk management and limited resources. Like FTL, fuel is life and death is for keeps. Every time the party gets out of the car to unblock the road or investigate rumors of supplies, a battle begins. Loud actions attract new enemies at the edge of the screen, creating a tense "get in, get out" feel. Does the driver stay in the car with the keys in the ignition while the faster party member siphons gas from a nearby wreck, or do they both leave the car to more quickly deal with a cluster of curious beasts? Is it worth turning back after reaching a well-defended pitstop, knowing that gas is a finite resource and the trip was wasted? Success depends on treating each skirmish as a puzzle and the overall journey as a war of attrition. At one stop, the only way I was able to continue on was by sacrificing Vicente, a traveler who felt bad about hurting the monsters and had never attended a school dance. Vicente removed the wreckage in the middle of the road; Miles, a volunteer firefighter who was allergic to everything, gunned the motor and left for the next screen. Vicente might have survived in the wasteland, but we never crossed paths again.
The journey west covers six different zones, each with its own challenges and resources. In the grasslands, my interactions centered around searching Dumpsters for supplies, siphoning gas, gathering fragile weapons, rescuing potential allies, and setting monsters on fire. Although my characters were fragile and expendable, they also had (seemingly) randomly generated personality quirks and skills. Miles knew CPR, while Vicente was leaner and more energetic so he recieved an extra action. Regardless of their personal strengths, each could only carry one item at a time. The enemies move fast and actions are always at a premium, so survival often hinged on knowing when the right time to drop a weapon or switch from carrying a pointy stick to grabbing an unguarded gas can and booking it.
Saltsman explained to me how the bulk of Overland's story is situational. Players tend to tell themselves stories about games as they play them, especially in public forums and while streaming. Terse character bios and hardscrabble nature of survival build on players' drive to tell stories. In other words, characters won't be as well-developed as in traditional RPGs, but they'll contain the building blocks for unique survival narratives. Future builds of the game will provide scaffolding for each player's story by beefing up the character dialog, adding campfire reflection scenes, and coding hooks for characters to comment on past events such as the loss of a useful ally.
Overland is in alpha, so it'll be a bit of a wait to see what kind of stories it'll shake loose from its players. It will be available for PC, Mac, and Linux.