It’s been a really long time since I did a proper video game review (holy shit, 7 years!?), but I’ve been trying to get back into writing more regularly. A few years ago, I saw a post on Reddit about a developer’s upcoming strategy game which would let you play as a Mad Max/Fallout-style raider pillaging the wasteland. I was fascinated by this premise and instantly wishlisted the game, Raiders! Forsaken Earth, although it wasn’t until this year that I finally got the urge and free time to purchase and play the game.
In a broad sense, Raiders! is a strategy game with lite management and RPG elements, not too dissimilar to the XCOM franchise. You play as a player-created raider who has just taken the mantle of leadership and need to bring your band of scumbags from a ragtag group of thieves, to the uncontested rulers of the wasteland. This plays out in classic fashion – raiding caravans, dodging lawmen coming after you, and eventually building up your strength enough that you can extort entire towns to avoid your wrath. The management elements come into play as you have to build-up your base, manage your ever-expanding groups of raiders, and make sure there are enough resources available to survive and craft everything you need to survive. Meanwhile, the wasteland will react to your attacks with ever-increasing levels of offensive and defensive presence.
That’s a fairly rudimentary overview of the game, but it’s emblematic of Raiders! core gameplay – it’s a tried-and-tested formula and the game executes it well. There’s always some new little goal pushing you forwards, and I found myself on multiple occasions getting that “one more turn” compulsion, and then suddenly 30 more minutes would pass as I raided another settlement and made sure all my lowlifes were equipped with the best items. It’s not as deep as, say, a Paradox Interactive game, but I think it strikes a good balance between strategy and breezy fun.
That said, Raiders! is unmistakably an indie game and its flaws are readily apparent. The most obvious of these is that the game has basically no animation at all. World events are told via a static image and text box, the world map is navigated with a bunch of static PNGs being moved around the screen, and don’t even get me started on combat – you’re lucky if you get a 2 frame “animation” whenever someone does an action (honestly, the most “impressive” animation in the whole game is that you can see spent shell casings ejected out when you fire a gun, but that’s because they can just apply the same small JPG every time and rotate it a few times). While not exactly a major detriment to the core gameplay, it does leave Raiders! with a very unimpressive presentation. On the one hand, it captures the sort of vibes you’d get from the first two Fallout games, but it’s so dated that it’s likely enough to turn some people off the game entirely.
Beyond the presentation issues, the game’s combat is fairly rudimentary. You get 2 rows per side, up to 4 ranged fighters, and up to 4 melee fighters per row, with melee having to fight adjacent enemies, and ranged being able to shoot anyone they want to. As fighters are defeated, units in reserve will move in to take their place, if any are available. Any fighter has about a dozen options available to them per turn, but most of these don’t matter – you can do heavy attacks (at the cost of accuracy), give an enemy a status condition, heal yourself, regain stamina, break armour, insult an enemy’s mother, etc. However, you rarely need to do anything other than just make a standard attack. The XCOM comparison earlier wasn’t just for show – accuracy is a major issue for your raiders, especially in the early game when they might have 20-30% hit rates, and +10 damage for -10% accuracy is not worth it unless you will literally die otherwise. Likewise, who needs status effects when you can just spec your raiders to be able to one-shot everyone you come across? This also makes a lot of the game’s optional level-up perks kinda useless, because about half of them are activated abilities, and then the good half are all passive bonuses. All of this is even more important because you can cheese this game’s AI pretty reliably – if you hit an enemy and get them around 50% HP, they will usually waste a turn healing. Meanwhile, if you kill an enemy, their replacement usually won’t be able to attack, so you can just cycle through enemies without getting a scratch if you have spec’d your band well enough. All this means that, once you get your band together, combat becomes fairly tedious and trivial outside of all but the most overwhelming battles, and it only gets easier when you get access to WMDs and artillery strikes. Thankfully, the game does have an auto-battle option, so you can speed through caravan raids into the late-game when you know that you will definitely win.
The management aspects of the game can get pretty annoying as well. Maybe it’s just because I spec’d by leader to give XP bonuses galore, but my raiders were constantly leveling up, necessitating a trip into the Roster menu after every fight to assign stat bonuses, buy perks, update weapon loadouts, etc, which only gets worse as you get more and more raiders in your party. Eventually I just gave up and started auto-leveling my raiders, but you’re probably going to want to manually level everyone until you have at least 6-8 max level scoundrels spec’d out with high accuracy, high damage, and high crit-chance as your core so they can annihilate anyone you come across. As you start conquering settlements, you also have to babysit them to make sure they’re all fortified and defended, because if not, then they’ll get destroyed by regulators and need to be recaptured and re-stocked. There’s no way to order units to travel between places, so you have to recruit dirtbags from a city into your party, then walk all the way over to the place you want them to be in.
All of this is small beans though compared to this game’s real glaring issue. The fact that they’ve programmed this game where you buy/sell items either 1 at a time, or all of them at once, is INSANE. My raider band carries up to a maximum of 300 units each of water, meat, and beer. I usually keep these around 150 each, because I will quickly top these all up through regular raiding, and then sell off the excess for easy cash. Now, think about what that means – I am regularly having to click the “sell” button 450 times for an incredibly basic action. I legitimately don’t know how this managed to make it through playtesting and how it has not been patched out, because it’s absolutely moronic that this in the game.
I also ran into a pretty major issue in the late game during my playthrough. If you’ve captured all the major settlements, the suddenly caravans stop running… This is a game about raiding caravans in order to get money and resources. When that gets taken away from you, you suddenly become extremely limited on options that you need to actually finish the game. Luckily, I had enough strength left in my band that I was able to capture the remaining slaver and arms dealer settlements so I could get a ton of cash, but even then I had to wait 2 in-game days to generate enough income to be able to get over the threshold to declare myself governor.
Like I said, Raiders! is a game where its flaws are glaringly obvious… but goddamn, I don’t really care, because this game lets you do some awesome shit. I pretty much always play a good guy in games, but it’s nice to give in to the fantasy of playing the irredeemable, chaotic evil villains for once, and Raiders! delivers how you’d expect it to. For one thing, you can go full-hog as a cannibal if you want to – you can kill and eat your own raiders (or just eat them when they are killed in battle), demand captives from a town and then eat them, capture enemies and then eat them, butcher someone and then sell that meat to merchants… It’s despicable and hilarious in equal measure. You don’t even have to eat people either if you don’t want to – hostages can be ransomed for money, killed to send a message, or you can put a bag on their head and use them as a human shield in combat (…guess which option I used half the time). You can perform human sacrifices to your savage wasteland god for combat bonuses. You can unleash napalm and mustard gas attacks on settlements. You can burn down the remaining pockets of civilization for the sheer fun of it. You can recruit feral dogs and boars to fight alongside you. You can engage in polygamy and build up a harem of up to 3 spouses (and if you want more, just kill and eat one of the existing ones). You can build up your base will all sorts of services, including (naturally) a brothel, which your evil-as-fuck ass can keep in business with literal sex slaves.
The game also has some fun random events hidden in the world map off the beaten path. One of my best raiders was welcomed into the group after being found in the desert. Another time, I found a thunderdome and fought a guy there. Then there was the time we came across an old nuclear submarine and found a goddamn tactical nuke inside, which I promptly took to blast the shit out of a pesky settlement. Then there was the time I found a group of cultists and sold them a bunch of slaves to sacrifice, which was handy because I really needed the money at the time. Clearly, the game allows you to be a real son of a bitch, although the dated, text-based presentation might actually help to not make it feel as “grimdark” as it could otherwise – yeah, you’re doing a lot of fucked-up shit, but most of it is left to roleplay and your imagination. You can also play with a conscience if you want to, but that doesn’t feel like the spirit of this game to me: you can be the good guy in every other game, after all.
While I have harped on the game’s presentation, I will give it some major props for the way that it portrays your raiders and their equipment. Every raider has a randomized appearance and name, and you’ll rarely see raiders with the same face (although I did see names repeating every once in a while). Probably around 95% of the weapons, armour, and items you can equip on your raiders will be reflected on their character model (and, conversely, you can prioritize attacking enemy fighters based on the equipment you see on them). The equipment is all classic raider items – hockey masks, riot helmets, nail baseball bats, rusty guns, shields made of manhole covers and stop signs, spiky armour, dusty jackets, etc. Considering the low production value, I was pretty surprised by this, as it no doubt took quite a bit of work to make this all happen, but I’m so glad they put in the effort.
As you play and level these guys (and gals) up, you grow attached to them as they bring you victories. Like I said, you can marry up to 3 of them. You can also promote up to 2 of them to higher positions of command in your band – this can potentially cause them to get too big for their britches and challenge your for control, although this never happened to me in my game; my officers were all ride-or-die. All of this helps to build affection for your regular group of raiders, which is important because, again, this game is like XCOM – no matter how good you are, eventually a lucky crit is going to happen, one of your favourites is going to die, and it is going to hurt. The game keeps track of your fallen brethren (and whether you ate them), and I had a few memorable losses in my playthrough. Poor Blackburn, he was my best marksman early on, and my first spouse and officer. He died at the end of our first big settlement raid, and it was a devastating loss. Then there was Shockmaster, a regulator who was hunting our band down, but when he was defeated in battle, he defected and became a scumbag himself. In one particularly devastating battle when I was outnumbered and outgunned by another band of regulators, I lost Shockmaster and Snaggle, 2 of my 3 best remaining marksmen at the time. If you’ve ever played XCOM, you know exactly what sort of feels this game gives you and just how ripe it is for roleplay.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t go through some of the hilarious names your raiders can have in this game. Like… there’s literally a dude named “Cock” in my band. I didn’t name him that, that’s just what the game called him. In addition to being appropriate for the “raider fantasy”, it also encourages more roleplay: like, I imagine that all these nicknames were made up by the other raiders during initiation and then stuck from there, so you start wondering how they got some of these names. Some highlights from my playthrough include: Hooligan, Shifty, White Legs, Sniffer, Wrists, Smutty, Rotten, Night Hate, Worms, Maggot, Dank, Pisser, Gonorrhea.
I put about a dozen hours into my playthrough of Raiders! Forsaken Earth. For me, that’s a solid amount of time to sink into a game. I don’t have time, or interest, in games that are dozens of hours long, so this was fantastic. However, I can see Raiders! being one of those games you could sink and much, or as little, time into as you want. The game has procedurally-generated maps and lots of customizable difficulty options, so you could easily have several more playthroughs to challenge yourself more, maybe try handling your band differently, or just replay on a different map – the choice is yours, really. Again, like XCOM in that regard, or like the 90s strategy/management games I used to play all the time, like Age of Empires II or Rollercoaster Tycoon, where it’s a different experience each time.
Raiders! Forsaken Earth has some really rough edges, but its core pillars are rock solid. Honestly, I’d love to see a sequel with more quality of life improvements (let me type how many items I want to sell, PLEASE), more weapons/armour/equipment, more random events, more rival raiders, larger maps, goddamn car chases… I think there’s still a lot of untapped potential here that could make for a real homerun if given the chance.