by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I often find myself overwhelmed in open-world/sandbox games. There is always a colossal amount to do, and it’s exhausting to think about every option. Ashes of Oahu doesn’t give me that sense of dread. Instead, it lets me work my way through the main story at a pace comfortable for me. What makes Ashes of Oahu truly stand out is its post-apocalyptic story, set in Hawaii. That’s right, the world is in shambles. The people of Hawaii have lost their land to thugs, hooligans, and even malicious spirits.It’s up to you to not only save the island from these threats and set things right, but also find your child. A great deal of Hawaiian mysticism and culture is on display in a beautiful, respectful way. It’s all very authentic and only enhances the experience. Having a blend of more modern firepower and mystical powers makes the game experience special.
Ashes of Oahu does not teach you many of the mechanics and expects you to learn by doing, or discovering on your own. It’s not crippling, and it’s not difficult, but the new player experience could use some work. The tutorial is very thin. An option to toggle tooltips and tutorials would go a long way. A good example of this is the game not telling you that equipping a new mod on your gun destroys the old mod forever. You can’t remove the old ones to use on other weapons. I learned the hard way. Almost every bandit I’ve killed dropped some form of mod or another, at least. There is no shortage of them. If they were a bit rarer, this news would have upset me.
Gameplay Loop and Issues:
In Ashes of Oahu, the ultimate goal is to bring harmony to the island by defeating the various thugs and bandits. It is not an easy game, so don’t feel afraid to knock the difficulty down if you find yourself dying. There’s an enemy that instant-killed me every single time I saw it, and it can teleport. It would teleport behind me, kill me, and I would lose forty+ minutes of work. I am not a fan of the melee combat in this game, so I do my level best to avoid it at all costs. Most non-human enemies have guns and will back away if you try to come at them.
Why was so much work lost, you might ask? There is no saving outside of certain auto-save points and inside a Bunker. You can’t save anywhere, only where it is safe. Bunkers are a big part of the game, and they pretty far apart. To unlock additional Bunkers beyond your first one, you’ll have to find them in the world. After you clear out of the enemies nearby, you can construct the Bunker. These are not expensive to craft (a bit of steel, rubber, and glass, usually), and it’s easy to figure out.
This leads me to my first major issue with the game. The in-game tooltips tell me that you can harvest glass in areas like cars and old houses/buildings. In most cases, you find glass inside of desks in broken-down buildings. That’s fine, but I have tried everything to “harvest” materials from cars. I’ve shot exploding arrows, thrown frag grenades, hacked at them with my knife, and shot them with bullets. There is no clear way to get glass, rubber, or steel from cars, and your first bunker is literally surrounded by piles of dead automobiles. This should be addressed or updated. I spent well over an hour trying to find one piece of glass to complete a quest, and it was making my blood boil.
Another important gameplay facet to be aware of is Fast Travel. It may as well not exist at all. You can only Fast Travel to bunkers. I was hoping I could fast travel to the first town you visit. I spent a lot of time walking between there and other quest objectives. Being able to move back to a friendly town would be handy. Instead, you have to Fast Travel to the nearby Bunker and run to the town. At least you have unlimited stamina.
Uhane Vision and the World Around You:
Much of the wildlife is aggressive, and there are also packs of bandits to deal with. They are seldom visible, thanks to the dense, lush forests and deep valleys of Oahu. There is a solution, and it’s a pretty cool one. They took a page from the Batman: Arkham games. Thanks to your character’s ties with Hawaiian spirits, they can use “Uhane Vision”. Activating it (Default: V Key) causes a blue ring of Hawaiian symbols to expand around you. This will change the way you see the world, and highlights friends and foes around you. Even if hidden by buildings or trees, you can see friend and foe alike. Characters that are green are friendly, and red are enemies.To remind you this effect is active, the vision also covers the sky in the mystic pattern. This is useful because I have definitely been surprised and killed far too many times in-game.
Bandits are your best source of health kits, ammo, and mods. If you’re running low on health kits, don’t hesitate to find a bandit and shoot them between the eyes. Another combat feature you’ll want to take advantage of is sneak attacks. If you see someone is looking away from you, you can crouch and sneak behind them. This is the one time melee is amazing because it lets you instantly kill these targets. You won’t have to rely on that melee dagger for long though. You’ll receive a Bolt-Action Rifle early in the game through a quest that acts as a shooting tutorial. You can come back to this town anytime to completely refill this gun’s ammo. While it might not seem great, you can mod it to have a decent clip and it will serve well as a damage source.
Your main goal is to find your child and liberate the island, but there are plenty of other missions to do in the world. You will commune with major Hawaiian spirits, who will guide you on your mission and give you useful powers. This includes the ability to conjure a spirit bow. The spirit bow will convert mana into arrows to fire at your foes (and you can also get exploding arrows, because why not?). Your melee weapon can give you mana back when you defeat enemies with it, but it’s so dangerous to be in melee range. I stick to harvesting mana from the Hibiscus flowers that litter the island, and shoot from afar. You also receive some shape-changing powers, transforming you from a chicken to a lizard to a majestic hawk! Yes, you can fly around the island as a hawk, but the chicken really threw me for a loop. It’s great to sneak around with and get the drop on bandits.
In addition to this, there are random events scattered around the island. These come in a few flavors, and always involve you killing bad guys to save someone. There are Hostage Missions and Skirmishes. Hostage Missions feature a few bandits who have tied up innocent people. Skirmish Missions have two factions battling back and forth. You will show up and shoot the enemy bandits before the allied faction can die.
This leads to an important part of the game: Factions. As you level up on Oahu, you’ll pick up Skill Points. Helping factions in these events, as well as completing quests for them, you’ll gain Faction Rating. Faction Rating goes up pretty slow, so it’s worthwhile to figure out which faction you want to focus on helping. Thankfully, the skill screen shows exactly what you can learn from each faction. The Faction Window of your menu will also show your rating with these factions. It also has their background, how many Outposts they hold, and how many relics of theirs you’ve found. In Uhane Vision, these relics will be visible with a column of Red Light shooting into the sky.
The Raiders (bandits, thugs, jerks) are always an enemy faction and cannot be befriended. Your factions are the Islanders, Hawaiians, Research Institute, Lava Dogs, and the Raiders. You don’t have to go out of your way to save everyone though. Those Event Missions can start to feel tedious. If your conscience can bear it, let them fight on their own if it doesn’t suit your particular needs. You’re going to see them a lot, because most of the game is exploring the unknown. Most of the Missions will not lead you exactly where you’re supposed to go. You’ll get a vague idea by looking at the map, but for the most part, you have to go and do on your own. I like this though, and am grateful for having hints of where I need to be. It gives me a great sense of purpose in the game world and immerses me deeper into this gorgeous world. It is a beautiful rendition of Oahu, even with the war-ravaged buildings.
The story is pretty engaging, and it’s faithful to the Hawaiian mysticism and lore, as far as I can tell. You commune with spirits at set level-up intervals and do your best to make the island a better place to live. The actual visuals are gorgeous, and I often find myself standing on top of a hill and admiring the flora and fauna. Having a post-apocalyptic game with traditional Hawaiian music threw me off at first. The music comes and goes at random, but it’s soothing and relaxing. Relaxing music in such a difficult game is one of the few reasons I didn’t rage at losing an hours worth of gameplay. The music was calming, and I could at least hope for a decent auto-save location. It’s such a fresh take on the post-apocalyptic genre, I found myself digging the look and feel of this world. It is not fully voiced, but that did not bother me.
Ohana Means Family: 4/5 (Great)
I did not expect to love Ashes of Oahu quite as much as I did. My early few hours were frustrating, and I died often. This faded away though, and I found myself enjoying my time in this world. I’m still no closer to saving the island, but each dive in has been a joy. The story is brief but compelling, and the world is gorgeous. For such a small development team, they packed a lot of emotion and visual appeal into Ashes of Oahu. The only complaint visually I have is that many of the characters faces looked emotionless or creepy.
Another issue I had was with quests. There are characters who you can interact with, that have a green exclamation mark on the map. A green exclamation mark is a sign of a quest in most games, but this is not always the case in Ashes of Oahu. More often than not, it was the same old conversation we had two hours ago. I find myself checking these people, even if I have already spoken to them once to see if something has changed. This is likely an easy fix, but it is one that aggravated me in almost every playthrough. The gunplay was smooth and the powers your character picks up are useful. I did not have to struggle for healing kits or crafting materials for bandages. There was no shortage of weapons either. There are still improvements to make but it has a lot of promise. Ashes of Oahu is a fresh look at the “end of the world” genre.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Ashes of Oahu Gallery: