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Game Mak... Gam Mak Never Changes

Pilgrim's Road. My word, what a doozy. Totally scratched a Black Isle Fallout itch in all the right ways, and it didn't even need a man-melting plasma gun to have it scratch said itch!

It's been a while since I've played and reviewed an RM game, since March of last year. I dare say I regret all the wasted time of not playing this one. It's an absolute travesty that no review exists for Pilgrim's Road prior to mine, so I am going to fix that. Big time. I am so, so on the fence about whether or not this game deserved its perfect rating, but after giving Bedtime Adventures such a high score and One Night At The Steeze such a low one IMO, these five stars are worth it. I'm just elated this is a complete package and not a demo, so that I can give it the score it deserves. ;-;

Of note, a good chunk of the review will have spoiler tags attached; important points I want to make are big-time spoilers. I wish I could've addressed a lot of what made Temple of Memories in better depth, so I'm not making that same mistake twice. Let's not waste any more time, but dive right in.

The Story
Pilgrim's Road is a fascinating game with how it handles its narrative. Most of the story consists of found (and thus optional) lore, explaining possibilities of the apocalypse and the strange happenings before the end of civilization. Some of the info appear to be red herrings, but these events are handled in a relatively believable way. After all, would one isolated incident be able to explain such occurrences? It also helps that the nature of said optional lore is esoteric to begin with, and I'll gush about that in the spoiler section...

But your story is one that you're thrown into. With fair warning of a possible alt ending scenario even in-game, the player character is seemingly just a wanderer who gathers salvage, and trades it in at an old-world spire to tech cultists. Whether or not you're able to understand more and more of the current events depends on your starting build.

Character Creation
Yes, you read that right. You make your own character in this game. For something made with RPG Maker 2003, the interface is a prime example of the eventing wizardry that classic devs could concoct. After selecting New Game under the animated, custom title screen, you pick your character's gender and are treated to seeing a rendered, animated image of a male or female protagonist!

There are six stats akin to Dungeons and Dragons that are randomly rolled, with as many rerolls as you desire. Wisdom is replaced with Reflexes, which affects your HP. You may wonder why Reflexes would influence hit points, until you learn that HP is separate from LP (Life Points) and is handled in that classic D&D abstraction. Rather than mean the amount of physical abuse you can take, HP is more like your luck to dodge lasting damage. LP, however, is your lasting damage. HP can be refilled in combat using a cheap drug, while LP can only be restored outside of battle with an expensive medkit. Luckily HP is also refreshed after every fight, which is a godsend considering the nature of the game's battles.

After you decide on a stat array that seems legit, you get to pick a number of skills based on your Intelligence score. With the scores I determined for my first attempt, I got to pick from three of six available skills. On my second and completed attempt at 17 INT, I had four to select. The importance of these skills will be noted in the spoiler section.

Gameplay
The maps of areas are simple but effective, resembling a green readout. You control a circle with a direction arrow to represent your character; important items are question mark boxes, salvage is a treasure chest, people are circles with X's, and computers are boxy computer monitors. And really, I think that's all you need at first glance. I've been pondering a simplistic post-apocalyptic game myself, and I think this works fine.

But the moment you engage in conversation or get into a fight, prepare to be wowed by a custom interface that highly resembles its classic Fallout inspiration! The character portraits are animated as if in an idle animation, rendered akin to the "talking heads" of those Black Isle adventures. Enemy portraits in battle are static, but still rendered and look great (even if most enemies might be familiar).

The overall gameplay involves entering ruins and obtaining salvage. Normally the scrap can be sold for monetary tokens in the reactor level of the outpost; based on your skills, however, you could find use for the scrap otherwise. If you have use for the salvaged goods, be sure to use them before selling them for money; one only has the option to sell all scrap, but you can change your mind before making the sale.

There's only like eight to ten items in-game (I didn't count), but all serve a vital niche and I adore that fact. All of them are only really found at the outpost, with some minor goodies available at the old gas station you start at. Battles are handled in a random fashion, with event-based one available on the cursor-controlled map screen.

Combat Mechanics
The fights themselves seem straight-forward, and can be tense. Not all of it might be one's cup of tea and is a nitpick of mine, but I found the fights to be nerve-wracking as they should be at specific points. You have three options each round of combat: attack, swap your weapon, or use the HP-restoring combat drug.

Damage is heavily randomized over a specific spread, based on the weapon you use or the enemy attacking you. To my knowledge there is no Defense stat, and attacks will always hit. Your Strength score influences damage done with your starting combat knife, while Dexterity affects gun damage. Even if you keep a lower STR or DEX score, not all seems lost; I was able to get good damage rolls with a STR 9 a good amount of the time, so one still has a fighting chance.

There's not a whole lot of intricacy to the fighting, but it serves its purpose well. Like a survival horror game, it's a matter of resource management. What you spend your tokens on is crucial for most of the game. I found it easiest to stick with the combat knife and a leather jacket at the start, but a pistol is a good starting choice when you've got the dosh.

Just uh, don't do what I did and have a moment where I spoke aloud, "Shit, where do I get ammo?". Yes, you need to purchase ammunition for both guns. No, you cannot find it on raiders. Of note, you also cannot flee battles; it makes sense but can be a real threat, which escalates the tension of the gameplay in a good way. This is definitely a game you want to have multiple saves of at various points.

Spoilers
So this is where I will discuss elements that are important to the review, but are hidden away for those looking for a primer of the game. I've used reviews before to sway whether or not I should try to play a RM project, so the information presented prior might be useful. That said, big elements I adore are locked away below.


At first the gameplay seemed a bit... vapid with my original save. When recreating my post-apocalyptic vixen Dana, I didn't pick the Charm skill as her trained abilities. Because the gameplay got boring, I started over and rolled a new Dana. As mentioned in a blog entry for Pilgrim's Road, there *is* a way to prevent the normal ending of the game. One of these involves rolling a 17 INT and selecting specific skills to be proficient in. I think Charm might be one of those, and the game does give ideas of what might be useful. Thus I advise players to create a "dead save" to piece together the puzzle, and then start over to play for real.

I say Charm is crucial because it opens the vast majority of the game world. The only real dungeons exist by getting rumors of salvage spots. This is one of my biggest nitpicks, yet the early game is short enough to have a throw-away save. Of note, like the original Fallout, the game has a timer that ticks down as you explore the world map. I just barely pieced together what needed to be done, and got to the endgame before the point of no return happened. And it was down to the wire enough that I could also explore the normal ending with a prior save, too.

With this race against time, the tension needed to avoid the default ending is real. Not only do you need to find salvage in dangerous areas to get outfitted for the game's deadliest challenges, but you also need to do so in an efficient way. As mentioned prior, my second save file was cleared with enough time to where I could get the better ending, while still having time to play an earlier save and get the normal one. But please, if you worry about time-sensitive games like I, DO NOT HESITATE to use multiple saves!

By the way. I effin' love the lore I found! Between the origins of the Pilgrims and the unsolved mysteries of the setting, this is the type of apocalypse I enjoy. The Road, while a movie or book I'd like to engage in someday, doesn't quite do it for me. Even a post-nuclear apocalypse should have strange dealings associated with it if you ask me, ranging from the "gonzo" aftermath of Gamma World to the social-commentary absurdity of even Bethesda Fallout games. Something about a genre just lends itself to both in varying ways, and the lore could lend itself to a spinoff or sequel that gets even more eerie and unusual.


Overall Thoughts
For a game made in an event, I think Sidewinder went above and beyond the usual call. Pilgrim's Road faithfully captures the spirit of the original Fallout, while doing something wholly its own. The custom menus are marvelous, the rendered graphics give a fittingly dirty and bleak feeling for the post-apocalyptic genre, and the game had me on edge in the best ways.

Nitpicks aside, I stand by my opening statements. I regret the wasted time not playing this game once I knew it existed, and I seek to avenge the injustice of this game not having a review, let alone one holding it in critical acclaim.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to handle my thoughts. My imagination is ablaze with a game starring my mutant fox girl, of whom I played as. Fan art. Maybe some fan art might do. No promises, but on my potential to-do list. ;)

Posts

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Thanks for the really in-depth and informative review, Atiya. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much, I never really expected this would be so well received.
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