The problem with indie video games, and game development in general, is that it’s reached the point where despite the absence of restrictions and limitations, and presence of so many inexpensive resources and tools, aspiring developers are simply underachieving by doing the bare minimum. Most indie titles these days simply demonstrate a neat little idea, and nothing else beyond that. It’s not often you see a humble indie team dare to achieve far more than some derivative retro experience, but there are shining examples like Dust: An Elysian Tale, Freedom Planet, The Waste Land, CrossCode and others. There’s some great titles out there, but it feels like you have to bear seeing a thousand subpar, underachieving and derivative indie titles on Steam before something extraordinarily unique emerges.
There are many tools easily available to the public, giving nearly anyone with a desire to dabble into game development. One of the more notable packages is RPG Maker, which has long been a useful tool for aspiring developers. Indie RPGs feel like a dime a dozen at this point, but once in a while something really cool happens. For example, To The Moon was a story driven adventure that dared to be different from all of the other cookie cutter JRPG rip-offs. It’s become a classic in its own right. Point is: game development tools like RPG Maker are simply means to an end, and not a magic wand that can turn anyone into a legitimate developer.
There was a time in the video game industry, especially during the ‘80s, when resources and budgets were extremely limited, and development teams comprised of less than a dozen individuals, with each team member having several responsibilities. On top of that, hardware and development tools were finite and hard to work with. Despite this, though, developers dared to squeeze every ounce of potential from the technology available, and aimed to make their games achieve more than what was theoretically possible. They would break through the glass ceiling, even if it meant to add an extra chip inside the cartridge (Star Fox on the SNES) or even splitting a bigger game across two cartridges and then bringing the entire experience together via lock-on technology (Sonic 3 & Knuckles on the Genesis). Then you had games like the original Phantasy Star, which was an immense intergalactic, planet hopping RPG epic featuring fully 3D dungeons and sporting a ton of fidelity in its visuals and music…all running flawlessly on an 8-Bit SEGA Master System. Phantasy Star is perhaps a good example here, as even the most modern visually impressive RPGs of today can’t even match the scope and density found in the unforgettable sci-fi RPG adventure by SEGA from 1988.
After the End: The Harvest comes from developer Elushis as their first major project, with publishing duties handled by the very active indie developer/publisher Black Shell Media (most notable for SanctuaryRPG). After the End: The Harvest is currently playable via early access with plans to release the finished product sometime in November. For a fairly modest price, you can jump in right now to explore a RPG adventure that feels like a sandbox adventure. After the End is rough around the edges in its current state, but you can’t help but forgive its shortcomings and admire its ambitions, because After the End is quite literally crushing under the weight of its own lofty ambitions.
After the End: The Harvest is an open world sci-fi RPG that lets you explore a massive universe comprising of numerous locations and planets, all generated in real time with seamless real-time action RPG combat to boot. Everything is happening simultaneously, as all the NPCs and the multitude of enemies, which include towering titans, quite literally live and breathe in this immense sandbox that is filled with quests to do, a multitude of items and equipment to collect, and not to mention a wide array of spells to perform. It gives you plenty of freedom and tools, and best of all you get to operate a spaceship (complete with an interior) to traverse the universe at your leisure.
The combat system is fully real-time with an added dice-roll effect to create a bit of strategy, which means that it’s possible for attacks to simply miss despite it being a hack and slash affair. The combat is simple but effective, and it kind of reminds you of the combat system found in the Ys series. You also have a dog companion early on that essentially serves as an extra party member. The main meat of the gameplay experience is the ability to discover all kinds of new places and loot, and of course freely taking on a wide selection of quests in a non-linear fashion. The universe is pretty much your oyster in After the End.
All that being said, After the End feels like a chaotic mess right now, but maybe that’s intentional. After all, it depicts a world where humanity is scattered and in total chaos. Not to mention, the title of the game itself is a giveaway of its lofty and chaotic ambitions. It’s in early access for good reason, as the game is riddled with bugs and performance issues, which is understandable given the scope and depth of the game world, and real-time gameplay systems.
Visually, After the End comes in two flavours: a Mode 7 engine that is akin to a 16-bit SNES RPG, and a jacked-up Mode 7 engine that revamps the visuals into something more unique and impressive, almost akin to a sprite-based, 32-bit Saturn RPG featuring some pseudo 3D. The problem with the build is that despite it not looking like something that would need a high-end PC, the game simply struggles to perform smoothly, and so you’ll encounter plenty of severe slow downs and frame-rate hitches.
After the End: The Harvest is an ambitious undertaking that has many technical and design issues to address before it is smooth and functional enough for a proper release. In fact, developer Elushis may need to make a decision to scale back on some of their ideas for the sake of functionality and performance. Not that there’s any shame in doing so, because at least they aimed for the heavens first…which is more than what can be said for most indie developers.