Stories from the Outbreak Review: Great Zombie Game or DOA?

There’s no dearth of zombie video games on the market, but in general that doesn’t bother me as I’ve always been a massive fan of zombie-themed video games in all there forms. Stories from the Outbreak features old school pixel art in a turn-based RPG style of play. This is also very much a rouge-like playing experience as you unlock new players, skills, and items, as well as journal entries that paint backstories for all the many characters you may meet and pick up along the way.

Stories from the Outbreak does a nice job of combining rougelike, turn-based RPG, and some good story telling during events to create a unique and interesting zombie game experience.

The interface of the game is simple and the tutorial is adequate. If you haven’t played many turn-based combat systems in recent years this could be a bit of a surprise – especially considering the style that “Stories from the Outbreak” could be a bit of a shock but it delivers a gaming experience that some video game fans will very much enjoy.

stories from the outbreak game map
The maps give plenty of options, and each route opens up more battles, more hidden Easter eggs, and more to discover.

What Is “Stories from the Outbreak?”

“Stories from the Outbreak” is an indie game with pixel-style art developed by an indie team in Latvia. They stay with what they know, as the theme of the game is being stuck during the apocalyptic outbreak. There’s one ship left out of the city and you need to get there with enough fuel to buy your way on, making sure to have enough food to avoid starving as you try to survive through the zombie-plague infested city.

It’s a simple premise but executed well, and the variations in zombies are actually quite good, though occasionally infuriating when you see a zombie show up that your current team of survivors simply doesn’t have an answer for.

stories from the outbreak characters
The first run starts with two characters, but as you get further in the game and discover more of them you can pick up new survivors, all with different skills, abilities, and that creates a different game experience depending on the team.

Overall this is a fun game that takes pieces from several genres and actually does a good job with blending them together. This is a zombie video game, a turn-based tactical RPG, and a rouge-lite. This blending, along with really good writing, makes for an interesting experience that kept my attention.

You unlock more and more Easter eggs as you unlock more characters. Then you can find their backstories through journal pages, you can find new items and trinkets to help you survive the zombie onslaught, and that opens up more characters, more interactions, and even more stories to then discover.

Keep Those Shields Up!

You two important stats to watch are health and shield. The shield is how much damage you can take before you start losing actual health. When your shield is gone, you take health damage. The shield can be boosted with some powers during a fight, but it resets before each new fight. When you take health damage you need to heal via player action or from eating more food during a stop.

This creates a nice balance during battle of trying to keep your squishy characters safe, those shields up, and taking down your enemies at the same time.

New Characters = New Abilities

Each character is different. Some have incredible abilities, some are very niche, at least one seems near worthless, but having a team really changes the dynamic of what you can do – especially with only 4 slots starting a fight. Do you want a healer or a poison/bleed stacker? Two damage dealers and one tank – or two tanks and one damage dealer?

There are so many options available and some characters are clearly better than others when working together. This keeps the game much more interesting than it would be otherwise, and strongly boosts the replayability.

The programmers also show an inherent understanding of gaming because the normal attacks/abilities and special abilities from limit breaks between two tanks can look completely different. Same with two damage dealers, two healers, or two utility characters. This also increases the various ways that different characters and abilities can interact.

A Lot to Like About Game Setup

The map shows so many different potential interactions and it gets me excited as a long-time RPG player curious to see what situations or stories I can discover, and for the first few hours of gameplay this really holds up. However, there isn’t a lot of content when you plunge through. It took me 3.4 hours to complete my first game after about five runs.

That’s not a lot.

Important Note on Stories from the Outbreak: The team has been very open about wanting to add more content, to expand out the gameplay, and to further grow the game – and this could radically change my overall review on the game, but the current review looks at the game as is and whether or not it’s worth the buy in its current space.

This doesn’t mean the game is bad. To the contrary, the gameplay pulls you in, you find yourself constantly planning the best strategy to win without getting wrecked, and it keeps the game very interesting. I enjoyed the time I played the game immensely, but there are some warts to it, too.

The next sections I’ll break down both the good and the bad.

What’s Good About “Stories from the Outbreak?”

There’s a lot of good things this game brings to the table. The writing sticks out as being especially good, the game is relatively easy to learn and pick up on from a mechanics standpoint, and I like the hard grime rock soundtrack when zombie attacks take place. Some zombie types are familiar, some are very different, giving a good variety.

There’s a very solid base and system here for a game that can be, and should be, heavily expanded. The battles are strategic and fun, and sometimes you have to make very hard decisions which fits right in with any zombie-themed game.

  • The writing for events is actually quite good
  • Soundtrack fits the story and ambiance of the game very well
  • Good variety of zombies and unique combat mechanics keep things interesting
  • Great framework for a much larger game (or many DLCs)
  • The wide array of items/trinkets is really well done and brings a lot to the table in this game

What’s Bad About “Stories from the Outbreak?”

As much as I like Stories from the Outbreak and the good things this zombie survival RPG does, there are some clear areas where the game can improve. One that’s immediate is that it’s short. Very short. While some time gets added via replays and going for “completionist” goals, but the main game is short, and most of the game time comes from failed runs, which is fine for a rogue-lite but does highlight just how little main story content there is on a per run basis.

Aside from amount of content, there are balance issues. While randomized teams can make things fun…god help you if you don’t have a single tank. If you don’t have multiple healers in that team, you’re finished even faster. I have had boss fights where the right team meant I took 0 points of health damage, or the boss barely attacked – but with other teams they were wrecked.

That’s more RNG than I want with the big bads in any given game. There’s nothing more boring than a boss fight where they can’t do anything and nothing more frustrating than a boss fight that’s impossible because you don’t have the right team members.

It’s still a good game, but there are areas where it can improve.

  • Some of the end game dialogues should change based on situation but don’t – meaning sometimes you get an end of game story that is jarring because it doesn’t make sense (like leaving people behind when you don’t)
  • Relatively low amount of content. This could change over time as more is added but right now it’s a very basic game and not nearly enough content to justify an average $12.99 price tag on Steam.
  • Some team combos make boss enemies irrelevant…or impossible to overcome
  • The response system during cut scenes that invokes emotions often doesn’t have a clear cause/effect which makes it hard to

Video Playthrough Review of Stories from the Outbreak

I’m a big fan of Splattercat’s first impression reviews as they hit a really good balance between explaining the game, showing gameplay, and giving a succinct yet detailed summary of what was good/bad about the game and suggestions for improvements.

What’s The Verdict on “Stories from the Outbreak”?

UPDATE: Shortly after publishing this review a major content update addressed some of my main issues with the early access including making the bosses harder (though they may have gone a touch too far in some cases here – it’s a process), they have introduced new stories for individual characters and changed so when everyone on your team gets out, the story changes accordingly. So I’m interested to revisit this a year from now as the changes do appear to be headed in the right direction.

Honestly, the best score here is probably an incomplete. I’ve seen some good changes with the last two patches to bring a lot more depth to the game and it’s clear that there’s still a lot more that needs to be added or expanded upon for this game to reach its full potential. In fairness, I enjoy the game when I play it and while it’s annoying when you run into an OP fight on yellow where if you don’t have a healer or tanks you’re SOL.

This was a great effort from the small indie Latvia team creating a fun game and the writing is genuinely good, something that often falls through the cracks with way too many games.

Is it complete though? I finished my first run in 3.4 hours and that was after some horrid luck the game before. The game has some warts and while so me of this might be from decisions made to get the vase out, I do wonder how much will change as the game grows and expands. This is a game that has some serious potential but it’s not quite there yet.

“Stories from the Outbreak” is a very interesting game. It gives a few hours of very good change of pace tactical RPG roguelike experience and some interesting ideas for zombies and zombie bosses. Is it worth the current price? In my opinion, no. Wait for it to go on sale or have more content added to beef up what it offers.

This is a good game, but right now it’s also a very short simple game that could do well with some bulking up, including (please!) a “wander” mode where you maybe have missed the boat and just keep making your way through the city, maybe finding another way out after going through the city one way and back through it another.

There’s a lot here to work with – and I’m curious to see how “Stories from the Outbreak” looks once it takes full form in the future.

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