Endzone – A World Apart: Survivor Edition (Xbox Series) Review

Beware the becquerels
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Arriving on consoles as a full release, just over a year after launching into early access on PC, Endzone – A World Apart is a survival game with city-building, supply-chain, and decision-making elements set in a nuclear post-apocalypse. The “Survival Edition” on consoles simply bundles in the first DLC – “Prosperity“. Developed by Gentlymad Studios and published by Assemble Entertainment, it’s a complex, engrossing, sandbox-style experience but also a great fit for consoles thanks to how core mechanics work, smart UI design, and gamepad mapping.

Aside from a flashy opening cinematic that sets out the premise, there’s little in the way of narrative drive in Endzone – A World Apart. In short, a terrorist incident crippled nuclear power plants around the world in 2021, spewing radioactive clouds into the atmosphere, allowing for only a select few to make it into underground shelters known as “Endzones”. Over 150-years later, a new generation of survivors emerges from these underground bunkers, having never seen the sun or experienced the old world. What they do have is a century worth of research and planning – and the drive to reestablish society on the surface no matter the cost.

expeditions

I must admit I spent little time with the highly-customisable Survival mode – which allows you to tailor hazard intensity, map geography, resource availability, and more – before trying to last for as long as possible. As someone who grew up playing Impressions Games’ city-builders, like Caeser III and Pharoah, I’ve always enjoyed a campaign map with some narrative flavour, the steady rollout of new technology, and increasingly complex objectives. That’s not to say the survival mode is devoid of emergent moments, but commanding expeditions or dealing with citizen “sidequests” are ultimately just time-sensitive mechanical tasks that boost or penalise settler confidence levels.

Instead, I first tackled the multi-hour tutorial, which features a fully-voiced mentor that’ll guide you through every mechanic in the game (and drop the odd reference to past events), before moving on to the objective-driven Scenarios. These named missions – 8 in total – have a brief introduction that lays out the premise, three increasingly tough objectives, and distinct map parameters (think layout, hazards, and resource availability). For each objective completed you unlock a medal – complete all three and you complete the mission. The Distant Places DLC, not available on consoles just yet, expands upon this idea with story-driven excursions into new biomes – something to keep an eye on if you enjoy the base game.

defences

Regardless of which game mode you pick, the basic gameplay loop remains similar: accumulate resources, grow your settlement, research new technologies, launch expeditions into old ruins, and survive the ever-present threat of radiation. You’ll be juggling a ton of resources – some basic, many refined – but you’ll typically have the breathing room to resolve any crisis so long as you accumulate stockpiles of clean water and food for your settlers. Of course, that’s easier said than done in a hostile world filled with radioactive soil, damaging sandstorms, raiding parties of surviving humans, and seasonal cycles of drought and contaminated rainfall. As a result, Endzone: A World Apart forces you to establish multiple sources of food and clean water, to ensure one of the frequent environmental hazards doesn’t cripple your colony in one fell swoop. In most game modes, the risk of radioactive contamination escalates over time and this swiftly becomes the biggest issue you’ll need to contend with. Not only direct exposure but the knock-on effects should your food and water production chains become contaminated.

Thankfully, Endzone: A World Apart is a game with a solution to every problem. With dozens of structures – many with multiple functions – you can establish diverse supply chains for food and water; protect your settlement from radiation, drought, and raiders by carefully planning the layout; automate settler behaviour during crises; and quickly reassign your limited workforce based on your immediate needs. You’re also not thrown into the deep end as there’s a nice flow to the early game, which gives you time to assess your surroundings, locate available resources, and start planning. For basic structures, wood and scrap will do fine, but you’ll eventually need to refine scrap into cloth, metal, plastic, and electronics for more advanced structures, before creating concrete, glass, and reinforced metal for your most sophisticated structures. Getting that far along means accounting for secondary considerations, like generating coal for filters, harvesting natural plants for medicines, harnessing solar and wind energy, issuing decrees to control your settlers’ behaviours, and leading expeditions.

professions

There are six technology trees to work through (one as part of the included DLC) that unlock new structures like a weather station for predicting radioactive dust storms and rain, a solar collector and wind turbines for power generation, or an expedition hub to explore and scavenge old ruins. You prepare, equip, and then dictate actions during these expeditions, with the chance of success based on the qualifications of the team and the assigned gear. There is always the risk of death and contamination but it’s worthwhile as the rewards include caches of basic resources, seeds for your farms and orchids, or instant technology upgrades. Many of the advanced structures unlocked through research offer toggles to control settler behaviour during crises, such as ordering your water gatherers and farmers to cover their operations during contaminated rainstorms and use stockpiled clean water instead. When you throw in the granular radiation and soil moisture model that shifts with each passing season, and the ability to select a single settler and examine the two dozen parameters that define their productivity and confidence, Endzone: A World Apart is an incredibly dense and busy experience that can consume hours in a single run.

Yet, despite all that complexity and the myriad of things that can go wrong, it’s not a game about panicked micromanaging – if you plan and play cautiously. If you maintain the coverage of decontamination units or defensive towers, expand basic resource production in line with your new manufacturing structures, and always ensure you’re producing an excess of food and clean water to stockpile, you can weather most disasters. It’s a design that makes it such a good fit for consoles.

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Now, consoles have a long history of city-builder and real-time-strategy ports, with varying degrees of success, given the difficulties of translating traditional mouse and keyboard control schemes to a gamepad. The good news is Endzone: A World Apart is a great fit with only minor niggles. The UI, although dense, has been well-tailored for a gamepad and makes use of radial menus and connected tabs for quickly swapping between structures of the same type. Icons are easy to interpret, menu navigation responsive, and there’s a “quick menu” for each building with the most frequently used functions or toggles. For fastidious planners and those looking to tackle tougher scenarios, there are bumper and d-pad shortcuts to quickly activate and deactivate overlays, manufacturing buildings have shortcuts straight to upstream processes, and you can always shift your game speed down to zero if you need a breather. The only time I struggled with the gamepad was when trying to select individual settlers or small objects like powerlines and decorative features.

Visually, Endzone: A World Apart looks good, albeit not pushing current-gen flourishes, and there’s a limit on fine-scale details that’s not unexpected in the genre. There are some nice atmospheric effects, incidental details for structures and settlers, an immersive nature-flavoured ambience, decent – albeit limited – voice work, and an eclectic electronic soundtrack that gets you into the zone. Ramping up the game speed and watching the environment shift from lush to barren as a sandstorm sweeps by was always impressive, and the framerate felt consistent throughout – irrespective of how big my settlement grew. No element of the presentation is going to blow you away but it feels appropriate for a post-apocalyptic setting in which nature is slowly reclaiming the land. If I have one gripe, it’s that too many basic structures have a ramshackle appearance and look too similar, making a dense settlement increasingly tough to navigate if you’re trying to identify, upgrade, or dismantle these buildings to refocus on new industries.

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Ultimately, Endzone: A World Apart – Survival Edition is a mechanically complex, engaging, and time-consuming city-builder survival game, with great gamepad support, that’ll appeal most to console gamers who’ve played and enjoyed titles like Aven Colony and Frostpunk – those that combine survival elements with town-planning. If you prefer mechanical depth to narrative context, are willing to commit the hours to expand a fledgling settlement, and have the patience to always plan several steps ahead, Endzone: A World Apart – Survival Edition is a solid choice on console.

A review code for Endzone: A World Apart – Survival Edition was provided to gameblur by the publisher.

Endzone - A World Apart: Survivor Edition (Xbox Series) Review

Endzone - A World Apart: Survivor Edition (Xbox Series) Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    5/10 Neutral
  • Gameplay
    9/10 Amazing
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good

The Good

  • Challenging scenarios that reward planning and preparation
  • Player-defined automated behaviours allow you to handle crises efficiently
  • Excellent UI and gamepad support
  • Solid performance and a great soundtrack

The Bad

  • No real narrative-driven campaign outside of the tutorial
  • Sprawling settlements become visually indistinct
Total
16
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