Walking through the show floor at PAX East was an overwhelming experience, but it also allowed me to be swept into an entirely new obsession. By chance, I decided to sit down at The Iterative Collective’s bright yellow booth, and it’s there where I would be introduced to Homeseek. This real-time strategy game channels postapocalyptic tropes to create a tense fight for survival where any seemingly innocent decision can make or break the longevity of my newfound society of survivors.
I’m a longtime fan of the Fallout series, including the isometric originals, which is why I’ve always wondered why there haven’t been any breakout postapocalyptic real-time strategy games with a similar goal as Fallout 1’s Vault Dweller. Frostpunk and RimWorld have come pretty close in concept, but they’re a bit different in scope. Homeseek transposes all the best story threads and ideas from games like Fallout, Metro 2033, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, mixes them with elements from stories like The Road and The Last of Us, and puts me in the shoes of the executive decision-maker of my very own desert outpost, whose denizens are now relying on me to lead them to clean sources of water and food under an unforgiving sun.
I didn’t expect this mix to work for me as much as Homeseek does. But the game works because its attention to detail in everything from its clearly Fallout-inspired user interface to its mixture of deep strategy and role-playing elements is scratching an itch I honestly didn’t realize I had.
Mechanically speaking, Homeseek itself is pretty unforgiving. And this is in its favor. As in other real-time strategy games, my primary goal is managing several resource pools like water, food, and scrap that are needed to construct new buildings to keep my residents employed, sheltered, fed, and happy. I’m only given a few hours per in-game day to make the most of my settlement’s resources by sending my residents to work, but the clock is ticking down from the very first moment. I fumbled a few times both on the show floor and within the press demo that I was given to take home afterward, needing to start over from scratch many times. But every time I started anew, I felt like I’d learned a valuable lesson that allowed me to press on further in each subsequent playthrough.
Sometimes I failed to save up enough food or make proper connections between food storage depots and food supplies, causing everyone to starve. Other times, I didn’t prioritize my research or expedition teams quickly enough to unlock the next lifesaving technology needed to complete my quests on time, causing my residents to become unhappy and leave or die en masse. One time, I made a mistake in a textbox interaction where I was given one of two decisions; clearly, I made a bad decision with some unforeseen long-term consequences.
Developer Traptics has clearly prioritized the quality of its writing in Homeseek. It’s intelligent, engaging, and well-thought-out, bringing me into Homeseek’s dreary postapocalyptic world, a 2100s-era Earth that’s been ravaged by global climate destruction and nuclear war. The intricate writing is at its best during expeditions, which allow me to arm a group of residents and send them out to different locations on my world map beyond my home settlement, ultimately in search of greener pastures amid an ocean of dust and sand.
Once one of my expeditions reaches its destination, randomly generated encounters can determine their success, requiring me to pay close attention to my decisions while managing the team’s food and water supplies. Depending on which expeditions I chose to go on (and which decisions I made once I got there), it seemed like my tech tree could vary pretty wildly early on. There were a lot of different ways I could build out my settlement, though it always felt claustrophobic and tense. One wrong move was always enough to break my strategy, but succeeding meant getting to see my settlement grow and my storyline progress forward.
It seems like Homeseek is split into several chapters, and after a certain point, I think I’ll even be able to even enact laws and carry my society into bigger and more sophisticated locations as it grows and develops, though I didn’t get nearly far enough to see things advance that far. This world’s broader storytelling also seems like it has a lot of space for nuance, especially since Homeseek’s elusive competitive multiplayer is said to pit players against one another in a game of sabotage, not unlike Offworld Trading Company.
I’m excited to try Homeseek again when it finally launches on PC in earnest at some point in 2023. Until then, I’ll gleefully continue throwing myself at its delightfully deadly demo to a litany of mixed results. You can already download it for yourself from the official Homeseek Steam page.