What's that darting across the quiet sandy dunes of post-apocalyptic MMO Last Oasis? It's a giant wooden fortress on the move. All of a sudden, a giant Dune-esque worm explodes from the sand and crashes into the side of the landship. The crew onboard are thrust into battle. The worm aggressively thrashes at the side of the ship, but the structure holds strong. The crew unleash a hail of rocks and boulders at the worm, trying to whittle down its health as it slams its tail onto the deck. The battle looks incredible.
Unfortunately, the fortress is defeated and Polish-based developers Donkey Crew explain to me that there's more-or-less a fifty-fifty success rate of killing one of these colossal beasts. "Just yesterday when we were testing, we actually happened to run into one right in the middle of an eclipse, which was completely unintended, but it was really intense," Hofreither says. "Because of our lore we don't have day-night cycles, but we do have eclipses, which means the moon covers the sun and then everything becomes dark. So we were fighting this huge monster in the middle of the night and I was just running around with a torch just trying to see where it was. It was pretty brutal."
In Last Oasis the giant leviathans, called walkers, act as your base—the idea being that you take it wherever you go. You play as a nomad who has been cast out by society and left to survive in the harsh desert landscape. In this open world, you live and die by your wind-powered walker. It's an ambitious MMO and one that encourages players and their bases to be constantly moving.
The walkers are inspired by Theo Jansen's moving sculptures. Jansen's 'strandbeests' are huge PVC mechanisms, intricately connected pulleys and joints that use the power of the wind to move. Donkey Crew has transported these strange creature-like mechanisms in the post-apocalypse, and gathering materials and crafting one in is the first step to your survival.
"Walkers for the Nomads have a number of purposes," Donkey Crew's Project Lead, Florian Hofreither says. "They give them movement, it's a base, you can respawn on them, you can transport things, they are used for fighting, they are used for hunting, you'll be spending most of the time on a walker. When you stand on the bigger ones, it's a pretty impressive feeling."
Before you can even consider building a big walker, you'll need to start small. Survival comes first and collecting resources and scavenging is important. Alongside your health bar is a thirst bar which you replenish with water. Keeping hydrated not only keeps you alive but the thirst bar is also used for respawning, and fast travelling. The first walker you can build is a pedal based walker called the Firefly that's around the same size as a small car.
You can play solo, but creating a clan with your friends is more pragmatic, especially when you start to build the bigger walkers and need a capable crew. Build a big enough clan of players and you can start taking control of territories and even take part in PvP vehicle warfare.
The world map is divided into smaller hexagons, and moving to the edge of one of these sections will transport you into the next one. They can hold a number of terrains from rocky mountainous areas, to pockets of greenery and wide-open stretches of deserts where goliath sized monsters lie waiting underneath the sandy dunes. The scorching sun rises in the West making any oases near that area uninhabitable because of the heat. "That's why we came up with the system," Hofreither says. "It forces absolutely everyone to move at some point. You take your resources and walkers with you and then the entire player base basically migrates towards the East."
The issue with having a huge world is that often there's a whole lot of empty space with nothing filling it, but Donkey Crew has addressed this issue by creating a world that scales according to its player base. Servers are put online and taken offline depending on how many players are logged into the game at one time." If we get tens of thousands of players we'll just spawn more and more of these oases." Hofreither says. "And if the number should drop for whatever reason, we remove servers. We don't get in this weird situation where you have hundreds of empty servers or way too few servers and that is something that we wanted to do from the very beginning."
For this mass migration, walkers are essential. There are a handful of different styled walkers you can build for yourself and your clan that all serve different purposes. Walkers can be as small as a pedal bike to as huge as a house, and players will have to get very familiar with their grappling hooks to safely board the bigger walkers. Some are light and built for speed, others have large cargo spaces carrying lots of resources for trading, some have large deck spaces perfect for building lots of weapons on.
"The Hornet Walker is intended to be a kind of PvE Walker because it has pretty good HP so it can take quite a punch," Hofreither says. "It has a low center of gravity so it becomes more stable when there's a lot of collisions going on. And its shape allows for a lot more weapons on deck. It's a little bit slower than other workers that makes it not as good in PvP as in PvE."
To protect yourself from enemies you can deck your walker out with harpoons, slingshots, scattershots, and ballistas to try and take down your foe. If you run out of ammo in the middle of combat, you could just try and use your walker as a battering ram and crash full force into your opponent. The scale of these battles is impressive and takes the vastness of army based conflicts and condenses it into a single battle between two giants. "It's really exciting when you're on a walker and you see the sails of another enemy walker coming up in the distance, and it starts shooting harpoons at you and you know that, if they hit you, they're just going to board you," Hofreither says.
As well as fighting other ships, there are the monsters that hide beneath the desert. Going into their territory is a risk but it balances with a hefty reward of rare resources. It can be devastating when a walker that you had been building for a few hours gets obliterated but if you do manage to defeat one of the monsters you can salvage its body and sell it at an Oasis trade station.
Each oasis has different resources to be collected and so an oases-based economy will develop. If you want to make it as a trader, you'll be able to make trade routes between different oases and look for trade stations where you can get a better price for your wares.
After the Steam Early Access launch, Donkey Crew's plans mainly involve adding more tech, more walkers, more events, and expanding the world map to include more exploration potential. "We want to add stuff like dungeons, cities, caves that people can explore," Hofreither says. "There's also talk of adding ocean maps and walkers are becoming some kind of amphibious vehicle. Everything we want focuses on big nomadic gameplay."
Donkey Crew's post-launch plans match the same level of ambition that they have for Last Oasis. For now, Last Oasis is set to launch into Steam Early Access on March 26 where the developers say it will stay for 12 to 24 months. From the preview I saw, I think Last Oasis is one to watch. It's an open-world with moments of intense large-scale spectacle that can only be done within the realms of MMOs.