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Majestic landships, fearsome ape men: Last Oasis is a delightfully weird survival game

The Earth has stopped turning and now a single day lasts a whole year. One side of the planet is an unlivable wasteland baked by permanent sunlight, while the other side is a frozen hell trapped in permanent darkness. What's left of humanity lives in between these two extremes, forced to constantly move between loosely scattered oases. You chase the slowly shifting habitable zone, or you die.

That's the fascinating premise of Last Oasis, but it's not just some neat lore draped over another derivative Early Access survival game. It's the root of all of Last Oasis' cool new ideas, like massive walking landships and an exploration system that forces you to be constantly on the move.

It's hard to convey just how fucking cool Last Oasis' Walkers are.

Some survival tropes never change, though—in the first hour of Last Oasis I did still have to punch a lot of trees. What makes Last Oasis different isn't immediately evident, but its worth sticking through the tutorial since it doesn't last long anyway. I awoke in a shaded canyon, where a mysterious, detached voice gave instruction on how to complete some early quests and explained a bit of who I was. It's an unusually polished intro for an Early Access survival game—they're typically so full of jank and bugs that only a community-made guide can save you. I really appreciate how much work has gone into making Lost Oasis' UI both functional and a pleasure to use. Mousing over menu options, for example, plays different musical notes, turning my interactions with the crafting system into a little, improvised song.

The tutorial, thankfully, doesn't last much longer than an hour. After getting to know the basics, my next task was to build one of Last Oasis' defining features: A wooden landship (called a Walker) that races across the dunes on spidery legs. And suddenly, Last Oasis began to feel like a very different kind of game.

Bring me the horizon 

It's the subtle genius of making what's effectively a pirate MMO but with land instead of sea; a vast, empty ocean just isn't that exciting.

It's hard to convey just how fucking cool Last Oasis' Walkers are. Though mine is the most basic model, a Firefly, groups of players can work together to build Walkers that resemble dreadnoughts—except these ships are made of intricately connected wood and billowing sails. Last Oasis' Walkers are so alien—so unlike anything else I've seen in a videogame—that even my little Firefly feels awe-inspiring. And the freedom it gives me as a player is just as cool.

With my Firefly built, I'm able to take off running across the vast desert surrounding this oasis. The sensation is somewhat similar to other pirate-themed MMOs and survival games, like Atlas, but far more interesting because the canyons, hills, and mesas of these oases are challenging to navigate. It's the subtle genius of making what's effectively a pirate MMO but with land instead of sea; a vast, empty ocean just isn't that exciting.

By comparison, Last Oasis has a lot to find but still maintains the atmosphere of being lost in a hostile desert. Because Walkers can traverse land so quickly, sprawling zones are dotted with big landmarks to help guide my path. Walker wrecks reward powerful loot and items necessary to unlock new crafting recipes in my skill tree, while tribes of barbaric ape-men called Rupu will attack if I slow down. I haven't gotten into a proper PVP battle, but Last Oasis' combat system has me excited for when the moment finally comes. Attacking and defending is reminiscent of Mordhau and Mount and Blade, where quick flicks of the mouse determine which direction I swing my club, forcing my opponent to block in the same direction.

In practice against one of the club-wielding Rupu, combat feels like a huge improvement over both survival games and most MMOs I've played. It's a little floaty, but even low-level Rupu put up a decent challenge as they block my incoming swings and counter with their own. It's great to play a survival game that doesn't expect me to just mindlessly click on things until they die. 

Get packing 

Instead of hunkering down and building a big base for you and your friends, Last Oasis forces you to move forward.

Unlike typical survival games, where everyone plays on one persistent map, Last Oasis reinforces its wasteland premise by pushing players to stay on the move. Each zone I inhabit is an oasis filled with treasure, NPCs, and other players, but it only exists for a day or two before it's consumed by the scorching heat of the sun. At the same time, new oases constantly spawn to replace old ones, simulating the slow crawl of the habitable zone across the planet's surface. To survive, players have to venture into these zones and plunder them for resources needed to survive the long stretches of desert between them and the next oases.

That alone upends one of the survival genre's long-standing (and more tedious) traditions. Instead of hunkering down and building a big base for you and your friends, Last Oasis forces you to move forward. Because everyone is in a constant state of movement, I suspect a lot of those survival game annoyances—like having a server dominated by one major group of players—won't be nearly as prevalent.

Without a place to set up a permanent residence, my Walker has become my base. It's not much to brag about right now, just a cook stove on its aft section that I keep lit with chopped wood so I can harvest fresh water from cactus flesh. Much bigger Walkers are essentially moving fortresses for entire guilds of players to live out of.

If I do choose to settle down in one area (though I'm not sure why I would), it is still possible to build a more traditional-looking survival game base. But what's cool is that if I decide to pick up sticks, the whole thing can be packed up onto my Walker instead of being left behind. The idea, I guess, is that groups of players will move to a new oasis, set up shop for a day or two to pick it clean, and then pack everything up and move on.

That all feels a long way off to me right now, but I can't wait to get there. After the disastrous launch of Atlas, the pirate-themed followup to Ark, I felt completely burnt out on survival games. But Last Oasis is brimming with new ideas and creative solutions to tired survival tropes. The few hours I've played today have given me a glimpse at a world that feels massive, alien, and brimming with adventure.

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.