Game review: Caravaneer

  • Title: Caravaneer
  • Developer: Dmitry Zheltobriukhov
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
  • Price: Free

Caravaneer has been around since 2007, when Dmitry Zheltobriukhov created it as an homage to the Fallout series. One part post-apocalyptic RPG and one part economic simulation, Caravaneer doesn’t quite fill Fallout’s shoes, but it does stand up quite well on its own two feet.

In Caravaneer, the world as we know it has ended. Global warming has reduced civilization to a few scattered cities dotting a vast and dangerous wasteland. Food is scarce. Cars are a rare luxury. Gangs attack travelers, looking to kill them for the goods they possess and the pack animals they use to carry them.

It is difficult to talk about “what you do” in Caravaneer, because the game is incredibly open-ended. While various people will give you objectives with the goal of having you influence the balance of power in the wasteland, you can pick which faction you want to support, or simply ignore all of them altogether, focusing instead on building your personal wealth as a caravaneer. In fact, you don’t even have to be a caravaneer: you can choose to play the game as an outlaw who attacks other caravans and steals their goods. The sheer variety of ways you can choose to play is pretty astonishing, and in some regards it far exceeds the original Fallout games.

As in Fallout, shops carry a wide array of armaments that have different weight, range, damage, and accuracy stats. Melee weapons deal damage based partly on your Strength stat. Guns require ammunition, which you must buy separately. Shops have limited inventory. Once a shop runs out of the type of ammunition your gun uses, you must find more elsewhere, or else use something different to defend yourself.

Shops don’t just carry weapons and ammo. They also sell medical items and water canisters of varying sizes. You’ll be needing those. In some respects, Caravaneer plays a lot like the old Apple II classic The Oregon Trail. Survival is a real concern, much more so than in Fallout, and it’s not just enemies that can kill you. Fail to stock enough food and water before you set out into the wasteland, and you will die. Get sick without having medicine on hand, and you will die. You can buy pack animals and hire people to travel with you. They also need food, water, and medicine. Fail to plan for their basic needs, and they will die too.

Aside from shops, you can also visit the marketplace. Every town in Caravaneer has an economy, with certain goods that it produces and certain goods that are in short supply. Your most basic means of earning money in the game is to buy goods where they are cheap and sell them where they are in high demand. You’ll find yourself planning routes through the desert in order to maximize the money you make from each trip. Later on, you’ll need to read news updates about changes in the economy of the wasteland in order to adapt to new shortages and surpluses.

Combat in Caravaneer is turn-based. Each character has a number of

Action Points available to use during his or her turn, based on upon his or her Agility stat. Everything you do uses Action Points. Moving one space uses an Action Point. Firing a gun uses Action Points. Reloading uses Action Points. Many weapons have alternative attack styles. With guns, for example, you can try aiming your shots for an extra Action Point or two in order to eke out an accuracy/damage bonus. (Unfortunately, you can’t aim for particular body parts the way you can in Fallout.)

While Caravaneer clearly draws from the Fallout well (and in some areas, goes well beyond what Fallout offered), it unfortunately fails to capitalize on some of Fallout’s most memorable features. One of them is thematic. Caravaneer lacks Fallout’s ironic use of 1950s America, with its hopelessly naive view of the future, as a backdrop. This is unfortunate, because that backdrop gave the Fallout games tremendous narrative weight. In the 1950s, many people believed that consumerism would deliver them the good life. In Fallout, we discover that instead, it delivered a nuclear holocaust. The drive to claim dwindling natural resources in order to keep mass production alive has literally brought about the end of civilization. Fallout doesn’t let you forget that bitter irony for one second, from the opening cut scene of a still-functioning television in a bombed-out apartment building still showing advertisements for now-useless goods, to the cities you visit with walls quite literally built out of bombed-out cars and ruined merchandise. Caravaneer has nothing to offer of similar gravity: all we get is a wall of text at the very start of the game blaming global warming for the state of the game world, and then the matter is promptly dropped.

Theme isn’t the only narrative area where Caravaneer disappoints. While Caravaneer is very good at delivering a great open-ended experience that demands you to think of how best to survive and exploit the strange, brutal world you now inhabit, it simply doesn’t have very many characters or narrative situations to flesh out the story. There’s enough there to give you context and provide you with different roles to play in the game world, but you won’t be meeting any particularly memorable people or learning much about how the world got that way. For the most part, Caravaneer depends on you to fill in the gaps yourself through role-playing, constructing your own story by making choices about what to do and how to survive.

The Verdict: 4/5. While it can’t be recommended to people seeking a narrative-driven game, Caravaneer’s open-ended gameplay and unique simulated economy make it a fun and rewarding RPG for detail-oriented, strategic players. There simply isn’t anything else quite like it.

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  • MaximB says:

    Hello !

    At least from the link you gave us, the game doesn’t seems to have a native GNU/Linux nor MacOS clients…

    It’s a shame.

  • asdasd says:

    jesus what a terrible review. guh, this game lacks the ironic use of 40s imagery. guh, i’m an idiot.

    • Craig Stern says:

      I didn’t say that Caravaneer necessarily needed to adopt Fallout’s ironic use of 40s imagery: I said that it lacked narrative depth on its own merits, and looked at some of the ways that Fallout achieved depth through irony by way of comparison. You should read more carefully before you post flamebait comments like this.

  • Tommy Hanley says:

    Really glad i stumbled upon this site, and from the beginning too! It is a great idea to have a website devoted to indie rpgs. Like the design of the site, very clear and simple.

    Anyway, onto this game. Great review and i’ve been addicted to the game for the last 2 hours, it’s great fun.

  • DarkSky says:

    Great Review, I gave the title a try and had a wonderful time. Although I think the battles are rather simplistic, the “Caravaning” is great.

    • MisChiv says:

      Wait until you’ve gotten further in the game, when you have a 10 man possy armed to the teeth, fighting caravans and large groups of elite Robbers or even the Police, it gets really tense! I know I’ve ended up shouting ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU HIT THE BASTARD?!” at my screen when my RPG man misses his target entirely 0_0.

  • Nek says:

    Hey! The only minus this review is some idiotic comments (and I’m in a risk to be counted in 🙂 otherwise it’s great and fits my gameplay impressions.
    Thanks for presenting an interesting project.

  • […] combat and surprisingly good economic simulation mechanics, Caravaneer was the second game I ever reviewed on this […]


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