Neo Scavenger is one of the best turn-based RPGs I’ve ever played. Although still in Early Access, it has oodles of content and has received several hefty updates since I first played it. As part of Survival Week, I decided to document a single playthrough of the game. No quicksaves, no restarts, no chance. Here’s how I died.
The previous parts are here.
A brief interlude before I die.
These fragments of a life lost don't paint a pretty picture of NEO Scavenger, nor do they show even the tip of the post-apocalyptic iceberg. Like a recently hatched barnacle goose, characters in NEO Scavenger have difficult beginnings but survive that painful birth into the new world and there's so much more to discover than carrier bags and Gelli Bears.
We'll get to the Gelli Bears in good time.
The game tips its hand at the end of the first day, describing a glow in the East that is the first breadcrumb on a trail that leads to trade, conversation, quests, mutations, diseases and more advanced tech than you can shake one of my whittling sticks at. Whittling is not an advanced tech, but it's about as much as many of my characters ever learn.
Sticks. Sticks. Sticks and stones. Broken bones. I killed the man with the Gelli Bears.
After the traumatic loss of my bag, I was distraught, as you might well imagine. I sat in a heap, feasting on berries, the juice drooling down my chin like the fakest of fake blood. It had started to rain and I fiddled with my multitool (my monotool was in no mood for fiddling), wondering whether I could fashion a roaring campfire using twigs and a cigarette lighter. I'd even have been willing to burn my hospital gown, which I still wore beneath my hoodie, looking for all the world like a bedraggled catwalk runaway.
I needed a bag. Whatever else I found would be useless without something to carry it in. I might discover an abandoned diner, packed with turkey dinners and cans of beans, but they'd be no use to me if I couldn't take them with me. I was heading to the East, toward the light, and I didn't know how long the trek would take, so I'd need supplies. I'd need a tent too, if possible, or at least a sleeping bag. I'd left the other one at the campsite near the scene of my first murder. I didn't want to go back.
But the sun was retreating, the rain was turning from drizzle to deluge, and I was cold and tired. Me! The King of Sweat! Shivering as dusk approached. It was a terrible situation and called for immediate action, so it was with some relief that I noticed a lone traveller in the distance. He would have a bag. Maybe he'd swap the bag for a multitool.
I took the screenshot as evidence that I tried to talk to the stranger. I didn't intend to attack - that offer to swap my multitool for a bag wasn't going to be followed by a snidey shout of, 'A MUTITOOL TO THE FACE'.
Still, a few minutes later, there I was, blood on my hands, bruises up my arms as bleak reminders of the feeble attempts at self defense, and a cute 'Hello Poopy' bag strapped across my bag. Remember 'Hello Poopy'? I found a disc that had the character's name on it. I don't know if it was a video, an album or a game. For all I know, it might have contained the code that unlocked a secret bunker with enough plastic bags inside to keep me happy for the rest of my days. I'd chucked it away though and now the rest of my days were to be brief and violent, and I'd be creeping through them with Hello Poopy's face watching from my back, making a Janus of me.
"Hey!" I shouted. "Slow down. Let's talk. Why are you wearing a child's rucksack?"
He didn't respond. He ran up to me and punched me hard, knocking me to the ground. I grabbed at his ankle and managed to pull him down with me, then administed a flurry of strikes, cutting open his arms and chest.
I asked him to surrender then, which would have meant keeping his life but giving up all of the things that made life worth living, like that fancy bag and the clammy, sticky fistful of Gelli Bears.
His organs reconfigured, he coughed up blood, got to his feet and punched me in the face, hard. I sat out blood and teeth, and went to work with the blade. When the clumsy butchery was done, I took the bag, emptied it out and something shiny and colourful among the pebbles and CDs. The Jelli Bears.
The combination of those little sweets and the schoolkid's backpack made me feel queasy. It's impossible to see the specifics of other scavengers in the game, they're mostly generic 'Bad Muthas' during the early stages, but the inventory provided details I wanted to ignore. How old was this person? Would I find a name stitched into the waistband of the clothes, beneath the collar of the t-shirt?
Since I'd lost my whiskey when my bag split the day before, I ate the Gelli Bears, hoping they'd help me to forget.
The next morning, I managed to make my way back to my makeshift camp and as I was gathering the sleeping bag, two people approached from the East. They would have passed straight by the corpse I'd left in last night's rain, smoke curling into the cold air from the holes in its gut. Friends? Relatives?
Throughout the day, they came close occasionally and each time I took cover and crept away. The sun had set when they caught me for the last time. Both charged and I decided to stand and face them rather than fleeing. I was fit, strong and armed. They were unarmed.
Combat in NEO Scavenger is messy. It feels like a drunken brawl but that's probably not fair to the sober scavengers of the world. Fighting is desperate when the participants aren't trained and have spent weeks or months living on a diet of dog meat and contaminated water. People stumble, fall, stagger, swing and bleed. Sometimes the last man standing is doomed to die from wounds hours later. There are no clean kills.
And I died as dirty as anyone. I'd knocked the first assailant to the ground and left him there, choking on his own blood, when the second attacked. His first blow was lucky for him and unlucky for me. I fell and couldn't regain my feet before kicks and punches rained down.
It was still raining when I lost consciousness and it was still raining when I woke. I knew I was going to die. My weapon was gone, my satchel was gone, I could barely stand.
Before I could register how long had passed, the assault began again. My lungs collapsed, my ribs splintered. I never found out who they were or why. Maybe the satchel had been a trigger, a marker that told them who I was and what I had done - maybe they just wanted it, as I had, and were disappointed to find it as good as empty.
I didn't even have any Jelli Bears for them to steal. They killed me for no good reason. I died for no good reason.
In the few days I'd lived in the new world, I'd made so many mistakes. The water I'd been drinking was probably toxic, the blood that my enemies spilled thick with contamination. I'd meandered instead of setting objectives, never truly finding a reason to survive other than the next day's dawn. I'd left a trail of objects, bodies and my own passage, a trail that might have led the killers to my camp.
A dismal death and a sorry life.