October 14, 2015 4:30 PM | Lena LeRay
Many people, myself among them, have fond memories of playing the original Oregon Trail. It was a brutal journey plagued by dysentery, flooded rivers, and broken wagon axles. Schell Games has taken the idea of a journey fraught with danger and given it a Star Trek spin to make Orion Trail. It's not just a fresh skin over old gameplay, though. The player is given several resources to manage, officers with stats, and branching paths to choose from.
Every journey is procedurally generated, though there are multiple zones with different generation parameters that are unlocked through play. The maps in each zone are broken up into nodes connected by pathways, some of which branch temporarily. The player can see the potential rewards of each node that is currently available to them and use that information to choose where to go.
Each node represents a random encounter upon the trail. These can have good outcomes that positively affect one of the player's four resources (crew members, food, fuel, hull plating) and bad outcomes that take away from those resources. Any given situation will offer the player multiple ways to deal with it, which are tested against the stats of the officers, four characters chosen at the beginning of the trip. Which options use which stats and the exact chances of good and bad outcomes are completely transparent to the player during the encounter.
Modern games often communicate the game's systems to the player explicitly, so it's not really surprising that Orion Trail does so. However, this is a game that would be better if things were more up in the air. As it is, it's too easy to choose the mathematically optimal path without much thought and without reading any of the humorous flavor text on which the game experience leans so heavily.
Aesthetically, the game has a lot to recommend it, and if you avoid the trap of gaming the system as best you can and actually read the text, it's quite amusing. It's very RNG-based, though, in spite of how it looks at first glance, so if that's not your thing you should get something else.
Orion Trail is available via Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It's currently 30% off of its $9.99 price tag for launch.