I could look very far beyond a game’s aesthetic if it did something for me that some precious games can do: fill me with a sense of mystery and wonder like I used to get when playing Morrowind, and I’m Yours. See, Morrowind did things that the Elder Scrolls games of the last days didn’t – its map wasn’t readily available to you, you had to follow directions and actual road signs to find people and places, and you could completely fail critical missions in all odd ways, and then somehow get solved in ways more exotic. Aesthetically, with its dust storms, swamps, and towering mushrooms, Morrowind’s island Vvardenfell seemed like an exotic land, and the way you handled it made You are He feels like an alien, or a stranger, in it.
Now, for the first time since The Witcher 3 (which I initially played eight years ago, but I’ll just admit it Is that true working correctly as of last week), I found a game that evokes in me the feeling of “Morrowind circa 2002”. Dread Delusion, made by a small indie team at Lovely Hellplace, took about six months to get through Early Access, and while it’s clearly incomplete, it’s actually quite exciting.
Set in a world where floating islands revolve around a pink sun thing called the Neuron Star, which looms over wherever you are, giving the sky a violent pinkish-purple hue. Adding to this psychedelic quality are the low-numbered graphics, which do this trendy thing of blurring and warping to give the feel of a PS1 game (which, fun fact, was originally a technical limitation of the original PlayStation, which lacked sub-pixel resolution and perspective correction). It’s an amazing look for sure, though it might make you giddy about it “I just downed some mescaline, got on the ride, and I need to throw up before the ride really takes hold” Road type.’
The point is, the visuals are an acquired taste, but the gameplay experience itself looks great, simplifying the various RPG elements to their fullest possible form and focusing instead on exploring this strange and unique land.
The vistas really does have an Elden Ring feel of awe, with seemingly endless sight lines and everything within those lines is explorable (or at least it will be in the final game). Watch closely, and you’ll see distant floating islands moving slowly in the sky, galleons sailing in the clouds, and enormous dragons fluttering amidst the tendrils of that neon sun.
I’m still dealing with the deceptively deep cosmology and mythology of this world, but it goes a little like this: In the aftermath of God’s War (yes, a war between gods), a zealous atheist group known as the Renegade Federation has taken control of the Oneiric Islands – an archipelago of islands bordering the The atmosphere floats above the “lowerlands” below, which have been rendered habitable by the previous war. You are a prisoner offered freedom in exchange for hunting down the leader of an outlaw faction known as the Dark Star Mercenaries.
During my four hours in the game, I’ve already been offered some kind of anti-death pact with a chained Eldritch god, I’ve been called upon to serve another god in exchange for an offer of mushroom wine, and I’ve become a sworn enemy of the goblin faction (in fairness, they always attacked me despite their wishes Sincere in coexistence with them and dealing with them). Like many great open-world games, Dread Delusion invites you to choose a direction or a distant landmark, and blast your way. It’s on a much smaller scale than The Witcher 3 or Breath of the Wild, yet the design and sheer alienation of its world mean it never feels small. I also appreciate how I started without a map, and actually helped local cartographers draw the map by writing down the world’s major landmarks.
While there is a lot to learn about this world – revealed through in-world books and well-written dialogue, there isn’t much to “get” it in terms of RPG mechanics. There are only four traits you have to consider—strength, cunning, wisdom, and character—that govern eight classic RPG skills. Upgrading your sword and armor entails throwing “three of something” with your existing gear, whereas chemistry is just a case of throwing two ingredients together and seeing what happens.
Like many great open world games, Dread Delusion begs you to choose a remote landmark and hit your way.
It’s really refreshing to play an RPG (especially after the Elden Ring), as I don’t need to nervously obsess over each level about whether I’m creating some sort of “optimal build” or even one capable of actually completing the game. There’s a nice simplicity to the entire equipment management and progression, as well as the combat itself, which has a bit of a soul-like stamina management but totally more forgiving.
I love talking to developers (and who knows? I might) about the ways they plan to build the world. While the scale already seems plentiful, developer James Wragg’s inspiration from games like Morrowind would feel more profound if Dread Delusion were a bit more methodical. Right now, the game differentiates between enemies and normal NPCS like merchants, so you can’t just attack anyone in the game and deal with the consequences – it feels a bit clean at the moment. I’d like to see the lines here get a bit blurrier here, because nothing was more Morrowindian than killing an important NPC and then having to find another way to complete it.
But that doesn’t take away from how impressive this game is, especially for an indie project. In its strange, stripped-down backstory, Dread Delusion manages to evoke the adventure feel of RPGs of the past. It’s kind of special, and I want to savor it, so I guess I have one more session in me before I put it down and hold it until full release.