Dread Delusion (Early Access)

PC

Early Access really is the bane of a games critic’s life. With so many projects being developed so publicly, it’s incredibly hard to know when’s a good time to jump in, how long to spend with a game just to find it peters out, and indeed whether you want to encourage anyone else to pay money for something that isn’t half-finished. Dread Delusion makes that even harder for me, given that it’s not cheap either. And yet, a combination of its ambition, familiarity, and extraordinary aesthetics, makes me want to share.

The easiest starting point with Lovely Hellplace’s creation is Morrowind. Both in terms of graphical style, and loosely, the open feeling of small towns connected by wilderness, with quests to pick up along the way. However, and extremely importantly, it looks utterly unique, the most extraordinary colour palette and world design, creating something that’s at once medieval and alien.

So odd are some of the designs that I was reminded of that most peculiar of first-person games, Pathologic. Thankfully, while this has day-night cycles that meaningfully affect how you play, it doesn’t also come with the impending doom of a ticking clock that made Pathologic so terrifying. Instead, this is a much more Elder Scrolls-like place, packed with routine-driven NPCs, but essentially frozen in a loop.

You begin as a prisoner of an ideological order, in a broken world living in the aftermath of the God War. Here, it seems, multiple deities battled it out, resulting in a reactionary army of humans who call themselves the Apostates. However, there are also rival groups with various religious affiliations, and opportunities as you play to align yourself with the group that interests you most.

Alongside rival factions, the world is full of bizarre dangerous creatures, but combat is very optional. Running away, or simply avoiding, is as valid a method as getting into the clunky swordplay, and a decision driven by the character class you pick at the start. You are released from your prison on the promise you will track down and kill the leader of one rival faction, but of course can immediately betray that option once you find her. Then you’re on the loose to pick up side quests, pursue the main story, or explore for the hidden coins, lockpicks and secrets that litter then land.

Right, so, it’s also not finished, and that’s never more apparent than with a very frustrating bug with barred doors. Lift the bar and far too often the door becomes impossible to open, until you quit out and reload. Given there’s no quick save, but rather save locations, this is an epic pain in the arse.

On top of that, well, half the game’s not there yet. You can explore a decent number of towns, play through a lot of the story, but on the way I found placeholder text, dreary interactions, and a real lack of signalling for where the player should be heading. On top of that, the map didn’t appear to be working, although there is confusion over whether this is because of not picking up a particular side quest.

The developers expect the game to be in EA for another “6-9 months”, although I suspect this is a little ambitious. It needs a lot more work on establishing its opening story, and giving a greater sense of direction in the earliest moments, let alone the extensive list of things they’re planning to add. And it doesn’t help that for some deeply strange reason, they’ve decided to sell this half-finished version at full price, a not inconsiderable $20/£15. Given they’re essentially asking their customers to playtest the game for the next year, this strikes me as unreasonable.

Price is subjective, of course, and if you’re interested in exploring a very promising, extraordinary-looking RPG at this stage, there’s plenty here. More than anything else, I’m just so taken by its aesthetic choices, the incredible creature design, and the sense of being in a broken, fracturing place.

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