It’s very difficult to create a large open-world RPG set in a fantasy setting without the comparisons to things such as The Elder Scrolls and thus many developers seek to avoid such plights in order to avoid having their indie titles compared to massive juggernauts of the industry with far more resources available. It’s nice to see then that developers Lovely Hellplace have taken the challenge of creating a brand new world for players to explore that will no doubt be compared to the likes of Morrowind and such. Dread Delusion is a fascinating project that on first impressions seems like a nice callback to old PSX era games with a large amount of modern touches to make it more palatable to the current gaming climate. So how does a brand new Open-World RPG fare? Time to jump in and find out! Keep in mind that this is an Early Access title so things are subject to change over time.
The story of Dread Delusion concerns a mysterious and fascinating world that reminds me of a mix of clockwork fantasy similar to something like Final Fantasy 6 crossed with something that Clark Ashton Smith would conjure in a night terror. In a world which has seen the surface been destroyed due to a great calamity and the gods of this existence mostly hunted down and exterminated the remaining bastions of human kind as well as plenty of strange and twisted creatures reside upon floating islands that are interconnected with bridges and utilise a strange ‘Neuron’ system that acts as their sun in order to keep some semblance of normalcy. Factions vie for dominance in this strange new world such as The Order that wishes to destroy the gods of old and form a new society forged on technological advancement and societal structure whilst groups such as The Wikkans wish to bring back their dominion using the remaining gods as their tools of war. You start off as a prisoner of The Order (of course, doesn’t it always start like this?) and after being released must make your way into this land and choose who to side with and how it should be shaped in the future. It’s a fascinating world that has such a unique charm and deep lore even at this early stage that simply begs to be explored and mulled over. I love everything from the architecture of the different islands and factions to the strange and unique characters I met along the way. I even encountered various story-heavy quests that had interesting plot threads and gave me difficult moral decisions to make that really jumped out of nowhere. The writing is fantastic, the world is interesting and the characters you meet are unique, what’s not to love? Whilst we are still at early stages with what quests are available if the rest of the game’s stories are this good I for one will be deeply interested in how this plot develops.
The presentation of this game is perhaps the most striking thing you will find about it on first glance. The game looks like it was designed for the original Playstation and with the low-poly textures, simple landscapes and darker lighting it certainly seems like something you might think was made years ago. However start actually playing the game and you will find that this stylistic choice works very well in making the game as disturbing and interesting as possible. The textures and models aren’t the best of course but what is here is very unique and I felt as though the low-poly visuals actually helped to make it a more disturbing and horror-themed world overall. It helped give that sense of uncanny valley for both characters and enemies helping to put you on edge throughout the entire experience. Animations are where this game really shines as the entire experience is buttery-smooth and seeing things such as sword swings being fluid and weighty or seeing an actual potion bottle being uncorked and drank all in one smooth motion was a treat for the eyes. The visuals themselves may look stylistically old but the animation is nothing short of modern design. The music too is absolutely gorgeous and is both relaxing and grand in scale which made it a treat to listen to as I was adventuring. I did have issues with it repeating a lot but that’s something that can change with future updates. I also was sad to see that at this stage there are quite a few issues with the sound design as things such as certain missing audio cues, glitches and a lack of extra musical effects like sword swings or town sounds made the experience feel less alive. Again I’m sure this is something that will get added onto over time but it did sully the experience a bit at this stage.
Gameplay-wise you will feel a lot of similarities to things such as The Elder Scrolls and Kings Field as you start the game by determining your character’s stats, background and specialised skills. No character visual customisation however which is a shame however considering the game is played entirely in first person it’s not exactly a priority. From then on it’s a typical fantasy RPG with swordplay, magic, bows and defeating monsters. You don’t earn XP in this game but instead through completing quests and finding hidden skulls around the world you add to your ‘Delusion’ meter which allows you to add skill points onto several of your stats such as increasing agility or magical capability. The game plays in a much faster pace than other such titles with a very ‘floaty’ feeling character and swordplay and combat being very dodge and retaliate focused rather than the standard grounded and slower paced experience. I feel this actually works well in the world it takes place in as it gives it an almost low gravity type feeling which makes the environment you are traversing feel more alien or disjointed alongside the disturbing visuals. You adventure around the world and gain quests from various NPCs but at this current stage the game feels a bit more like an explorative title as I found myself breezing through a lot of the quests offered but absolutely fascinated by all of the unique landmarks around this world. Tying part of your progression as a character to collectables then was a brilliant idea as it helps encourage you to truly look around and see what is available in this world which is easily one of it’s biggest strengths. With the gameplay feeling smooth and the combat seeming fun I absolutely could see this as a great gameplay experience however two things holds it back by a lot; weak alternative playstyles and the stamina system. In Dread Delusion stamina is one of the systems meant to encourage you to go back to town and rest up as over time your maximum stamina will lower making your attacks weaker and when tired enough you will suffer from a debuff that lowers all your stats. In theory this is fine as it helps provide a good incentive to go back to town and deal with your equipment however at the current moment it is far too harsh as getting involved with any form of combat or even just adventuring for a few short minutes will cause you to get tired which devolves the gameplay into jumping back and forth between town and adventuring with your teleport spells. If this system was tweaked to allow for stamina to last much longer I feel it would be a great benefit to the game. The other issue is the alternative playstyles such as stealth, magic casting and archery which all feel very weak in comparison to standard melee combat. Magic at the current moment is more useful for utility spells and actual combat magic feels beyond useless, I never found myself being able to successfully sneak around enemies with stealth and would much rather just run directly past them and even finding a good bow was a challenge and when I eventually did it unfortunately felt very weak. Again I feel this is just a numbers tweak which would make these different systems feel far more worthwhile but as it stands right now just stick with a character build that focuses on melee combat and ignore everything else.
When it comes to direct negatives about the game then most of the biggest issues I have faced are actually just due to the nature of how this has been released, Early Access. Don’t get me wrong there is plenty to enjoy here and the stuff that is in the game currently is a fantastic experience but it’s very clear this isn’t a finished product. Bugs and technical issues are all over the place such as NPC dialogue being placeholder and sound cues not playing. I was even able to hilariously, using speed increasing spells, jump to one of the unreleased islands which was a trippy experience walking around a clearly unfinished part of the game. The main quest of the game only has a start and doesn’t progress further beyond that and many of the quests in this game don’t have good rewards or even reasons to do them aside from increasing your character’s stats. I also felt that many quests should have far greater consequences on how the world should work or act and I especially thought that I would have liked to see the world simply ‘react’ more to my presence. I would have liked to see a crime system being added so that you can actually attack and rob NPC’s or even just fleshing out the faction system at the moment so they can have big consequences rather than just being a stat prompt at the current moment. Again as I said things like this are sure to be tweaked and added, hell the developers even commented about the fact that things such as this are actively being worked on and will be added over time including new quests, equipment, spells and even entirely new islands. Due to this many of my criticisms can be taken with a pinch of salt as by the time you are reading this many of them may have been fixed. One of the things however that I feel needs a more fundamental change rather than just a tweak or two is that eventually I reached a point that I didn’t see much reason to actually engage in combat as enemies simply drop either small amounts of money or potions and due to not receiving any kind of progression or XP from them I simply chose to ignore them. Making the rewards better or even just providing small amounts of progression towards your next delusion would help to mitigate this issue but I also feel as though enemies dropping equipment would help and may even provide a way to diversify playstyles and combat by giving ‘enchanted’ equipment or such that can make different character builds actually feel unique. These are the types of issues that face Early Access titles but if development is kept up then hopefully these flaws will cease to be.
In the end then Dread Delusion does not feel like a finished product, but what is here is absolutely fantastic. I love the world and all the fascinating lore that it gives the player, I love the smooth and fast paced gameplay and the visuals are both deeply disturbing to witness and an absolute joy to experience. If you’re comfortable with buying into a project that clearly needs more work put into it and go in with the knowledge that this is nowhere near complete then I can comfortably recommend this experience to any RPG fan. It may be at it’s early stages, but there is something truly unique and special here, and I for one can’t wait to see how far it goes.