Nostalgia is an awfully powerful emotion. If you fuel it just right, you can push the limits of what we know to deliver something we don't. Although it is still very early on, Dread Delusion manages to capture something about nostalgia that many don't - sincerity.
It is made abundantly clear from the very start of Dread Delusion what kind of games it means to emulate. The feelings it tries to evoke are somehow even clearer. I got to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind a little late as a kid. Hearing about Oblivion for some time, I managed to finally give Morrowind a go on an original Xbox around 2008. Although my underdeveloped kid brain wanted something flashier, it managed to stay in my mind for years afterwards.
When you look past the bugs, flaws and poor controls, there's a certain magic at work - an almost indescribable atmosphere that lingers in your brain. Though it too has bugs, Dread Delusion absolutely nails this. You start out in a prison cell, where you are let out on the condition that you hunt down an infamous criminal. After a very short intro, you are free to explore the world at your own pace.
Opening the Open World
It's not a huge game so far but it is packed with information - secrets to find, quests to uncover and horrible monsters to fight. It takes a little bit from classic medieval RPGs and Infuses it with a little bit of Lovecraft, some Cronenberg and, most importantly, its own ideas. Though I've spoken about Dread Delusion mostly as a result of the aesthetic references it makes, it is original and weird, filled with fun ideas and sad stories. From the deep red skybox to the sad creatures under, Dread Delusion manages to grasp a certain cosmic nihilism.
This being said, it can be charming and really quite witty when it wants to be. Characters can be oddly funny in Dread Delusion, evoking a certain absurdism. People are under the pressures of a violent religious war, surrounded by monsters, yet they find joy in the moments of peace.
That war is between the devout believers and militaristic dissidents. You can kill gods or follow them. In this sense, there's plenty of room in between these sides to find your own sense of morality. In classic RPG fashion, you are born a nameless, faceless hero and left to discover what you are in the harsh landscapes of a new land. You are left to explore a few central locations and solve any quests that pop up along the way.
In a sense, the game's towns feel almost like returning to a mid-2000's immersive sim. They are layered and weird, filled with little crannies and secrets to explore. As you continue down quest lines, you can peel back the foundations of the town to reveal something darker and weirder under the surface.
The same can be said for Dread Delusion itself. It's comforting in the way old RPGs are but it's just so wonderfully weird as you continue to explore. Quests may start in standard ways but they continue to throw curveballs at you to see what you do next. One early quest epitomises this experience well. Coming across a decaying old castle, you find a man sitting with a dilemma. A curse has been placed on the castle, resulting in atrophy, pain and suffering.
To end this curse, you have to sacrifice one of a handful of people to the effects of this atrophy, causing even more pain for one of them. You can discover more layers to this by making a potion and looking through all the illusions around the castle, or you can follow what you've been told and end it right there. There's a desperate bitter sadness at the root of this story but how far characters are willing to go is fascinatingly tragic.
The game is backed up by fun but pretty shallow RPG systems. It's all based around a point system called Delusion. You can get Delusion by finding them or acquiring them in quests and this is used to upgrade your powers. With that, you can get a little more charming, better at finding secrets and using magic, or generally upgrade your combat abilities. This often leaves you with a handful of ways of getting through each quest. It's simple but just robust enough to give a level of freedom to your choices.
A Good Defence
The combat itself is reminiscent of King's Field, the cult PS2 RPG from Dark Souls renowned developer From Software - floaty and easy to exploit. You can dance in between enemy attacks to avoid taking damage or tank it to finish them off in a shorter time. It is basic but really works well with what the game is trying to do. Stamina can drain pretty quickly and can only be fully restored while sleeping. You are untrained and unskilled in Dread Delusion, someone convincing themselves of their own power before they talk their way to certain death. It's a classic RPG.
Dread Delusion has launched into early access and this shows. There are some bugs, only a handful of central areas and some of the game's mechanics could do with a little more depth. This being said, it is a great blueprint for what could be an excellent game. With some good community feedback and an attentive ear, it has the potential to capture an audience as weird as the game itself.