Dread Delusion (opens in new tab)'s first town of Hallow, built into an asteroid suspended above an unforgiving countryside, fulfilled a craving I wasn't even fully aware I'd had: one for the dense, multilayered urban areas of Deus Ex and Vampire: the Masquerade—Bloodlines. Elder Scrolls towns come close for me, but don't quite have the intricacy and depth of their more immersive sim-y cousins. Hallow, with its secret tunnels, hidden doors, and vertical exploration, gives a bite-sized reprisal of Deus Ex and VtMB's game-long exercises in breaking into peoples' apartments and reading their emails.
I've been finding it hard to gather my thoughts and write about Dread Delusion because I just want to go back in and play it more. For some time, developer Lovely Hellplace (opens in new tab) has been posting tantalizing screenshots of his open world RPG set in the remnants of a civilization clinging to the asteroids in orbit around a neutron star, and on June 15, Dread Delusion finally launched in Early Access on Steam.
Dread Delusion begins in a fashion familiar to any Elder Scrolls fan—you're a prisoner waking up in a strange new land, you choose your background and stats, and you are then sent on an important mission by the local representatives of an imperial government. I ran into more trouble than usual settling on a character in Dread Delusion—it has different priorities than many other RPGs, and this accordingly changed how I interacted with the world.
I've found the combat to be merely serviceable so far, an even more simplified version of using the W and S keys to juke enemies while wailing on them with a sword like in an Elder Scrolls game. Thankfully, combat is rarely a requirement, and doesn't directly award experience. "Delusions," which are used to upgrade your attributes, are scattered throughout the world and rewarded by quests. While you may find an enemy guarding one, I've yet to encounter an opponent I couldn't theoretically sneak or run past. The fun part of Dread Delusion is exploring and solving puzzles.
To that end, I prioritized the Guile attribute, which increases movement speed, jump height, and lockpicking success rate, as well as Wisdom, which improves spellcasting aptitude and allows your character to access secret puzzles to open hidden doors liberally scattered throughout Dread Delusion. When I first rolled a more standard RPG character with high weapon damage and only one means of opening the game's various sealed paths, Dread Delusion just didn't click as much. The end result is a game that resembles VtMB's open-ended character creation and prioritizes its best aspects—exploration and dialogue—over an adequate combat system that doesn't need to be front and center.
My main concern from Early Access so far is the presence of sufficient options for different builds to complete quests—I've run into one so far that I'm pretty sure can only be solved through lockpicking, and another that seems to demand an investment in persuasion. Making it so hidden goodies in the overworld have only one solution to access them—a locked door here, a secret wall there—strikes me as reasonable balancing, but I'm hopeful future full-fledged side quests will offer options for different builds: pick the lock on a door, or climb up to the window on the other side with an agility spell.
Another quibble from this current build is the fatigue and resting system, which feels a bit too old school and hardcore at the moment. Staying on your feet for too long introduces attribute penalties that necessitate resting in a bed. My issue is that your fatigue drains very quickly, and I've only found two usable beds in my playtime so far, one in the tutorial area and another in Hallow. I'm keen on the gameplay loop this is meant to encourage—something akin to classic Dragon Quest where you weigh the risk of staying out in the field for one more fight (or abandoned wizard's tower, in Dread Delusion's case) vs. returning to town to rest—but unless later-game attribute increases, magic, and the building out of the game's diegetic fast travel system smooth out the process of resting up and getting back in the field, I'd prefer to see a little tweaking of your fatigue drain.
Balancing quibbles and some expected Early Access glitches (a missing dialogue text here, a bugged door there) aside, Dread Delusion is shaping up to be something incredibly special. I'm looking forward to jumping back into this world, as well as seeing how it evolves throughout Early Access.