Rob the Blind City and Outsmart the Gods in Dread Delusion Early Access

fear delirium (opens in new tab)Hallowshire’s first town, built on an asteroid suspended above an unforgiving field, fulfilled a wish I didn’t even know I had: one for the dense, multi-layered urban areas of Deus Ex and Vampire: the Masquerade—Bloodlines. Elder Scrolls cities come close to me, but lack the complexity and depth of their more immersive sim-y cousins. Hallowshire, with its secret tunnels, hidden doors, and vertical exploration, offers a small reprisal to Deus Ex and VtMB’s lengthy exercises of breaking into people’s 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 and play more. For some time the developer lovely hell (opens in new tab) has been posting tantalizing screenshots of its open-world RPG set in the remnants of a civilization clinging to asteroids in orbit around a neutron star, and on June 15th, Dread Delusion finally launched into Early Access on Steam.

Dread Delusion begins in a way that is familiar to any Elder Scrolls fan – you are a prisoner who wakes up in a strange new land, chooses your background and stats, and is sent on an important mission by the local representatives of an Imperial government. I had more problems than usual when choosing a character in Dread Delusion – he has different priorities than many other RPGs, and that changed the way I interacted with the world.

This is Dread Delusion’s first city. (Image credit: Lovely Hellplace)

I’ve found the combat to be merely useful so far, an even more streamlined version of using the W and S keys to juke enemies while wailing over them with a sword like in an Elder Scrolls game. Fortunately, combat is rarely a requirement and does not directly award experience. “Delusions”, which are used to improve your attributes, are scattered all over the world and rewarded for quests. While you can find an enemy guarding one, I still haven’t found an opponent that theoretically couldn’t sneak around or get past it. The fun part of Dread Delusion is exploring and solving puzzles.

For this, I prioritized the Guile attribute, which increases movement speed, jump height, and break-in success rate, as well as Wisdom, which improves spellcasting aptitude and allows your character to access secret puzzles to open hidden doors scattered throughout Dread Delusion. When I first rolled a more standard RPG character with high weapon damage and just a means to open the game’s many sealed paths, Dread Delusion just didn’t work as well. The end result is a game that is reminiscent of VtMB’s open-ended character creation and prioritizes its best aspects – exploration and dialogue – over a proper combat system that doesn’t need to be front and center.

My main concern with Early Access so far is the presence of enough options for different builds to complete quests – I’ve found one so far that I’m pretty sure can only be solved by lockpicking and another that seems to require an investment in persuasion. Making items hidden in the overworld have only one solution to access them – a locked door here, a secret wall there – strikes me as a reasonable balance, but hopefully future full side quests will offer options for different builds: pick the lock of a door, or climb to the window on the other side with an agility spell.

Another gripe with this current version is the fatigue and rest system, which seems a little also old school and hardcore at the moment. Standing too long introduces attribute penalties that require resting in a bed. My problem is your fatigue drains much quickly, and I’ve only found two usable beds in my playtime so far, one in the tutorial area and one in Hallowshire. I’m interested in the gameplay loop this should encourage – something similar to the classic Dragon Quest, where you weigh the risk of staying on the field for one more fight (or the abandoned mage tower, in the case of Dread Delusion) vs. city ​​to rest—but unless in-game stats increase, magic, and the game’s diegetic fast-travel system build smooth the process of resting and getting back on the field, I’d rather see a little tweaks to your fatigue drain.

Balancing the gripes and some expected glitches of Early Access (a missing dialogue text here, a bugged door there), Dread Delusion is shaping up to be something incredibly special. I’m looking forward to getting back to this world, as well as seeing how it evolves during Early Access.

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