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June 2019

Nowhere Prophet

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: No More Robots
Developer: Sharkbomb Studios
Release Date: 2020


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Nowhere Prophet'

by Cody Medellin on May 20, 2019 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Set in a postapocalyptic world inspired by Indian culture and sci-fi literature, Nowhere Prophet is a roguelike deck-building game.

Slay the Spire came out earlier this year, and while it is labeled as a card game, it was way different from most other titles in the genre. It was an RPG with a definitive quest that used cards as a means of attack and defense, with magic thrown in for good measure. It was also a roguelike, as the journey through the game was completely randomized, so there was no guarantee that one deck could be an absolute killer for every run. The merging of all of these elements produced a game that some considered an early contender of end-of-the-year awards. At first glance, Nowhere Prophet seems to be taking the same ideas and placing it into a postapocalyptic setting. Spend just a few minutes with it, however, and you'll discover that it is a wildly different beast.

The story takes place on the planet of Soma, a place that has been ravaged by some great calamity. The last creatures remaining are scattered into small tribes; there's a makeshift government here, bands of scavengers there, and feral creatures filling in the blanks. In a world where batteries are currency and technology is valued, a satellite falls from the sky, broadcasting a message about a great crypt full of untarnished technology and other mysteries. You're one of the few people who can understand this message, but when you reach the satellite, you find that others are there as well. Instead of attacking you, they all choose to follow you and designate you as their prophet. Instead of going by yourself to see what the crypt is really all about, your mission is to lead these people to a possible promised land.

The immediate change from solo adventurer to leader of a small band isn't something you see often in most games, let alone a card game, but it gives the title a sense of identity as it makes you more responsible for your actions. Even though you'll be playing with standard card game rules, where everyone takes a turn for their moves and cards can't actually do anything until they've been on the board for at least one turn, the fact that all of your cards are members of your traveling group makes them feel important. This is especially true when you learn that a card lost on the battlefield counts as being wounded, and losing a wounded card means that card is permanently destroyed for the duration of the run. Unless you know that you'll get new members often, losing cards hurts significantly.

While the card game rules are in full effect and the card leaders are your main target for each fight, the battlefield is different from other games, as Nowhere Prophet plays out like a turn-based strategy game. Cards are placed into grids, where those in the front lines are the only ones that can actually attack — unless the card itself says differently. There's some impetus to pay attention to what cards say, as those with defensive buffs will do best if they're kept in the back to strengthen the front line, while you'll use things like taunting cards to draw away enemy attacks as a nice distraction. 

Once you're away from card battles, you'll find the rest of the game adheres to traditional roguelike rules. The map changes up with each playthrough, so one iteration might have a marketplace early on while another has a guaranteed bandit fight in the same spot. The items available in shops are also randomized, as are the event outcomes, so while one run had us freeing slaves just to see them run away, another one had us repeating our actions that caused the slaves to join our cause. This provided us with more cards to play, but it was at the expense of having more food and faith drained for each stop we made. Similar to games like FTL, your progress comes down to equal parts skill and luck.

The beta for Nowhere Prophet may be limited, as you're only given three deck types at random and access to only one of five distinct maps. However, the beta already does a good job of being relentlessly tough on you and making you work for a victory. We went through a few rounds of the game, and while we got some instances where each stop on the map ended up being uneventful, it also meant that the second or third battle we encountered was brutal, with the enemy leader having a shield and a ton of action points to deploy decently leveled cards. Combined with some bad draws with low-level characters and powers that weren't very useful at the time, it wasn't long before our own leader died and we were treated to a sad epilogue, where our followers abandoned the path to the crypt or just died. The constant losses felt fair, and we were compelled to give it another try, partially in hopes of getting a good iteration of the map so we could inch further. That's usually a good sign of a well-designed roguelike.

The presentation does a good job of using the postapocalyptic, Indian-inspired influences. The music has smatterings of Indian instruments that blend well with the traditional sci-fi fare, while the character portraits look like smeared colors coming together to produce striking appearances for human and non-human creatures alike. The illustrations in some scenes may present a lower grade of detail compared to the card portraits, but the battlegrounds have a simple beauty, and things look lively due to details like windswept sands blowing across the field and rain trickling down. With only a few map variations in the beta, it'll be interesting to see what other places will be offered in the full version.

Right now, Nowhere Prophet shows a ton of promise. The strategy element is intriguing, and while the randomness of just about everything makes progress very difficult, it all feels fair enough that when you experience defeat, you'll immediately want to take another run. The beta did a good job of giving us a healthy taste of the full game, and with the final release coming this summer, we can't wait to see how it'll all turn out.

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