Nowhere Prophet review06 Aug 2019 0
Nowhere Prophet review
Released 19 Jul 2019
It’s been a while since I last ventured through the colourful Indian-inspired wastelands of Nowhere Prophet. I actually covered it for another site when it launched its First Access on Itch.io but while I liked it back then, it did frustrate me endlessly. So, with Sharkbomb tweaking and updating seemingly constantly, lets see how it shapes up in full release.
At its core, Nowhere Prophet is a single-player mash up of a deck-building game and FTL-style navigation. Starting each run with your technomancer arriving just in time to see a satellite fall from the heavens and beam a hard light mandala at you, the journey to the enigmatic Crypt begins. You move across the map, picking which nodes to travel to in order to pick up food, explore unique locales, get in fights, and generally not die. Most events have some sort of option-based interaction where you can choose between say, letting the hungry pilgrims go past or give them some food. Sometimes the game even rewards you for making good choices. Other times you get kicked in the teeth for seemingly no reason, as is the way in the post-apocalypse.
When I first covered Nowhere Prophet, the unique locations were a bit lacking. I only remember encountering a scant few and the special locations at the end of each section used to be laid out in a strict order. Now, with the full release, there are plenty of unique locations from hydroponic dome cities filled with traps, leper colonies full of aforementioned teeth kicking, healing monks, and warehouses among others. And, the sections now have a few options to choose between, meaning each run has enough variety to make the journey engaging.
But while travelling is what will get you to the end goal, combat is what Nowhere Prophet is really about. With about a dozen different factions from beast packs to organized militaries to machinist cults, Nowhere Prophet has a sizeable roster of cards that will come into play and if you play your cards right (get it?) you’ll be able to recruit from all walks of life. Which is useful as cards that are defeated in battle are injured, play an injured card down and it gets destroyed when its defeated. At first I found this incredibly frustrating but after a few longer runs I realised the use of it. Losing cards means you have to change up your strategy. You can’t always rely on your cluster of Charge (can attack as soon as they’re placed) cards to take down the enemy leader quickly. Once they’re dead, you have to work out new tactics.
But this is also where Nowhere Prophet can be frustrating. In the same way that any card game can be frustrating. Each combat generates a map of two to three columns and about four rows, it then plants down some obstacles, some of which can be destroyed to gain useful resources, some of which can be used to harm units and leaders. It then shows you which 3 convoy cards (units) and which two leader cards (buffs/direct attacks/etc) that you’re going to start with. You can choose to discard some or mulligan the whole hand. At the start of combat, you only have 3 energy to buy units and leaders, each of which has its own cost. If you didn’t get any low energy units in that initial mulligan, well, you’re sort of on the back foot now. If you don’t get anything good by the second or third round, well at that point you’ve usually taken such a beating the familiar Game Over screen isn’t too far away.
Most combats are fairly straightforward as random encounter enemies often have low HP and usually don’t have special equipment. The only bugbear they bring is the occasional propensity to kill your units with claw/shot or other direct attack nonsense. But as long as you can get your units out and ready quickly enough, you can kill them without taking too much damage.
Where Nowhere Prophet makes my blood boil is in its combat nodes and recently added boss fights. These higher level enemies usually have dangerous equipment (if enemy leader takes damage, deal 2 more/ +1 Attack and Defence to all units at the end of your turn) and are able to play ridiculous combinations of cards, almost as if it’s eaten Yugi’s heart of the cards. Play down a 3HP unit, they just happen to have two cards that allow them to boost a 1 damage shot card to 3 damage, all for the low, low price of 1 energy. Normally I could deal with some challenge but with even a single loss meaning a return to the start of the game, it’s frustrating. The only silver lining is that with the full release, developer Sharkbomb Studios has included some rogue-lite elements. Once you complete so many challenges, you gain some useful permanent upgrades to your convoy. And that does ease the sting a little.
There are also other character classes that can be unlocked by completing certain tasks but in all my time playing, I’ve only ever unlocked one and that was in a very early build. New classes bring new decks similar to how new ships in FTL change up your gameplay. They are my white whale in Nowhere Prophet’s desolate landscape.
One criticism I do have that’s purely subjective is that some backers from the first access were able to get their face included on certain cards and while this is really cool for them, the art style is just different enough from the core art that it’s somewhat jarring.
Reading this review, it might be easy to come to the conclusion that I dislike Nowhere Prophet but that’s not completely true. I love the music, the electro-Indian soundtrack is so wonderfully unique and gives the journey such a magnificent texturing. The various factions with their distinctive styles, like the Blue Devils that voluntarily allow themselves to become infected and die young in order to become more powerful. Sharkbomb Studios have done fantastically to create a gameworld that feels unique to the point that I, even more than usual, want more games based on cultures outside the usual UK, US, Japan influence. And while I have harked on the gameplay, I actually really enjoy it up until the inevitable unfair fight that brings me to my old friend, the Game Over screen. It’s much like FTL. Yay, yay, yay, ooh close one, yay, no, what, stop it, bugger off, f*** this game, repeat.